Train across Colombia: Pros and cons

Feb. 14, 2011 at 4:31 PM
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BOGOTA, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Colombia's plans to build a transcontinental railroad has daunting economic obstacles, but still holds one trump card -- China needs coal, one observer said.

China wants Colombia's coal, which is produced on the eastern side of the country, said Jonathan Wheatley in an article for the Financial Times.

A railroad could move the coal efficiently to a western port. While doing so, it could slake, in part, China's hunger for coal and add economic diversity and security to Colombia's limited economy, the Times reported Monday.

The same railroad would serve as an alternative to the Panama Canal and the Panama Canal Railway. The question is, would a second railway be profitable as a shipping alternative between the Atlantic and the Pacific?

The railway in Panama is busy, but Panama is engaged in a $5.25 billion canal expansion project that would allow it to handle ships carrying 12,000 20-foot containers.

One analyst said when the expansion is completed, it would take 20 to 30 trains to match the carrying capacity of one ship.

The second major competitor is simply trains that cross the United States.

Although more expensive than shipping by water, trains from California to New York are faster than boats. When time is of the essence, a transcontinental railway in Colombia will not be a shipper's first choice, the Times said.

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