Rail transport in Argentina

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Retiro Railway Terminal, downtown Buenos Aires

The Argentine railway network comprised 47,000 km (29,204 mi) 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, there followed a sharp decline in railway profitability, leading to the break-up in 1993 of Ferrocarriles Argentinos (FA), the state railroad corporation. 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 (21,163 mi) of track,[1] is now far smaller than it once was.

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

Main line gauges:
Indian gauge: 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) – 24,481 km (15,212 mi)
Standard gauge: 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) – 2,765 km (1,718 mi)
Metre gauge: 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) – 11,080 km (6,885 mi)
Secondary gauges:
Narrow gauge: 750 mm (2 ft 5 12 in) – 409 km (254 mi)
Minimum gauge: 500 mm (19 34 in) – 8 km (5 mi)


Argentina's first railway station and locomotive, 1857


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,[2] 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.

First train arriving at San Carlos de Bariloche
System length (kilometres)9.87222,5169,39716,50029,09447,000
Passengers transported (millions)318145
Cargo transported (x 1,000,000 tonnes)1.011.845.5


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:

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

Abandonment of transport means

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 formed part of his neoliberal reforms.

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.

In addition, automobile industry interests seeking the demise of the railway, purchased lines for far less than their real value. As with other privatization schemes under Menem, members of Congress in both the Peronista and Radical Parties, as well as railway union officials, received monetary favors for allowing the dismantling of Ferrocariles Argentinos. The closing of most of the rail system led to the emptying of many towns of the interior, and therefore to a dismantling of the development that had taken place there since the arrival of trains. Argentine agriculture found itself in the difficult position of shipping its goods more expensively and inefficiently by individual trucks.

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 Néstor 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.[4]

In June 2012, the government announced that it was renationalising some freight railways.[5]

Commuter network[edit]

Diagrammatic map of the Buenos Aires Commuter Rail Network

Buenos Aires, Resistencia and Mendoza, are the only cities in Argentina to offer suburban passenger services; most other cities rely on bus and trolleybus transportation.

Commuter rail in Buenos Aires[edit]

Buenos Aires City's metropolitan rail system is the second most extensive in the Americas after New York's commuter rail system, with about 259 stations, covering 813 kilometres (505 miles) and 7 rail lines serving more than 445 million commuters annually in the Greater Buenos Aires region.[6] Commuter rail service from the suburbs is operated by several agencies. These rail systems converge at five rail terminals, all of them in Buenos Aires, with two, Retiro and Constitución rail terminals being the busiest train stations in Argentina.

LineOperatorLine length (kilometres)Number of stationsAnnual ridership (1998)Annual ridership (2008)
Belgrano Norte
Belgrano Sur
San Martín
Constitución, second busiest rail station in the country

Buenos Aires City's commuter rail provides 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), Constitución, Once, 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 Constitución train stations are linked by the Line C of the Buenos Aires Metro, Once 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 Constitución station in downtown Buenos Aires to the capital's southern suburbs.[8]

Other commuter rail services[edit]

The light rail Tren de la Costa (Train of the Coast), 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 Mitre line at Maipú–Bartolomé 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, Tranvía del Este, has recently been inaugurated in the Puerto Madero district of Buenos Aires. The 2 km prototype line runs between the Córdoba 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.


The Buenos Aires public transit system uses a ticketing system. All tickets are bought at ticket booths and ticket printing consoles at railway stations, and every once in a while, on board certain trains. Tickets can be bought either using cash or by using the SUBE card (also used for buses and metro). Ticket cost differs depending on the payment method: If the tickets are bought using SUBE, the user can benefit from a government subsidy which translates in a substantially reduced fare.

Buenos Aires Electric Railways Network 2008

Electrification plans[edit]

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.[9] Work is also under way on the San Martín line,[10] and there are plans to electrify the Belgrano Norte line.

Subterráneo de Buenos Aires, the Buenos Aires Underground

As of 2008, approximately 42.7%, 258KM (160 miles) from a total rail network of 604 km (375 mi) of the Buenos Aires and Greater Buenos Aires area (excluding outer-suburban satellite cities of Capilla del Señor, Lobos, Mercedes, Luján, Zárate and Cañuelas), but including the city of La Plata, is electrified (both by locomotives and multiple units). Once the oft-mentioned Roca line (143 km) and San Martín Line (55 km) 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[edit]

The Buenos Aires Underground (Subterráneo 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 Córdoba, Argentina, there is a project to build an underground system; the "Córdoba Metro", which would make it the second metro system in Argentina.[11]

Intercity passenger services[edit]

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, Córdoba and Tucumán 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 Córdoba.[12] This is expected to act as an essential component in the revival of railways in Argentina.[13] 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.


Approaching Retiro Station, Buenos Aires
La Plata Railway station

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

R= Restaurant car
D= Sleeping car

Other province destinations:

High-speed rail[edit]

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

Tourist railways[edit]

The Old Patagonian Express
Tren de las Sierras

Buenos Aires






Tierra del Fuego

International rail links to adjacent countries[edit]


A passenger train slammed into a bus at a rural Argentine level crossing, near Dolores, some 125 miles (201 km) south of Buenos Aires, before dawn on 9 March 2008, killing 18 people and leaving at least 47 others injured. The bus driver ignored the warning lights and lowered crossing gates.[17]

A passenger train operated by Trenes de Buenos Aires hit a bus on a level crossing at Flores in Buenos Aires during the morning rush hour on 13 September 2011, killing 11 people and injuring 265. The train derailed, and crashed into a train standing at the platform in the adjacent station. The bus driver had ignored warning lights and a partly lowered barrier.[18][19]

On 22 February 2012 a passenger train operated by TBA crashed into the solid buffers at the Once station near downtown Buenos Aires, killing 51 people and injuring over 700 others. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner called for two days of national mourning following what was the second deadliest train accident in Argentina's history.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Historia del Ferrocarril argentina.gov.ar Retrieved on 26 May 2008 (Spanish)
  2. ^ The British and the Argentine railways Retrieved on 24 June 2008
  3. ^ JSTOR: The Economic Journal, Vol. 68, No. 271 (Sept., 1958), pp.589-593 - Retrieved on 14 June 2008
  4. ^ Argentina sets a new course. Railway Gazette International, Retrieved on 19 May 2008
  5. ^ "ALL concessions revoked". Railway Gazette International. Retrieved 10 June 2013. 
  6. ^ Secretaria de Transporte de la Nacion Facts and Figures / TABLE No. 6 (Spanish) Retrieved on 19 February 2011
  7. ^ Secretaria de Transporte de la Nacion Facts and Figures / TABLE No. 2 (Spanish) Retrieved on 19 February 2011
  8. ^ Reshaping Argentina's Railways, Japan Railway & Transport Review No. 2 (pp.23–29) Retrieved on 24 June 2008
  9. ^ Electrificarán todos los ramales del Ferrocarril Roca Retrieved on 23 June 2008 (Spanish)
  10. ^ Comprarán 160 coches y 24 locomotoras chinas para la línea San Martín Retrieved on 23 June 2008 (Spanish)
  11. ^ Diario La Voz Del Interior Retrieved on 10 July 2009 (Spanish)
  12. ^ www.wired.com: Argentina Says '¡Si!' to High Speed Rail, Retrieved on 23 June 2008
  13. ^ www.greengauge21.net High Speed Trains and the Development and Regeneration of Cities, Retrieved on 23 June 2008
  14. ^ Mendoza Wine Train Retrieved on 26 May 2008
  15. ^ Initiative for Regional Infrastructure Integration in South America, Retrieved on 26 May 2008
  16. ^ En julio se licitará tren Los Andes - Mendoza Retrieved on 26 May 2008 (Spanish)
  17. ^ Argentina train bus collision
  18. ^ "Al Menos Once Muertos y 228 Heridos en la Mayor Tragedia con Trenes en la Ciudad en Casi 50 Años". Clarín (in Spanish) (Buenos Aires). 13 September 2011. Retrieved 23 February 2012. 
  19. ^ "Argentina Bus and Trains Crash Killing at Least 11". British Broadcasting Corporation. 14 September 2011. Retrieved 24 February 2012. 


External links[edit]

Heritage railways: