COLOMBIA’S MOVING LANDSCAPE

Colombia 2014 | TRANSPORT | REVIEW: TRANSPORT

Increased investment and specific development programs are underway in all areas of the Colombian transport sector, as key players try to make the most of a climate of economic growth and political optimism.

In keeping with developments throughout all segments of the Colombian economy, the transportation sector is undergoing rapid and impressive development. Investment from both the government and private companies, domestic and international, is increasing. Within the context of the peace process and a particularly vibrant economy, demand for increased and better-organized transport has led to substantial growth in the sector for 2014. Colombia has a number of natural advantages in some areas of transport—it is a geographically well connected air hub, and has port access to both the Atlantic and Pacific—yet, the mountainous regions and rough terrain have proven to be less than ideal for road and rail transport. This situation is changing. To quote Juan Gonzalo Maya Molina, the Managing Director of Transportes Botero Soto; “The previous governments of President Uribe and President Santos pushed for a rapid development of infrastructure in the country. For example, President Uribe built over 2,500 miles of road infrastructure, with President Santos continuing these projects. Our region has very specific geographic conditions and despite enormous progress, there is still much to do. We have to reduce transportation times between our region and Cartagena, the main port in Colombia. At the moment, it takes around 14 or 15 hours to transport goods from here to Cartagena. " The government and private industry are now in partnership to boost the overall state of infrastructure on all fronts.

ON THE ROAD

The Colombian government has begun work on its 4th Generation “4G" road infrastructure program, which is the largest in Latin America and includes 47 different projects worth a total of $25 billion in contracts. On May 22, 2014 the first major package was awarded from the bids, which included nine specific projects. The Ministry of Transport announced that one of the largest, the “Conexión Pacífico" will be a 44 kilometer two-way highway in the Antioquia Department with an approximate total cost of $450 million. It was awarded to a Colombian-Portuguese consortium, comprised of the Colombian companies Grupo Odinsa, Mincivil, Construcciones El Cóndor, Termotécnica Coindustrial, and ICEIN SAS. The Portuguese company Mota Engil Engenharia e Construção is working in partnership with these firms and has approximately a 10% share in the program. The Colombian National Infrastructure Agency (ANI) has been in talks with numerous companies to participate in the contracts process for a series of major Public Private Partnership (PPP) road concessions, including a road connecting Cartagena to Barranquilla (valued at approximately $760 million) and another linking Cali to Dagua (valued at approximately $1.1 billion). Moreover, the Colombian National Risk Management Agency has announced that it will invest $88.3 million for the acquisition of heavy machinery to begin the reconstruction of the many roads that are damaged by the rainy season. The machinery will be part of a program that would make greater resources available to local municipalities and departments to allow them to update the system of roads in their districts.

STATION TO STATION

Developments in the railways and road systems are partly interlinked. As part of an overall strategy to reduce the volume of heavy freight traffic damaging the road system, the government has awarded contracts for the rehabilitation and improvement of two sections of the overall rail network, which have been out of use since the 1980s. Work by Colombian contractors to improve the condition of two major railway lines is expected to take approximately two years to complete at an estimated cost of $100m. This is to be funded by the government, and would allow freight trains to use the network on an open access basis. The early stages of the program will focus on two routes. The first is a stretch of rail that runs 750 kilometers from La Dorada to Chiriguaná, which is at the very southern end of the line from the critical port of Santa Marta. It is particularly significant because it carries approximately 30 million tons of coal a year. The second route in this program runs for 300 kilometers from Belencito to the capital Bogotá. In other sector news, the Holdtrade Atlántico joint venture between industrial railway equipment supplier Holdtrade (UK) and the US company Pacific has been working to identify potential customers for the reopened lines. The group has signed a £47m agreement with the Ministry of Transport to support the reopening during a visit to Bogotá by UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on February 3, 2014. Clegg said that: “British business leaders are establishing themselves here. In the transport sector, with a new agreement for £47.3 million, British railway specialist Holdtrade Atlantico will help Colombia transport its goods more easily and competitively around the world."

BRAVE THE WAVE

Seaports handle around 80% of international cargo in Colombia, and the government is working vigorously to assure that they are well equipped to handle these vital trade access points. On the Caribbean side of the country, the major ports are in Santa Marta, Barranquilla, and Cartagena, while on the Pacific side of the country most trade moves through the Port of Buenaventura. According to René Puche Restrepo, CEO of the Port of Barranquilla: “We have an investment plan of $180 million, of which we have already invested $85 million. 2013 was a year of challenges that we managed to overcome, leading to significant results in the operation and logistic times of the terminal. Thanks to this investment plan, we managed to reach an operating capacity of 60 containers per hour and the reduction in customer service delays at the port entry gate, from 95 to 35 minutes per truck. At the start of 2014, we moved 13% more than we did last year in the same period." Colombia is trying to retain and enhance its position as a major shipping hub for both the Pacific and Caribbean regions. Because of its unique position of being both close to and having port access to either side of the Panama Canal, it is especially well placed to make use of the advantage.

IN THE ETHER

Because of the rough terrain, air travel is the most typical form of transport in Colombia, and as such is crucial to the economic infrastructure of the country. As with Colombia's ports system, the major airports are also in a strategic position to become a major hub for the entire region of Latin America and beyond. Aviation companies are working to expand and take advantage of the rapidly expanding market. Alejandro Jaramillo, President of dbJet, a growing charter flight company, describes how his company is meeting the growth in aviation in the following terms: “We are about to receive 40 planes, and will have three Phenom 100s for local flights, while to fly to Europe we will have a Gulfstream 280, which is a larger aircraft. In the future, the idea is to have over 450 employees, of whom more than 100 will be pilots. We also aim to achieve 2,000 flights a month within Colombia." Currently, the vast majority of international flights enters and leaves through El Dorado airport in Bogotá, although smaller and regional airports are also carrying a greater share of traffic. On its own, Bogotá's El Dorado International Airport handles 550 million tons of cargo and over 20 million passengers a year, making it the largest airport in Latin America in terms of cargo transport and the third largest airport in terms of passenger numbers. Opain, the company that operates El Dorado airport, presented a proposal this month to further expand Bogota's international airport. The project would include eight new access bridges to increase the boarding/terminal area by 25% to 33%. The National Infrastructure Agency is due to announce the final schedule for this project during the third quarter of 2014. The project will cost around $200 million, and Opain plans to recoup all costs by leasing the airport's commercial concessions.