Along For The Ride


After decades of disuse, Colombia is rehabilitating thousands of kilometers of railways, a cost effective alternative to starting from scratch.

Railway transportation is still underdeveloped in Colombia. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the country has only 0.2km of railways per 100sqkm of territory, a figure that is below the 0.5km average in Latin America and 0.9km for countries with medium to high incomes. Although Colombia’s first railway—the Bogotá Savannah Railway—commenced operation in 1882, and its development has been quite unstable and ineffective. That is all set to change, with the launch of a national transportation plan that includes several railway revival projects.

The call to renovate Colombia’s railways was reinforced in the XII National Congress Infrastructure held in November 2015 in Cartagena. Natalia Abello, Transport Minister, pointed out the intention of developing a long-term “Intermodal Transport Master Plan” (PMTI), with the aim of building a primary rail network at internationally competitive levels of services, improving connections with other markets and being more efficient in a variety of transportation modes.

The Colombian government created the National Institute of Concessions (INCO) in 2003, the organization responsible for the concession administration in order to revitalize the railway use. Ferropetrol is one of the examples of companies that are updating the railway, and are currently handling eight different projects in the country.

The President of Ferropetrol, Miguel Centanaro, assured TBY that the problem with the inactive railway lines is common in South America. He explained that after the 1950s, many railway lines were abandoned when they were nationalized and governments could not make them profitable. “The cost of rehabilitating these rails,” he explained “is $1 million per km, whereas for totally new projects the cost per km is around $3 million to $4 million.”

According to a report by the National Infrastructure Agency (ANI) in Spanish, Colombia currently has 3,304km of rail network, of which 1,510km are idle and only 799km are fully operational. A striking detail is that the only in passengers transport in Colombia is “the touristic train Savannah” between Bogotá and Zipaquira, and the funicular that operates up the mountain of Monserrate in Bogotá.

At this stage, Colombia has already initiated several projects; some of them are more advanced than others, such as the Pacific railway and the line between Yumbo and Buenaventura, but the PMTI aims a general national improvement. With a public investment of COP4.5 billion for 2016, plus the investment from the concessions companies, Colombia is looking forward to the following decades to reestablish the railways of La Sabana, Antioquia, Santa Marta, Caldas, and La Dorada, to realize a fully functional railway service.

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