TRANSPORTATION AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS Overview: Road travel is the main means of transport, with almost 70 percent of cargo being transported by road, as compared with 27 percent by railroad, 3 percent by internal waterways, and 1 percent by air. Nevertheless, Colombia has one of the lowest ratios of paved roads per inhabitant in Latin America. The country has well-developed air and waterway routes. The only means of transportation in 40 percent of the country is via waterways, but guerrilla groups control the waterways in the south and southeast.
Roads: Estimates of the length of Colombia’s road system in 2004 ranged from 115,000 kilometers to 145,000 kilometers, of which less than 15 percent were paved. The main highways are the Caribbean, Eastern, and Central Trunk Highways. President Uribe has vowed to pave more than 2,500 kilometers of roads during his administration, and about 5,000 kilometers of new secondary roads are being built in the 2003–06 period. These plans include a Jungle Edge Highway to give access to the interior; linking the road connecting Turbo, a town on the Golfo de Urabá in Córdoba Department, with Bahía Solano, a town on the Pacific Coast of Chocó Department, and the city of Medellín, located about 250 kilometers to the east of Bahía Solano in Antioquia Department; linking Bogotá and Villavicencio, located about 135 kilometers to the southeast in Meta Department; and completing the short section of the Pan-American Highway between Panama and Colombia.
Railroads: The national railroad system, once the country’s main mode of transport for freight, has been neglected in favor of road development and now accounts for only 27 percent of freight transport. Colombia has 3,034 kilometers of rail lines, of which 150 kilometers are 1.435-meter gauge and 3,154 kilometers are 0.914-meter gauge. Refurbishment of approximately 2,000 kilometers of the country’s rail lines is expected to be completed between 2004 and 2006. This upgrade involves two main projects: the 1,484-kilometer line linking Bogotá to the Caribbean Coast; and the 499-kilometer Pacific coastal network that links the industrial city of Cali and the surrounding coffee-growing region to the port of Buenaventura. Passenger-rail use was suspended in 1992 and resumed at the end of the 1990s. Fewer than 165,000 passenger journeys were made in 1999, as compared with more than 5 million in 1972.
Ports: Seaports handle around 80 percent of international cargo. Colombia’s most important ocean terminals are: Barranquilla, Cartagena, and Santa Marta on the Caribbean Coast; and Buenaventura and Tumaco on the Pacific Coast. Exports mostly pass through the Caribbean ports of Cartagena and Santa Marta, while 65 percent of imports arrive at the port of Buenaventura. Other important ports and harbors are: Bahía de Portete, Leticia, Puerto Bolívar, San Andrés, Santa Marta, Tumaco, and Turbo. Since privatization was implemented in 1993, the efficiency of port handling has increased greatly. There are plans to construct a deep-water port at Bahía Solano.
Inland Waterways: The main inland waterways total 18,140 kilometers, of which 11,000 kilometers are navigable. A well-developed and important form of transport for both cargo and passengers, inland waterways transport approximately 3.8 million tons of freight and more than 5.5 million passengers annually. The government plans an ambitious program to more fully utilize the main rivers for transport. Main inland waterways are the Magdalena-Cauca River system, which is navigable for 1,500 kilometers; the Atrato, which is navigable for 687 kilometers; the Orinoco system of more than five navigable rivers, which total more than 4,000 kilometers of potential navigation (mainly through Venezuela); and the Amazonas system, which has four main rivers totaling 3,000 navigable kilometers (mainly through Brazil). There are plans to connect the Arauca with the Meta, and the Putumayo with the Amazon, and also to construct an Atrato-Truando inter-oceanic canal.
Merchant Marine: The merchant marine totals 13 ships (1,000 GRT or over), including four bulk, five cargo, one container, one liquefied gas, and two petroleum tanker ships. In 2003 Colombia had 16 ships registered in other countries.
Civil Aviation and Airports: Colombia has well-developed air routes and an estimated total of 980 airports.Of this total, 100 have paved runways. Two are more than 3,047 meters in length, nine are between 2,438 and 3,047 meters, 39 are between 1,524 and 2,437 meters, 38 are between 914 and 1,523 meters, 12 are less than 914 meters, and 880 have unpaved runways. The approximately 100 sizable or paved airports include 11 international airports—Bogotá (El Dorado International), Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Cartagena, Cucutá, Leticia, Pereira, San Andrés, and Santa Marta—and 40 regional airports. Of the 74 main airports, 20 can accommodate jet aircraft.In addition, Colombia has one heliport. The country’s largest airline, the National Airlines Company of Colombia (Compañía Aerovías Nacionales de Colombia S.A.—Avianca), is experiencing financial difficulties, and the second largest airline, Central Airlines of Colombia (Aerolineas Centrales de Colombia—Aces), closed down as a result of bankruptcy. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration restored Colombia’s safety rating in November 1999, after downgrading it in 1995 and preventing Colombian airlines from adding new routes to the United States.
Pipelines: In 2003 Colombia had 4,350 kilometers of gas pipelines, 6,134 kilometers of oil pipelines, and 3,140 kilometers of refined-products pipelines.
Telecommunications: As a result of being liberalized in the 1990s, Colombia has a modern telephone system that serves primarily larger towns and cities. In 2002 the number of main telephone lines in use totaled 7.8 million. Telephone density in 2001 was 17.1 per 100 inhabitants, but this rate is still only the seventh highest in Latin America. The number of fixed lines and mobile telephones per 1,000 people totaled 285.6 in 2002, as compared with 248.5 in 2001. In 2002 Colombia had 4,596,600 mobile cellular phone subscribers. Cell-phone density in 2001 was 7.38 per 100 inhabitants. Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali account for about 50 percent of telephone lines in use.
There are approximately 500 radio stations, of which 454 are AM; 34, FM; and 27, shortwave. The country has about 60 television stations, including 7 low-power stations. In 2000 the population had 11,936,000 television receivers in use. In 2002 the country had 55,626 Internet hosts, 18 Internet service providers, and 2 million Internet users. A total of 1.8 million personal computers were in use in 2001, or 42.1 per 1,000 people. In 2002 the number of personal computers per 1,000 people increased to 49.3, a rate still below that in other large Latin American economies. The government estimates that the number of Internet users exceeded 2.5 million by mid-2003, putting Internet penetration per 100 inhabitants at 4.5, above the level in Chile, but below that in Peru or Venezuela.