China gives Panama its plan for a $4bn high-speed rail line to Costa Rica

The government of China has presented Panama with a feasibility study for a 391km high-speed rail line between Panama City north to its border with Costa Rica.

The study was presented by Wei Qiang, China’s ambassador to Panama, to President Juan Carlos Varela at the end of last week. Varela responded by saying the study "opened the way for this great project for Panama. It is economically feasible because of the social profitability it represents for the Panamanian people, it is profitable and viable to build it".

Drawn up by the China Railway Design Corporation, the plan is to unite the City of the Future, 37km west of the Panamanian capital, with the town of David, about 50km from the border with Costa Rica. The study foresees a line with 22 stations, including five freight depots, and puts a price tag of $4.1bn on the works.

At present, Panama has no rail network outside the Panama Canal zone. The government has been in talks with China Tiesiju Civil Engineering Group over the building of the Panama City-David link following the normalisation of relations in June 2017.

If the proposal is approved, it is estimated the line would take six years to build and would generate 2,900 jobs in its operation and maintenance. A journey from one end of the line to the other would be completed in about two-and-a-half hours.

The project would be carried out under China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and would follow China’s established policy of creating logistical hubs in foreign regions to improve the flow of Chinese trade and investment into them. Panama is an obvious choice for Beijing as Chinese container ships have to go there to use the transoceanic canal. China is the second largest user of the canal after the US.

Image: A Panama Canal Railway passenger train in yard at Colon near the Panama Canal (Nils Öberg/CC BY-SA 3.0)

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