transport | urbanism | adventures | pontification
Railways played an important role in Argentina’s economic and political development. The Raúl Scalabrini Ortiz National Railway Museum writes, “The railroad, that magical and alluring world of trains, is one of the most transcendental inventions of humanity. In our country, the first rail line was inaugurated on August 29, 1857, just years after this revolutionary means of transit began to run in Europe.”
Much of Argentina’s early infrastructure and rolling stock was built with foreign investment. When Colonel Perón nationalized the railways in 1948, Raúl Scalabrini Ortiz, who had written “railways constitute the fundamental key of the nation,” claimed that Argentina had finally “bought sovereignty.” The country’s golden age of rail did not last long, though some rolling stock was manufactured domestically from 1957 up until 1982. As the current Railway Infrastructure Administration explains:
In the late 1940s, the railway network reached 43,000 kilometers. Railway schools were started, and steam engines, diesel locomotives, and all types of carriages were manufactured. The trip from Buenos Aires to Rosario was covered in 3.5 hours. But that progress came to a halt after the coup of 1955. Argentine railways entered into a gradual and continual agony: the Larkin Plan during the government of Frondizi; the means of “rationalization” of the civic-military coup of 1976, and especially the railway scrapping undertaken by the neoliberal regime of Carlos Menem. During that administration, under the promise of improving services, the lines were privatized or transfered to the provincial governments.
Much of this history is documented in the National Railway Museum as well as a number of Railway Clubs. Members of these clubs volunteer to restore rolling stock and run charters with restored steam engines. The Colonel Lynch branch I visited is home to 88 coaches and 9 locomotives. I especially enjoyed seeing some of the original Line B subway cars.
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