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BERN (Reuters) - Bolivian President Evo Morales said an ambitious project to build a coast-to-coast railway across South America had moved a step closer to reality after he signed a cooperation agreement with Switzerland on Thursday.
The undertaking, expected to cost at least $10 billion (£7.5 billion), would entail building a 3,750-km (2,300-mile) line from the Brazilian port of Santos to Ilo in Peru, crossing the Andes mountains to link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
The Swiss government said that it would provide technical expertise for the project under the memorandum of understanding signed by the two countries in Bern.
Morales said German companies were also interested in the railway, which could speed the export of corn and soybeans to Asia, while the governments of Paraguay and Uruguay, as well as Peru and Brazil, also supported it.
"After these agreements with German and Swiss companies, with Peru and Brazil, and Uruguay and Paraguay, the project has been consolidated and it will be done with European technology," Morales told reporters.
"It has been defined where the railway will go, how it will be built and who it will be built with, the Bioceanico now has been defined," he said in a joint news conference with Swiss President Doris Leuthhard.
A similar, Chinese-led project to build a trans-South America railway from Brazil to Peru without passing through Bolivia ran into roadblocks late last year due to cost and environmental concerns.
"This (latest) project reduces the distance, it's cheaper and it is almost without environmental issues," said Morales. "We want to move ahead quickly with this project."
(Writing by Brian Homewood; editing by Mark Heinrich)