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Panama Canal Railway Reconstruction

RailWorks rebuilt Panama's rail line to accommodate container and tourist traffic.
Project Highlights 
  • Rehabbed 47-mile line
  • Constructed 44 miles of mainline track
  • Required complex procurement and project coordination
Colon, Panama
Panama Canal Railway Company, a joint venture of Kansas City Southern Industries and Mi-Jack Products, Inc.
Business Unit 
RailWorks Track Systems
Project Description 

RailWorks, formerly known as Neosho Central America, served as the prime contractor in charge of the entire project to reconstruct the 47-mile Panama Canal Railway. The rehab came after 24 years of inactivity had fueled jungle overgrowth.

Project Scope 

RailWorks worked nearly two years – from January 2000 to November 2001 – installing ballast, ties and rail, specifically handling:

  • 40 miles of track removal, including 115 LB rail and wood cross ties.
  • 44 miles of mainline track
  • 16 turnouts
  • 22 crossovers
  • 950 linear feet of direct fixation track in an existing tunnel
  • 2 container transfer yards
  • 300,000 cubic yards of excavation
  • 325,000 cubic yards of embankment
Unique Features 

To ensure equipment and materials arrived in time for construction, project leaders coordinated ordering and shipping months in advance.

The ballast (about 300,000 tons) was quarried in Nova Scotia and delivered via ship. The 136RE rail came from Canada, and concrete ties from Columbia. Track equipment was mobilized from the United States, where shipments were consolidated in Houston before moving to Colon.

Panama is a narrow, S-shaped piece of land, much of which is lake and jungle. For the jungle stretches of construction, representing more than half the work, there was only one way to gain access. In those stretches, the crew built out ahead and all materials and supplies were hauled out on the rail just built.”

A seven-month rainy season brings an average of 120 inches of rain annually to Panama. Workers toiled as quickly as possible during dry season to complete grading and dirt work. Amazingly, the project moved forward at a pace that allowed completion in less than two years.

Any potential language barrier for the U.S.-led team in a Spanish-speaking country was never an issue. Project leaders from the United States joined forces with Panamanian engineers, surveyors and others to foster a cross-cultural success story. Bilingual engineers and designers translated plans written in English, for presentation in Spanish. Bilingual staff conducted meetings with local agencies and authorities in Spanish.

“The permitting process and the logistics of moving in all the material were two challenges that took a lot of extra effort by the RailWorks team, but they did an excellent job. They finished the project on time and on budget. One year later, the railroad is operating without any issues related to track structure or any of the work done by RailWorks.”

Dave Starling – president
Panama Canal Railway Company