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Bolivia reactivates its railway system

por Patricia

Within the framework of the “Economic and Social Development Plan 2016-2020”, the railway will be one of the focal points contained in modernisation programmes in order to boost passenger and freight connections. Amongst the most relevant projects is the Central Bi-Oceanic Corridor and the Metropolitan Electric Train of Cochabamba.

Bolivia, with a surface area of 1,098,581 km² and located in the central-western region of South America, boasts a strategic geographic location for cross-border territorial connections. It runs from the central Andes, through part of the Chaco, to the Amazon and has land borders the north and east with Brazil, the south with Paraguay and Argentina, and the west with Chile and Peru

The country has a population of 11,217,864 million inhabitants and has put the improvement of transport as one of its development aims towards the year 2020. Within these plans, the railway will be one of the focal points in the modernisation and booster programmes. Of all the initiatives envisaged, the Bioceanic Corridor stands out, due to its economic and trading importance, whilst serving as a driving force for the economy. The route, for which an investment of 8 billion dollars has been allocated, will connect the ports of Santos (Brazil) in the Atlantic and those of Ilo and Matarani (Peru) in the Pacific.


The Bolivian rail network has a length of 3,697 kilometres; that were completed in the 1950s. Presently, the infrastructure has changed very little, although small new sections have been included and improvements have been carried out in others on an ongoing basis. The tracks are of metric gauge throughout their extension, which allows for the interconnection with Brazil and Argentina on the eastern part, and for the western area interconnects with Chile and Peru.

The current infrastructure is partial (Cochabamba-Guaqui to the Pacific and Montero-Puerto Suarez to the Atlantic). The layout is divided into two large branches, which are not connected to each other: Andean and Oriental.

The first one is managed by the Andina S.A. Railway Company (FCASA). With this route, of 2,274 kilometres, the city of La Paz is linked with Chile (Charaña-Arica) and Peru (Guaqui), and Potosí with Chile (Avaroa-Antofagasta) and Argentina (Villazón-La Quiaca). In turn, the Eastern network, run by the Eastern Railway Company S.A. (FCOSA), connects the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz with Argentina (Yacuiba-Pocitos) and Brazil (Puerto Suárez-Quijarro-Corumbá), running through 1,244 kilometres.

Of these, 643 correspond to the eastern sector, while 539 belong to the southern sector and the other 62 kilometres belong to the northern branch.

The passenger services offered by the company are the Regional Train, Oriental Express, Southern Rail and the line of Rail-buses that allow for the integration of the populations of the Chiquitania, the Pantanal and the Bolivian Chaco. Furthermore, being a multimodal transport operator, it provides transport and logistics solutions. It manages and operates Puerto Continental, located in the town of Quijarro on the Paraguay-Parana Waterway.

Both companies were created in 1995, the date on which the National Company of State Railways (ENFE) was capitalised. This change meant that the government left operational control to FCASA and FCOSA, but not their ownership, which remains in the public sector.


The railway system constitutes for the Government of Bolivia, “A swift, cheap means of transportation and the mobilisation of important quantities of people and products, in a manner appropriate to the characteristics of the territory.” For these reasons, the fostering of these networks has been included as one of its programmes’ aims. In this sense, the “Economic and Social Development Plan 2016-2020” devotes 23% of its budget, 11.172 billion dollars, to investments in the

infrastructure sector (roads, railways, ports airports, fluvial routes). For two years, work has been undertaken on the recovery and improvement of existing roads through refurbishment and maintenance actions, as well as the construction of new routes in order to articulate strategic territories of the country. The aim is for 100% of the Bolivian population to be integrated through transport systems in their different modalities.

The main actions in this period until 2020 focus on managing the construction of the Bi-Oceanic Railway Corridor, creating the company in charge of planning and managing the infrastructure, as well as carrying out the interconnection between the two railway branches (Western and Eastern). The renewal of the Western Network and the construction of the route that supports the development of the Mutun steelworks project (30 kilometres of the Motacucito-Mutun section, first stage amounting to 90 million dollars) are also amongst the plan’s priorities.

The development of this plan has already obtained its initial results. In this period, progress has been made in the negotiations for the start of the Central Bi-Oceanic Railway Corridor (CFBC) Brazil-Bolivia-Peru that connects the Port of Santos (Brazil) with the Port of Ilo (Peru). Alongside this, the railway section for urban transport has been built in the departments of Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. Likewise, progress has been made in the construction of the Motacucito-Mutun-Puerto Busch section, a branch that will contribute to the development of the country’s steel industry. To all this, the Montero-Bulo Bulo rail link is added, which will contribute to the interconnection of the CFBC.

The need to continue working on the maintenance of existing infrastructures, as well as the expansion plans foreseen for the coming years, makes Bolivia a destination of significant interest for those companies that want to contribute to the expansion, improvement and modernisation of transport in the country.


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