Sunday, September 20, 2020


ARGENTINA’s railways are woven into the country’s national fabric. Carrying European immigrants into the country’s interior, and exporting agricultural produce the other way, the system helped Argentina to become the seventh-wealthiest developed country in the world by 1908. After a period of rapid expansion, the network peaked at around 47,000km, making it the largest in South America, but political instability, economic crisis and improvements to the road network triggered a decline from which the railways never really recovered. 

After decades of underinvestment and decay, Argentinean Railways (FA) was broken up and sold off in the 1990s as the government of President Mr Carlos Menem implemented a sweeping programme of privatisation. Commuter operations in Buenos Aires came under the control of Metropolitan Railways (Femesa) in 1991, which in turn granted operating concessions to private companies for all seven lines between 1994 and 1997. The freight operations of FA were privatised through long-term operate-and-maintain concessions. 

However, concessioning failed to stem the decline on much of the network. On the metre-gauge Belgrano Cargas network, which spans much of central and northern Argentina, freight traffic plunged from 3.3 million( 1 million=10 lakh) tonnes in 1998 to 5 lakh tonnes in 2006 as infrastructure, which was already in a critical condition when the concession began, continued to deteriorate. With chronic shortages of serviceable locomotives and wagons, and declining reliability, many customers abandoned the railway. The government revoked Belgrano Cargas’ concession in 2008, and after five years under state control, the company was formally nationalised in 2013. 

Privatisation also failed to bring improvements to the Buenos Aires suburban network. The poor condition of the system was thrown into sharp focus on February 22 2012, when a Sarmiento Line service operated by Buenos Aires Trains (TBA) ran into the buffers at Buenos Aires Once station, killing 51 and injuring 703. 

Following the accident, the government rescinded TBA’s concession to operate the Mitre and Sarmiento lines and by 2015, control of all seven suburban lines had passed to state-owned train operator Sofse (now known as Argentinean Trains Operations). Renationalisation was formalised in May 2015, when President Mrs Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner signed a bill reviving Argentinean Railways (FA) as a state company, bringing infrastructure and operations together under the Argentinean Trains brand. 

With the backing of Chinese loans, the Kirchner administration began the modernisation of infrastructure and rolling stock on the Buenos Aires suburban network. In 2013, 709 EMU cars were ordered from CSR Qingdao Sifang to replace life-expired rolling stock on the San Martin, Sarmiento, Mitre and Roca lines. CNR Tianjin supplied 27 three-car DMUs for the modernisation of Belgrano Sur suburban services in 2015, while domestic manufacturer Emepa has built 20 two-car DMUs for the Belgrano Norte. 

China has also financed the modernisation of freight lines. In July 2014 Argentina signed a $US 2.1bn loan agreement with the Chinese government to finance the revival of the Belgrano Cargas metre-gauge network. CSR Corporation was subsequently awarded a contract to supply 100 locomotives and 3500 wagons, which are now being delivered as part of the modernisation programme. 

Chinese locomotives and coaches have also been procured for long-distance services from Buenos Aires to provincial centres including Cordoba, Rosaria, and Mar del Plata.


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