Steam Trains in Paraguay
You will find here some pictures of what may be the last days of steam
in Paraguay. Some were taken in the year 2000 and 2001, when the trains
were still running out of the San Francisco Central Station in
The engines pictured were all wood fired; some of them were up to 1996
in daily use for passengers and goods trains, some of them running all the way
to the Argentinian frontier and through to Buenos Aires.
After 1996 a tourist service was run at week-ends between Asunción and
The following refers only to the Ferrocarril Don Carlos Antonio Lopez (FCPAL),
that runs (ran ?) from Asunción to Encarnación;. There are
other unconnected lines in the North of the country, usually running inland
from a port on the river, (Puerto Pinasco, Puerto Casado) but I have little
information on those, apart from the fact that they seem to have all
ceased to operate.
The building of this railway
began in 1858, under the presidency of Don Carlos Antonio Lopez. Like
so many others on the continent, it is claimed to have been the first
in South America. ;-3)
(for the record, Guyana: Georgetown - Rosignol 1848, Peru: Lima -
Callao 1851, Chile: Copiapó - Caldera, 1854)
It was built by British engineers and technicians contracted in Europe
by the Paraguayan government of President Don Carlos Antonio Lopez.
The first section of the line was opened in 1861.
Interrupted by the War of the Triple Alliance,
the construction resumed after peace was signed, but then under the
private ownership of a British company. The line now extends as far as
Encarnation, 440 kilometres away on the Argentine border, where it
connects to the Argentine North Eastern Railway.
It had one spur
branching off at San Salvador to Abai, that would if completely built have
extended to Ciudad del Este and connected to the Brazilian system;
but this has already been closed, and the track lifted.
The track was
originally laid at 5'6"
(1.65 m) gauge, like many of those built in Argentina and Brazil;
but when the rails finally reached Encarnación, the North Western
Railway that ran from Buenos Aires to Posadas, on the other side of the
Parana River, used the standard 4'8'1/2 gauge, and so the whole track
had to be regauged to allow through-running all the way to Buenos
It is interesting to notice
that, apart from two engines built in 1953, all the engines on the
railway were built between 1910 and 1914 by British builders straight
after the re-gauging of the line, and so does a lot of the heavy
equipment used on the railway (see the picture loco30 for the builders
plate on the turntable in Asunción).
The track was laid following
usual British practice of the time, using bullhead rails held in chairs
spiked to hardwood sleepers.
Up to 1991 the only "signalling" used on
the railway was a gong on the platform in Asunción, to warn passengers
of the impending departure of the train. An electric telegraph was used
to let stations communicate together and for many years the Railway Company ran
the country's telegraph system.
In 1991 with the building of the international rail-road bridge between Concepción
and Posadas the railway became physically linked to the Argentinian rail system, and this
compelled the FCPCAL to install signals and a ground-frame at the entrance of the
international station in Concepción.
A 5-levers frame controls a couple of very
British-looking Saxby-Farmer lower-quadrant semaphores and two sets of points.
All other points on the system are controlled by local trackside levers,
and there is not one facing-point lock to be seen in the whole country.
One of the original engines
"Sapukai", still in 5'6" gauge, is exposed on a plinth in the San
Francisco Central Station, with a plaque recording it pulled the
inaugural train to Trinidad on the 21st of October 1861. It was run
again in 1961 for the centenary celebrations, running on compressed air
and on a third rail hastily provided for the last 300 m of track into
There are a number of
other railway lines in the North of the country, both in standard and
narrow (1 metre and 60 cm) gauges totalling over 600 kilometres of
connect various places to ports on the the Paraguay river.
They were all steam-hauled, and were
technically goods-only lines. I do not have any information on their
use for carrying passengers, but I have read that they were used to
transport troops during the Chaco War and that one (Puerto Casado) was
used to carry
immigrants in the fifties when the Mennonite colons came to settle in
the Chaco region.
The information I
have received is that they appear to have all stopped operating,
although there were plans to revive the Puerto Casado line as a
steam-hauled tourist attraction.
a derailment in 2000 in which a young girl passenger was killed, the
last tourist passenger service that ran at week-ends between Asunción
and Ypacaray has been suppressed and the line is now completely closed.
The prospects for a return of trains to the San Francisco station now look
impossible, since the formation has now been taken over by a street building scheme.
Still there are talks of restoring a touristic train from a station outside the city
centre to Ypacaray, if the towns involved can bring together the means
and the political will to do it.
Should this scheme work out, the plan would be to move the engine shed, water tank
and turntable from their present location outside the San Francisco
Station to the Estación Botanico on the fringe of the town; the railway
owns enough land there to make this move possible.
The use of the railway for goods transport from Asunción, including through to Argentina and the
Atlantic coast, has now stopped and its future is under grave threat
since the construction of the Yacyreta hydro-electric dam. The
formation will be drowned under the waters of the lake for over 40
kilometres, and there is little hope of seing it rebuilt since the
indemnities already paid by the Yacyreta project for reinstating the
railway track seem to have mysteriously "disappeared".
This is regretable, since there is a demand in the South for exporting
to Argentina and beyond the produce of the cultivation of soy and
cotton, which are the two main exports of the country, and are now
transported by road at a much higher cost.
I hope to visit the engine sheds in Sapukai this summer,
and will post more pictures then.
Late News (07/2006)
As a result of the posting of the above, I have received the following email from the
"I´m writing you in representation of Paraguayan Railways Inc.,
former Ferrocarril Central Carlos Antonio López.
We would like to clarify some points about the information that was published on the
web page, Steams Trains in Paraguay.
In first place, the Tourist Lake Train is currently running, since
february 2004, from Asunción to Areguá. It departs from
the Botánico Station up to the Areguá Station.
In second place, we would like to stand out, that all locomotives
currently running are wood fired.
A section of six kilometers was restored in the city of
Encarnación for the goods and soybeans transport to the
Argentinian border. This trade is made with the city of Posadas, and is
one of the main incomes of the company.
The wood-fired steam tourist train is now (2006) running again to Aregua every
Saturday and Sunday, with plans to extend the working to Ypacaray and
But sadly, the above link to the official site seldom seems to work.....
The whole of
Puerto Casado has now been expropriated by the State, which put in dire
jeopardy any plans to revive that line for tourists.
can see (or download) the full pictures in another frame / tab by
clicking (or shift-clicking)
on the links on the right. Beware, some of the files are big.
Except for pictures loco39.jpg and loco40.jpg
all the other pictures on this page are ©Renaud OLGIATI
You are hereby
given the licence to use those pictures for
non-commercial purposes, on the condition that you acknowledge the
rights of the copyright holder. For commercial use, contact me by email
Pictures loco39.jpg and loco40.jpg are stills
from Robert Adley's 1991 film "Paraguay Steam", and are used by
kind permission of the holders of the copyright, Dashwood
Productions of 8 South Street, Bridport, Dorset DT6 3NQ; UK
(Tel: 01308 423164). The DVD of the film is available from
Camden Miniature Steam
If needed, I have the pictures loco30 and higher in 1600x1200; just ask.
The pictures loco01 to 14 were taken in September 2001, loco21 to 28 in October 2002
during one of the last runs to Ypacaray, and loco31 to 38 in January
2004, just after the San Francisco station was cut off from the rail network.
Loco99 is in the empty South, at a level crossing near Maciel
|Index to the
||Two pictures of "Sapukai", a
4-2-2 built in 1860
||151, one of the 4-6-0 built in 1953, ready
to be fired if needed.
||226 and 228, two of the 4-6-0 built in
1910, in a sorry state of neglect.
||The approaches to San Francisco Station in
Asunción, with 226 and 228 not looking much better than they did last
||152, the other 1953 4-6-0, loading wood and water
before the start of the trip.
||152 hitched-up at the front of the train.
||At a stop, somewhere on the way.
||Picking-up water for the return trip.
||Coming back to Asunción, from the footplate.
||The engine shed and repair shop, in Asunción;
inset, the maker's plate of the turn-table.
||228 and 226 again, the one tarted-up on a
plinth at the side of the road, the other still in the same sorry state
in a siding.
||521, another 4-6-0 built in 1912, being
painted inside the engine shed.
||53, yet another 4-6-0 built in 1912, all
brightly painted up inside the San Francisco Station in Asunción.
||Some old carriages parked on what used to be the
platform. The white paint is because they were for a time used as a
travelling dental surgery.
The blue and grey carriages at the back of the rake were bought on 1971
from Argentina in an effort to modernize rail travel.
||The Future ?
|All the engines built in the 1910's were
built by North British Locomotive Company in Glasgow. The two 1953
engines were built by Yorkshire Engine Company in Sheffield.