Colombia's Santa Marta railway due to start operating in 2017

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Colombia's 114bn-peso (US$39mn) northern cargo railroad is scheduled to start operating in 2017, boosting coal shipments, a senior government official said.

The railway is currently in the hands of Ferrocarriles del Norte de Colombia (Fenoco) and UK railway services firm Holdtrade, but the government is also holding talks with other potential concessionaires, according to the country's national infrastructure agency (ANI).

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Holdtrade, which has UK government backing, is currently in financing talks for locomotives and freight wagons, ANI president Luis Fernando Andrade said.

The JV began trial runs last month on a project to renovate 152km of the track, from the Caribbean port of Santa Marta to La Dorada in central Caldas department. The project is designed to transport 80Mt/y of cargo.

"The trial run helped us identify the places that require more investment and where we need to make improvements," Andrade told local newspaper Portafolio. "We're working on the process to call a public tender to carry out these repairs."

ANI is awaiting finance ministry approval of 100bn pesos in funding for the track upgrade, Andrade said. The trial runs in October showed the train had to slow down on some sections of track, he said.

Fenoco, Colombia's main coal transporter, has been hampered by strikes and attacks on its railway lines in recent years. The upgrade of the Santa Marta-La Dorada line is part of a government plan to modernize the country's 3,300km railway network to make exports more competitive.

Colombia is Latin America's largest coal exporter and a major producer of crude oil and natural gas. Coal output totaled 85.5Mt in 2015, according to the national mining agency (ANM).