Zaraza, May 14: It was once billed as a model of socialist fraternity: South America's first high-speed train, powered by Chinese technology, crisscrossing Venezuela to bring development to its backwater plains.
Now all but abandoned, it has become a symbol of economic collapse and a strategic relationship gone adrift. Where dozens of modern buildings once stood, cattle now graze on grass growing amid the rubble of the project's gutted and vandalized factory.
A red arched sign in Chinese and Spanish is all that remains of what until 16 months ago was a bustling complex of 800 workers.
That's when the project's Chinese managers quietly cleared out. As with many unfinished politically motivated projects dotting Venezuela government critics call them "red elephants" the decaying infrastructure contrasts with the railway's promising beginnings.
A decade ago then-President Hugo Chavez dreamed up the Tinaco-Anaco railway as a way to populate the plains and attract development from long-dominant coastal areas.
Stretching 300 miles (468-kilometers), it was intended to move 5 million passengers and 9.8 million metric tons of cargo a year at speeds up to 135 miles (220 kilometers) per hour.
Chavez turned to China, one of his closest ideological allies, for engineering and financing for the project, part of a USD 7.5 billion deal that has made Venezuela the world's top recipient of Chinese loans.
A consortium of state-run companies led by China Railway Group Ltd, the world's largest train maker, was tasked with carrying out construction.
But completion is four years overdue, and work, when it happens at all, has slowed to a crawl. At one barracks facility visited by The Associated Press, half a dozen workers huddled under the shade of a giant cement mixer, while two shirtless managers lounged at a control panel smoking cigarettes.