University collaboration supports development of Colombia’s railways

Expertise helps South American nation switch road freight traffic to trains

Marcus Mayers (second left) and Prof David Bamford (third left) with representatives from the Colombian government

Marcus Mayers (second left) and Prof David Bamford (third left) with representatives from the Colombian government

Experts from Manchester Metropolitan University are helping Colombia develop its rail infrastructure through a new collaboration with one of the South American country’s most prestigious universities.

As part of a national strategy to remove damaging heavy freight traffic from Colombia’s roads and improve connectivity for its citizens, the Colombian government is investing in the rehabilitation of its outdated rail network.

Working in partnership with academics at Javeriana University, in Colombia’s capital Bogotá, experts from Manchester Metropolitan have delivered training to government representatives on the theme of conventional and modern rail development planning.

The University team, led by David Bamford, Professor in Operations Management, ran a four-day training exercise designed to share UK policy and operational expertise with senior Colombian government decision-makers, enabling them to manage Colombia’s railways safely and effectively.

The upgrade of Colombia’s narrow-gauge railway is being funded by the UK Prosperity Fund for Colombia programme, part of the UK Government’s cross-government Prosperity Fund, which supports the inclusive economic growth needed to reduce poverty in partner countries, while contributing to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 

Professor Bamford, said: “The UK has a long history of supporting Colombian rail, dating back to UK involvement in the construction of the country’s 2,000km of narrow gauge track in the 19th century.

“Rehabilitation of this important infrastructure, which has fallen into disrepair over the last 50 years, is a key priority the Colombian Government and for the UK’s Prosperity Fund, as this is one of the fastest and most environmentally sustainable ways connect rural Colombia to export markets and unlock economic growth.”

Experts from Manchester Metropolitan delivered training to officials in Colombia

Marcus Mayers, a leading UK rail expert and Visiting Research Fellow at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: "With the rehabilitation of the Colombian railway system, a massive amount of freight - needed to supply the cities of Bogotá, Cali and Medellin - can be taken off the roads and transported at a cheaper cost. This will reduce the impact on the environment and improve the economy.

"Getting the railways to work will also be transformational for gender equality. Women, who have traditionally been held back by factors that include the lack of suitable transport, will have the opportunity to become economically active.” 

The training event marked the start of a longer-term collaboration between Manchester Metropolitan University and Javeriana University, which will increase joint research with the aim of embedding sustainable learning opportunities around the rail sector in Colombia.

The topics covered in the training included an insight into both conventional and modern rail development planning, based upon the principles of controlling projects and management of change, and the techniques and technologies available in developing strategies to design and manage improved rail infrastructure.

Felipe Castro Arenas, Infrastructure Adviser to the Colombia Prosperity Fund at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said: “The Prosperity Fund is interested in this project because it is a strategy that drives sustainable development and to solve economic gaps.

"We are working to increase the visibility of the sector so that the Colombian authorities and the market in general look again at the railway sector as a sustainable alternative of public transport and freight transport."

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