Faced with a scenario of world logistics crisis, which caused the increase in maritime freight rates, the need arose to have alternate cargo movement systems, which is why several companies and institutions carry out studies to reactivate the railway service in Guatemala.
Some 25 years have passed since the last time the operation of this transport system was observed in the country, and several governments have included railway recovery among their plans with specific projects that require million-dollar investments, political will, long-term planning and interinstitutional agreements.
As part of this research, it was confirmed that the Mexico-Guatemala Railway Interconnection (Ciudad Hidalgo-Tecún Umán and Pajapita, San Marcos) are already in different phases of study and implementation; Puerto Quetzal – Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa Project (Escuintla); Puerto Barrios – Morales Project (Izabal); Urban Train and MetroRiel.
For example, in recent weeks work brigades have been observed clearing sections of the railroad located in various areas of the capital and evaluating the condition of the rails and sleepers, which confirms the intention to carry out tests to reactivate the service. The question is: who ordered this work?
The owner of the system
On several occasions, Free Press He tried to contact Carlos Estrada, sole administrator of the Compañía Desarrolladora Ferroviaria, SA, known as Ferrovías, and an email was also sent to the company’s communication department to inquire about it, without obtaining a response.
However, we verify that Ferrocarriles de Guatemala (Fegua) is the owner of the rail lines in Guatemala, but Ferrovías has a usufruct contract over the entire rail line and the exclusivity of the entire operation, for which Fegua is a regulatory entity or inspector of said contract.
“The Ferrovías contract is the one that gives it the exclusive right to operate the entire railway line, and Fegua was the counterpart of the contract, to ensure that it is fulfilled,” said Juan Pablo Carrasco, president of the Guatemalan-American Chamber of Commerce. (AmCham). Therefore, Ferrovías would be the only legally established beneficial owner of railway utility assets in the country, in addition to having the capacity to develop reactivation projects that seek the entity’s self-sustainability and compliance with contract 402, which documents the usufruct. onerous of railway utility goods owned by Fegua.
Among the services that Ferrovías can provide are the transport of cargo, passengers, land terminal, transport agent, maritime agent and any other economic activity. “It is more economical to transport the cargo through the train in a multimodal station, where the cargo enters and the bulk, raw material or products are unloaded, then they are transported by land and the maritime transport continues and vice versa,” said Carrasco.
Likewise, he affirmed that there are no legal impediments to be able to develop sections for the passage of the train, but it requires political will. In the case of Ferrovías, as a private company, it can enter into these participation contracts with other entities and carry out the works.
Projects on the doorstep
Several of the mentioned projects are located in different parts of the country and in some cases they are related. In others, contracts have already been signed, such as in the case of the Puerta del Istmo Special Economic Development Zone (Zdeep), to develop a Multimodal Railway Terminal in Pajapita, San Marcos, with an investment of US $ 23 million, which includes a plot of 20 hectares.
On June 23, an onerous and non-exclusive right-of-way contract was signed with Ferrovías, so that Puerta del Istmo can begin the construction of the logistics center, whose objective is to facilitate commercial exchange between Mexico, Guatemala and Central America. Some of the products that could be transferred from Mexico to Guatemala are vehicles, steel, grains and hydrocarbons, among others.
Fermín Colima, president of Puerta del Istmo, explained that to achieve the project, 3.2 km of railway line must first be built. The first 1.3 km correspond to the railway line that is within the Temporary Customs Warehouse, in which Ferrovías invested Q40 million, but it is not yet authorized by the Superintendency of Tax Administration (SAT). The section will connect the railway facilities in Tecún Umán with Puerta del Istmo.
In addition, another 1.9 km of railway line within private property that will take the railway to the project facilities. The investment for these 3.2 km amounts to US $ 3.5 million, said Colima. However, they depend on the green light from the temporary customs warehouse of Ferrovías to be able to start the works that would last 18 months and that were established in the contract, said the businessman.
“The construction of the railway line will be carried out in accordance with the current standards and requirements used by the Mexican railway network; therefore, agreements with Ferrocarriles de México have yet to be reached. We cannot begin the investment without ensuring that the train will enter from Mexico; everything goes hand in hand, “said Colima.
Arturo Soto, president of the Guatemalan Mexican Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Camex), indicated that it is important to reach agreements with Mexico so that trade facilitation is achieved through the implementation of shared customs.
In the case of Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas, there is not much space to operate an exit customs office, but there is on the Guatemala side.
In the case of Fegua, its main objective is to restore, revitalize and revalue the railway heritage, and implement and execute a maintenance plan for the railway. There is some progress, but it has been slow.
For the supervision services of the railroad, prosecution of complaints, signaling and the conservation of historical and railway assets, Fegua has invested, from October 2019 to September of this year Q17 million 335 thousand 004, which includes materials and supplies, and the hiring of technical and professional services.
Currently, by mandate, he is in charge of the maintenance and protection works of the railroad, specifically in 11 street of zone 12 and Atanasio Tzul road.
A study that is still in process and that is expected to be completed by the end of this year is the Guatemalan Rail Freight Connection Segment in Central America, which is part of a regional initiative of the Knowledge Sharing Program, implemented by the Ministry of Economy and Finance. of the Republic of Korea, with the support of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) and the Multilateral Development Bank, in which Fegua participates.
Érick Uribio, executive director of the National Agency for Economic Infrastructure Development Alliances (Anadie), pointed out that the pre-feasibility study prepared by CABEI on the connection from Mexico to Puerto Quetzal is still ongoing and ends this year.
The diagnosis will make it possible to evaluate the current state of the railway sections from Tecún Umán, San Marcos, to Escuintla, with an approximate distance of 165 km.
Finally, Carrasco stressed that the best strategy to advance in completing the railway projects is planning by “sections”, because they are investments that are not recovered in the short term, and only in this way will the country be more competitive.
Testimonials, neighbors fear
People who live near the train tracks expressed fear because more and more they are observing works to revitalize the railway lines and some have lived there for more than 25 years.
Benjamín Yax commented that if the train runs again, hundreds of families who do not have the resources to buy land or move to another place will be harmed.
María López affirmed that they would be willing to move wherever the Government indicates, but on the condition that it be in Guatemala City, since their work centers are nearby and they earn the minimum wage, so they cannot pay for transportation.
Mercedes Pérez, who has lived near the train tracks for more than 21 years, affirms that the reactivation of this service will harm her, because she does not have the economic resources to rent a room or home. Therefore, he fears being left without a space to live, because he does not have relatives to turn to either.
* By Érick Ávila