Innovating Global Transportation: The Vision of Professor Carlos D. Paternina-Arboleda

In a recent investor Q&A session, Professor Carlos D. Paternina-Arboleda, an assistant professor of supply chain analytics at San Diego State University, shared his insights on our PILA project that promises to revolutionize the global transportation industry. The PILA project aims to create a more sustainable and efficient transportation system for containers across South America, leveraging the concept of the “physical internet.”

Background and Expertise of Professor Paternina-Arboleda

Originally from Colombia, Professor Paternina-Arboleda has a rich supply chain analytics background, focusing on port operations and smart ports. His work emphasizes sustainability and the triple-bottom-line approach in port management. Before moving to the U.S., he was deeply involved in research and industry projects related to transportation optimization, freight cargo routing, and port resilience in Colombia.

The PILA Project

The project in discussion involves building two ports in North Colombia, connected by a tunnel utilizing maglev technology for container transfer. This innovative approach departs from traditional shipping methods, which rely heavily on fossil fuels. The project aims to establish a more sustainable shipping method using renewable energy. Containers offloaded on the Atlantic side can be loaded onto a ship on the Pacific side within an hour and vice versa.

Impact on the Region

Professor Paternina-Arboleda highlighted the significant potential impact of the project on the region. North Colombia, particularly the Choco Department, is one of the country’s most underdeveloped areas, with an economy primarily based on agriculture and fishing. Introducing this project could spur economic growth, create job opportunities, and lead to infrastructure development in a region with much-untapped potential.

Environmental Considerations

A key aspect of the project is its environmental focus. The region, known for its dense jungles and rich biodiversity, requires careful consideration to avoid ecological damage. The project’s underground tunnel approach minimizes surface disruption, aligning with the government’s increasing emphasis on environmental investments. Another essential focus is using renewable energy sources, like solar and wind. The solution we are developing is a zero-emission alternative to the Panama Canal for shipping containers across the South American continent.

Challenges and Opportunities

While the project presents numerous opportunities, it also faces challenges, including securing environmental licenses. However, the current government’s prioritization of environmental investments and infrastructure development bodes well for the project’s acceptance and success. The Government of Colombia has already approved the initial Zergratran plans, and we have taken the first steps to realize our innovative freight solution.

The project comprises three main phases: The first phase is a pre-feasibility study, looking at financial, geological, and technical feasibility, which could take 6-12 months. The second phase is a feasibility study, sourcing the materials, planning, and construction, which will take 9-18 months. The final phase is construction, which would take an estimated six years. 


Professor Carlos D. Paternina-Arboleda’s insights shed light on the transformative potential of the Zergratran project. By combining innovative technology with a commitment to sustainability and regional development, this project will revolutionize transportation and set a precedent for future global transportation initiatives, bringing down the carbon footprint of ocean shipping and global supply chains.

About the author:

Martijn Graat

Martijn Graat is Zergratran’s Head of Content. He writes about trends and innovations in supply chain and logistics and anything related to Zergratran.