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Rail transport in Argentina

The Argentine railway network comprised 47,000 km of track at the end of the Second World War and was, in its time, one of the most extensive and prosperous in South America. However, with the increase in highway construction and the break-up in 1993 of Ferrocarriles Argentinos (FA), the state railroad corporation, there followed a sharp decline in railway profitability. Since that time several private and provincial railway companies have been created and have resurrected some of the major passenger routes that FA once operated. The railroad network today, with its 34,059 km of track, Historia del Ferrocarril argentina.gov.ar Retrieved on 26 May 2008 (Spanish) is now far smaller than it once was.

The railways of Argentina operate over track of the following five rail gauges:

Main line gauges:

Broad gauge: 24,481 km

Standard gauge: 2,765 km

Metre gauge: 11,080 km

Secondary gauges:

Narrow gauge: 409 km

Minimum gauge: 8 km



The building of the network began in 1855 at first with Argentine finance. Major development of the Argentine rail network occurred between 1870 and 1914, primarily financed by the British Empire, and to a lesser degree, French, German and Argentine investors. The Argentine rail network attained significant growth during this period which positioned the country as the tenth largest rail network in the world in 1914. Its expansion accelerated greatly due to the need for the transport of agricultural products and cattle in Buenos Aires Province. The rail network converged on the city of Buenos Aires and was a key component in the development of the Argentine economy as it rose to be a leading export country. In 1946, the Argentine government started the nationalisation process of its rail network.


Following what was then a worldwide trend, the private companies were nationalised in 1948. These companies, together with those that were already state-owned, were grouped according to their track gauge and locality into the following six state-owned companies:

Ferrocarril General Manuel Belgrano

Ferrocarril General Bartolome Mitre

Ferrocarril General Roca

Ferrocarril General San Martin

Ferrocarril Domingo Faustino Sarmiento

Ferrocarril General Urquiza

These would later become divisions of the state-owned holding company Ferrocarriles Argentinos.

Although at the beginning the state-owned railways were able to provide a good standard of passenger and freight service, political factors soon entered the equation and began to interfere with the economic and administrative aspects of the rail business.


Between 1992 and 1995, the government decided to privatise into segments the state-owned company Ferrocarriles Argentinos (FA), which comprised the six relatively independent divisions, Sarmiento, Mitre, Urquiza, San Martin, Belgrano and Roca, and granted concessions to private companies for their operation through competitive bidding. The decision was taken by the former President Carlos Menem and took part of his neoliberal reform.

At the start of the concessions, service quality greatly improved, and traffic began to grow again. However, as more locomotives and rolling stock were needed the private companies became increasingly reluctant to make the investment required to increase capacity and service quality began to decline again.

The economic crisis in 2001 was the final blow and neither the private companies nor the government could provide the service required. In 2003, the new administration of President Nestor Kirchner set it as a key policy objective to revive the national rail network. Although the economic upturn saw traffic grow again, the suburban rail operators are now little more than managers of government contracts rather than true entrepreneurs. Argentina sets a new course. Railway Gazette International, Retrieved on 19 May 2008

Commuter network

Buenos Aires, Resistencia and soon to be inaugurated; Metrotranvia of Mendoza in the city Mendoza, are the only cities in Argentina to offer suburban passenger services; most other cities rely on bus transportation. Nationally, in 2006, 434 million passengers were transported by railways.

Buenos Aires City's metropolitan rail system is extensive with 267 stations, 6 main rail lines and one light rail line, covering 899 kilometres (562 miles) and 1800 trains carrying over one million passengers each business day in the city of Buenos Aires, its suburbs in Greater Buenos Aires and several far-reaching satellite towns.

Service is provided by private companies and spreads out from five central stations in Buenos Aires: Retiro (the busiest), Constitucion, Once de Septiembre, Federico Lacroze all serving both long-distance and local passenger services and Buenos Aires Station which despite its name is a secondary rail terminus serving only local commuter services.

The Retiro and Constitucion train stations are linked by the Line C of the Buenos Aires Metro, Once de Septiembre is served by the Line A of the metro via its "Plaza Miserere" station and will also be served by the new Line H of the metro when construction is completed; and Federico Lacroze is served by B line. The smaller Buenos Aires Station is accessible by some city bus services and it is the only railway terminus in Buenos Aires that has no access to the Buenos Aires Metro.

Most trains leave at regular 8- to 20-minute intervals though for trains travelling a longer distance service may be less frequent. Fares are cheap and tickets can be purchased at ticket windows or through coin-operated machines at stations. Most of the lines are electric, several are diesel-powered, while some of these are currently being converted to electric, many of the lines share traffic with freight services.

Buenos Aires area commuter rail lines were privatised in the 1990s, and passengers have complained for years about poor commuter rail services on lines leading from Constitucion station in downtown Buenos Aires to the capital's southern suburbs.

The light rail Tren de la Costa (the coastal train), which serves "tourist" and local commuters, runs from the northern suburbs of Buenos Aires to Tigre along the river for approximately 15 kilometres, the line connects directly to the Linea Mitre at MaipuBartolome Mitre station in the northern suburb of Olivos for direct access to Retiro terminus in the centre of the city.

An experimental project of a short run tramway line, Tranvia del Este, has recently been inaugurated in the Puerto Madero district of Buenos Aires. The 2 km prototype line runs between the Cordoba and Independencia avenues, ridership has not been as expected, nevertheless, extensions are being planned.

Another tramway line, the PreMetro E2, operates as a feeder at the end of Metro Line E and a Historic Tramway operates on weekends and holidays in the Caballito neighbourhood of the capital.

Rail lines / Operators

Belgrano Norte Line / Ferrovias

Belgrano Sur Line / UGOFE

Mitre Line / Trenes de Buenos Aires

Roca Line / UGOFE

San Martin Line / UGOFE

Sarmiento Line / Trenes de Buenos Aires

Urquiza Line / Metrovias

Tren de la Costa / Tren de la Costa S.A.


Unlike the Buenos Aires Metro, which uses electronic fare cards, the Buenos Aires public transit system still uses antiquated ticketing systems. All tickets are bought at ticket booths at railway stations and every once in a while, on board certain trains. There is also no single integrated fare payment system for users of bus, metro, and railway services. The designation of multiple operating entities in the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area adds technical complexities to the Prepaid Fare System and represents a unique concept for public transport, nonetheless, the implementation of such a system is being studied. However, it has been argued that automatic ticket control systems may have certain disadvantages in that the presence of ticket sales and control personnel in the station adds more security to the passengers and to the property of the railroad.

Electrification plans

Although the first electric railway between Retiro and Tigre was inaugurated in 1916, major electrification projects were not adopted. Long distances, flat topography, and economic conditions did not merit major capital investments in this area, although some suburban networks in Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area were electrified.

After several decades of the Buenos Aires rail-service being under-funded, there is presently an ongoing modernization plan so as to provide much needed improvement in services, and the trend is towards electrification of several lines. The first line to receive this improvement is the cramped Roca line network on the southern part of the city, where work is already in progress, and several new routes have recently been approved for electrification covering the rest of the line. Work is also under way on the San Martin line, and there are plans to electrify the Belgrano Norte line.

, approximately 42.7%, 258KM (160 miles) from a total rail network of 604 km (375 miles) of the Buenos Aires and Greater Buenos Aires area , but including the city of La Plata, is electrified (both by locomotives and multiple units).

Once the oft-mentioned Roca line and San Martin Line electrification projects are completed by the year 2014, 75.5% of the network would be electrified, if the Belgrano Norte is added to the equation (which is being planned); the total electrified network would work out to approximately 84.9%.

Buenos Aires Underground

The Buenos Aires Underground (Subterraneo de Buenos Aires-locally known as Subte) is a metro system that serves the city of Buenos Aires, the network was inaugurated in 1913 by the Anglo-Argentine Tramways Company, being the first of its kind in Latin America and in the entire Southern Hemisphere.

In the city of Cordoba, Argentina, there is a project to build an underground system; the "Cordoba Metro", which would make it the second metro system in Argentina.

Intercity passenger services

Argentina scrapped many of its uneconomical long-distance passenger train services during the early 1990s and privatised, by concession contract, several main routes to Trenes de Buenos Aires, Ferrocentral, Ferrobaires, and Trenes Especiales Argentinos. The new services are not what passengers were used to and today, with the exception of the Buenos Aires, Rosario, Cordoba and Tucuman corridors, provide erratic and poor-quality services.

Nonetheless, a strong demand in farm commodities has helped the Argentine economy bounce back over recent years. The government intends to re-establish long-distance passenger services between vital centres in the agricultural and industrial regions with a project to build a high-speed railway that would join the three largest cities in Argentina; Buenos Aires, Rosario and Cordoba. This is expected to act as an essential component in the revival of railways in Argentina. Another project in the planning stages is the refurbishing and upgrading of the Buenos Aires-Mendoza corridor to operate trains at speeds of up to 160 kilometres per hour and possibly another high-speed line to the coastal city of Mar del Plata.


The following is a list of most of the current destinations operating from Plaza Constitucion, Estacion Once and Retiro rail terminus located in the centre of Buenos Aires:

R= Restaurant car

D= Sleeping car

Plaza Constitucion - Pinamar: twice a week R

Plaza Constitucion - Mar del Plata: three trains daily, other added Friday R

Plaza Constitucion - Miramar: daily R

Plaza Constitucion - Ayacucho - Tandil: once a week

Plaza Constitucion - Azul - Olavarria: five days a week R

Plaza Constitucion - Bahia Blanca (via Lamadrid): three times a week R / D

Plaza Constitucion - Bahia Blanca (via Coronel Pringles): twice a week R

Plaza Constitucion - Carmen de Patagones: once a week R

Plaza Constitucion - Saladillo - General Alvear: twice a week

Plaza Constitucion - 25 de Mayo - Bolivar: five days a week

Plaza Constitucion - Daireaux: once a week

Once - Chivilcoy - Bragado: daily

Once - Los Toldos - Lincoln: once a week

Once - 9 de Julio, Buenos Aires - Carlos Casares: four days a week

Once - Pehuajo: three times a week

Retiro - Junin: daily

Retiro - Rosario - Santa Fe: once a week

Retiro - Rosario - La Banda - Tucuman: twice a week R / D

Retiro - Rosario - Cordoba: twice a week R / D

Federico Lacroze - Concordia - Monte Caseros - Posadas: twice a week R

Other province destinations:

Cordoba - Villa Maria: twice a week

Viedma - San Antonio Oeste - S. C. de Bariloche: thrice weekly R / D

Ing. Jacobacci - San Carlos de Bariloche: thrice weekly

Basavilbaso - Villaguay Central - Concordia: five days a week to Villaguay, twice weekly to Concordia.

Resistencia - La Sabana - Los Amores: to La Sabana daily, to Los Amores three days a week

Roque Saenz Pena - Pinedo - Chorotis: daily

Resistencia suburban service: several trains daily

High-speed rail

A new high-speed rail line between Buenos Aires, Rosario and Cordoba, with speeds up to 320 km/h is being planned. This line will be standard gauge.

Freight network

Argentine rail lines have not been well maintained over the past several decades, with many key segments inoperable today. Despite these challenges, Argentina's rail freight traffic has increased by more than 10 percent in each of the past five years. Recent estimates indicate that 20 percent of Argentina's grain production moves by rail at some point. As a result of improved utilization and efficiencies, the cost of rail transportation has dropped by 25 percent. Rail freight operators transported 25.2 million tons in 2007, roughly an eighth of the total.

Argentine rail operators expect business to increase dramatically over the next five years. In sum, Argentina is making great efforts to rejuvenate its rail systems. Modernization efforts seem to be resulting in significant performance improvements and a substantial shift in traffic from motor to rail service.

Freight operators

Nuevo Central Argentino

Ferroexpreso Pampeano

Ferrosur Roca

America Latina Logistica

Belgrano Cargas

Tourist railways

Buenos Aires

The "Tramway Historico de Buenos Aires" is a Heritage Tramway inaugurated In 1980 in the Caballito neighborhood on existing vintage street tracks.


Tren de las Sierras (Train of the mountain range region) is a 150 km metre gauge railway line between Rodriguez del Busto station in the centre of the city of Cordoba and Capilla del Monte. It's popular with tourists because of its scenic route through the "Sierras Chicas" of Cordoba Province.


Tren a las nubes in the province of Salta crosses canyons and cliffs before arriving to the of San Antonio de los Cobres.


A heritage railway or tourist railroad, "The Wine Train" (Tren del Vino) is being planned which will also provide transportation to locals, it will run along wine producing districts of Mendoza.


The Rainforest Ecological Train is a small environmentally-friendly train runs through the forest inside Iguazu National Park in the north of the province of Misiones in Argentina.


The narrow-gauge Old Patagonian Express, (Viejo Expreso Patagonico) known locally as La Trochita, is a 402 km long narrow gauge heritage railway in Patagonia, Argentina using steam locomotives. It is said to be the only narrow-gauge long-distance steam train in operation in the world.

Tren Historico de Bariloche is a short run to Perito Moreno, 4-6-0 steam manufactured in Scotland in 1912 by the North British Locomotive Company in Glasgow, the Cedar and Mahogany carriages were originally Made in England.

Tierra del Fuego

The "Ferrocarril Austral Fueguino", called Tren del Fin del Mundo - "The Train at the End of the World" or Southern Fuegian Railway, is the world's southernmost railway in the province of Tierra del Fuego, operating on narrow gauge , using steam locomotives. Presently being restored with modern steam by Eng. Shaun McMahon.

International rail links to adjacent countries

Bolivia - gauge both countries. Between Villazon, Bolivia and La Quiaca, Argentina

Brazil - break of gauge, gauge (Argentina)/ gauge (Brazil).

Chile - IRJ of March 2005 reports construction started to build/restore South Trans-Andean Railway link between Zapala, Argentina and Lonquimay, Chile. gauge both countries.

Chile - Transandine Railway between Mendoza and Santa Rosa de Los Andes, now defunct, under reconstruction. This mountain railway of gauge with rack railway sections had a break of gauge / at either end.

Paraguay - gauge both countries.

Uruguay - gauge both countries.


A passenger train slammed into a bus at a rural Argentine railroad crossing, near Dolores, some 125 miles south of Buenos Aires, before dawn March 9, 2008, killing 18 people and leaving at least 47 others injured. The bus driver ignored the warning lights and lowered crossing gates.

See also

Rail transport by country

Buenos Aires Metro

Transportation in Argentina


Latin Tracks (Latin-American railway magazine )

Mario J. Lopez and Jorge A. Waddell, Nueva Historia del Ferrocarril en la Argentina 150 anos de Politica Ferroviaria (A New History of Railways in Argentina 150 Years of Railway Policies) Text: Spanish Ediciones Lumiere SA www.edicioneslumiere.com & Fundacion Museo Ferroviario (2007) - ISBN 978-987-603-032-8

External links

Heritage railways:

Old Patagonian express official site

Asociacion Amigos del Tranvia official site (Spanish)

Tren Historico a Vapor - Historical Steam Train official site

Tren del Fin del Mundo official site


Historia del Ferrocarril (Spanish)

Ing. Livio Dante Porta's First Locomotive Argentina

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