Bogotá is one of the most-congested cities in the world: People lost an average of 94 hours to traffic in 2021 alone, according to the INRIX Index. But that could all change drastically with a project to create the country’s first commuter rail line, potentially transforming Colombia’s capital city in the process. The US$3.6 billion Bogotá Metro—the country’s largest infrastructure project—has an ambitious goal: cut travel time around the city in half. Now after decades of promises from public officials—and despite a recent spate of setbacks—the mobility megaproject looks to be headed back on track.
While construction for Line 1 was approved in 2019, project owner Empresa Metro de Bogotá and partners China Harbour Engineering Co. and Xi’an Metro Co. had to contend with repercussions from the pandemic and citizen protests against government fiscal reforms—both of which stalled progress.
Project leaders relaunched the initiative in earnest last year when construction on Line 1 and the project’s workshop yard broke ground. And in July, the government stepped up to guarantee funding for Line 2, work that was simultaneously approved by the National Planning Department. The preliminary design scope expanded to also cover supplemental infrastructure, including 22 kilometers (13.7 miles) of bike lanes and integration of the metro with parts of the existing bus rapid transit system.
To build public buy-in, project leaders are emphasizing the immediate positive social impact. For instance, Line 1 construction is projected to generate at least 17,000 direct jobs. And then there are the mobility benefits: Line 1 will stretch 24 kilometers (14.9 miles) and have 16 stations—transporting 72,000 passengers per hour from either direction and connecting the south and north in just 27 minutes. Line 2 will span 15.5 kilometers (9.6 miles)—mostly underground—and will serve up to 2.5 million users, helping them shave nearly 60 million hours of travel time per year.
From the start, project leaders focused on identifying and mitigating risks. The workshop yard, which at 35.9 hectares (88.7 acres) is as large as 50 football pitches, is being built on the banks of the Bogotá River. But rain has washed away soil over hundreds of years, so an excavation team replaced it with more erosion-resistant materials. The team also plans to erect a platform stretching 5.3 meters (17.4 feet) high to prevent subway flooding.
The payoff? “The possibility of this site being flooded is almost zero, it is one in a thousand years," says Andrés Escobar Uribe, an engineer and the manager of Empresa Metro de Bogotá.
With Line 1 set to open in 2028 and Line 2 scheduled to follow in 2032, such proactive planning will be needed to keep Bogotá Metro on pace to be fully operational by 2050. So far, so good. At the workshop yard, 16 percent of work was completed within the first six months, surpassing the original goal of 7 percent in that timeframe.
When the project was first relaunched, Bogotá Mayor Claudia López noted it had taken more than eight decades to get there, but said it was the kind of initiative that was “essential… for the wellbeing of our people” and represents more than just transportation. “It is, above all, a symbol of unity, of equality, of transformation of our society.”