ON TRACK

Ecuador 2014 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Jorge Eduardo Carrera, General Manager of Ferrocarriles del Ecuador on modernizing Ecuador's rail network, increasing numbers of local and international tourists, and the positive social impact rail can have on rural communities.

Jorge Eduardo Carrera
BIOGRAPHY
Jorge Eduardo Carrera Sánchez was born in Quito. He obtained Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Management for Local Endogenous Development from the Universidad Politécnica Salesiana. He then continued his studies at Universidad General Sarmiento in Argentina and Universidad de Salamanca obtaining a graduate degree in Social Economics and a Master’s in Entrepreneurship and Innovation. In his professional career he has held several positions, such as Institutional Advisor at Fundación Patronato Municipal San José, Country Coordinator in Fundación Logros, Technical Advisor of Cooperación Técnica Alemana (GTZ), Project Co-Director for Agencia Española de Cooperación para el Desarrollo (AECID), Executive Director of Agencia de Desarrollo Provincial de Manabí, and Secretary of the Ecuadorean Committee for Territorial Economic Development (CEDET). He has been General Director of Ferrocarriles del Ecuador for six years.

In many countries, the rail sector is considered industrial. However, in Ecuador, it is seen as touristic. Why is that?

Ecuador used to have a railway network of around 1,000 kilometers built at the end of the 19th century, operating until the mid-20th century, and eventually becoming obsolete. The network had been built according to the prevailing geographic and economic conditions of the time, meaning that it did not comply with today's regulations regarding slopes and curvature. Today, Ecuador's railway network is much more functional, and works through a modern system of tunnels and bridges. The railway has been reintroduced by the current government, and we have taken important steps over the past few years such as the recovery of the touristic train, a rehabilitated line of nearly 500 kilometers in length. Moreover, the government aims to revive railway transportation so as to contribute to the transformation of the production matrix, which is not exclusively industrial. We have sought international expertise on these projects as part of broader infrastructural commitments.

How does the Ministry work to bring railway expertise back to the country?

We have sought international advice from countries like Spain, where Renfe handles over 15,000 kilometers of railway. We have also prioritized the development of the rail lines we have built, so we know how they work. All in all, we prioritize the development of an Ecuadorean knowledge base, and we have also sent staff to some European countries. I think it is important to have international partnerships for infrastructure construction projects. Today, we have as many as five private Ecuadorean companies laying railway lines and five others engaged in other aspects of railway infrastructure and logistics. These companies also take part in other railway projects in neighboring countries like Peru and Colombia.

What is the impact of the more than $350 million in investment plan implemented by the Ministry to local communities?

The Ministry started operating railway tracks in 2008, and back then we had just 16,000 tourists a year. In 2013 the figure reached 150,000 tourists. This growth has been possible due to several projects implemented by the Ministry; for example, the excursion train, which is a one-day journey through several regions of our country. We also implemented the so-called Tren Crucero, where tourists can spend some nights on a scenic journey. We have also implemented subsidy plans for certain communities in the country, such as for scholars and the disabled. Today, 75% of our railway tourists are locals, demonstrating the importance of this means of transport for our people. Our main goal in the near future is to boost the Tren Crucero, where 60% of the passengers are foreigners, and increase the overall number of visitors using the Ecuadorean railway network. We have already spent $10 million on promotional campaigns in the US and Europe. These tourism activities bring development and economic alternatives to many rural communities in our country. Our main priorities in this regard are: 1) to bring economic dynamism to the communities through which the train travels, 2) to restore the cultural heritage associated with railways, 3) to operate one of the most beautiful railway lines in the world. We also have plans to supplement the above-mentioned activities with other initiatives such as the Museum of the Train, the Coffee Train, and many more. The communities on the train lines are the ones in charge of managing them, so we will increase their level of participation, generating job opportunities with as many as 5,200 direct employment positions and around 16,000 indirect ones, and providing economic alternatives to these communities.

The Tren Crucero we talked about has been nominated for the World Travel Awards. Why should it win?

This touristic product was launched in mid-2013 and by the end of the year we were awarded the prize of Best Touristic Product Outside Europe. This in itself is one of the main reasons why we are a real competitor for the World Travel Award; the award is based around the educational and economic impact of the project, the social responsibility aspects of the initiative, and its touristic potential.