The Antioquia Railway linked the province of Caldas, the areas in the Cauca Valley, and the central region of the Antioquia province with the Magdalena River. Its construction began in 1874 and officially ended with its inauguration in 1929. The Antioquia Railroad played an important factor in the economic development of the Antioquia region.
Construction of the Antioquia Railway
The construction of the Antioquia Railway in such a geographically difficult region represented a challenge for the technology of the late 19th century.
In 1874, at the beginning of the railway project, nobody thought that it would take 55 years until the first train would travel from Medellin to Puerto Berrio. Civil wars and political instability had affected the finances of the planned railroad and delayed its execution. In 1903 Panama separated from Colombia, and in 1920 it compensated Colombia financially. The Government invested a large part of the funds received from Panama in railroad construction. It was on August 7, 1929, when the first locomotive was pulling a train from Medellin to Puerto Berrio through the Cisneros Tunnel.
Early operation of the Antioquia Railway
Transporting crops, coffee and people got easy and quick at a much lower cost with the new rail transport system. The number “1” locomotive that served the Medellin line was in reality number “2”, since the first one disappeared from the map after having rolled through an abyss. To avoid panic, the company painted number “1” on locomotive number “2”. The Government did not communicate this story to the public until many years later.
With the time, the Antioquia Railroad was getting more and more admiration, affection, and pride among Antioquia’s population. The railroad allowed Antioquia to become one of the most profitable territories in Colombia thanks to the international coffee trade.
Even though from 1905 to 1960, the Government invested resources in the railroads, the Government devoted massive sums of money also to the construction of roads, especially after 1930. Since that time, investment in rail transport has decreased by almost 90%.
In 1934, the Antioquia Railroad began to see a deficit. In 1947 a road parallel to the train was built supposedly to support the train, but from the beginning, it constituted a threat to the trains’ survival.
The railroad began to lose more and more money, and the deficit was growing from year to year. The construction of the Puerto Berrío – Medellín Pipeline at the end of the 1950s was very problematic for the railraod since before; oil was transported by train.
Finally, 1961 the Antioquia Railroad Company was liquidated, and all the actives of the company were transferred to the State of Colombia.
The Antioquia Railroad Today
On our tour “Coffee, Rum, and Trains in Colombia and Panama,” we revive the Antioquia Railway when we travel with Motorbikes on rails, called “Brujitas,” from Santiago to Cisneros on the Antioquia Railroad. During the nearly 15km rail journey, we cross the famous Cisneros Tunnel and see many amazing historical railway-related buildings along the way.