Rail transport in Guatemala

Rail transport in Guatemala

Guatemala had 200 miles (322 km) of narrow gauge RailGauge|36 railroads as of 2006. The last line in operation (until September 2007) went from Guatemala City to Puerto Barrios with short branches in Guatemala City container terminal and Puerto Santo Tomás. It transported containers, steel, cement, paper and bananas between the Caribbean coast and the capital. There is no regular passenger transport except charter tourist trains. Operation is managed by U.S. based [http://www.rrdc.com Railroad Development Corporation (RDC)] which was given a 50-year concession in 1997. Other lines previously existing in Guatemala (such as to Ciudad Tecún Umán on the border with Mexico, to Anguiatú in El Salvador and to Puerto San José) have been abandoned at least since 1996. Together with the closed lines, the railroad network would have 497 miles (800 km). [ [http://www.rrdc.com/op_guatemala_fvg.html#stats Ferrovías Guatemala home page] ]


First line in Guatemala was opened in 1884 from Guatemala City to Puerto San José. The presently existing line to Puerto Barrios was completed in 1908. The network was soon acquired by United Fruit and in 1912 renamed IRCA - International Railways of Central America. The railroad prospered until 1957. In 1954, United Fruit had to divest following an antitrust suit and in 1959, a parallel highway caused a serious competitive pressure. In 1968, the company defaulted, was taken over by the government and renamed FEGUA - Ferrocarriles de Guatemala. The condition of tracks continued to deteriorate and all traffic was shut down in 1996. Only nostalgic tourist trains (by Trains Unlimited) ran on parts of the network in 1997 and 1998.

In October 1997 a 50-year concession was given to Railroad Development Corporation (RDC) which started to rehabilitate the network. [Posner III, Henry (1998): [http://www.rrdc.com/article_1998_last_stand_rail_CA_Rail_Bus_Rpt.pdf Guatemala - Last stand for rail in Central America] , Rail Business Report 1998] They were delayed by the necessity to evict squatters who built their cottages on the right-of-way during the previous years and to repair damage caused by thieves and nature. A serious blow was Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which destroyed parts of the line. The first train under RDC management went from Guatemala City to El Chile cement plant on April 15, 1999, and the rest of the line to Puerto Barrios was put into operation in December of that year [ [http://www.rrdc.com/article_08_2002_rwy_phoenix_TRAINS.pdf Zimmermann, K.(2002): In Guatemala, a railway Phoenix rises. TRAINS Magazine.] ] .

From then until September 2007, Ferrovías Guatemala (FVG), as a subsidiary of RDC, operated 15 engines and 200 railcars on freight trains between Guatemala City and Puerto Barrios. Charter passenger trains with steam engines, mainly for European and U.S. tourists, were organized usually once a year by UK based Ffestiniog Travel or other operators. [ [http://www.rrdc.com/op_guatemala_fvg.html#stats Statistics of FVG] ] . Traffic control used a modified Track warrant Control method.

The former main station in Guatemala city serves as railroad museum.

Suspension of operations in 2007

In August 2006, the government of Guatemala declared a 2003 contract for the usufruct of rolling stock and other equipment as contrary to public interest (), invalidating it. FVG believed that this was a response to its earlier request for arbitration regarding the usage of 2 million USD from National Railroad Trust, designated for the development of railroads in Guatemala but used to support an overstaffed governmental oversight agency. [ [http://www.rrdc.com/news_fvg_lesivo_08_28_2006.pdf RDC press release, 28.08.2006] ]

The result of the governmental action was a decline of shipments and operational difficulties, such as inability to obtain credit or take additional revenues from the leasing of station buildings or right of way. In March 2007, RDC declared its intent to seek protection of investment through arbitration against the government of Guatemala according to Chapter 10 of CAFTA. [ [http://www.rrdc.com/news_rdc_CAFTA_arbitration_03_13_2007.pdf RDC press release, 13.03.2007] ] [ [http://www.deguate.com/politica/article_6870.shtml DeGuate, 14.03.2007] ] . The case was registered with ICSID on August 20, 2007 with no. ARB/07/23. Due to the continuing uncertainty leading to losses, FVG decided to suspend all operations as of October 1, 2007 while continuing with legal actions against the Guatemalan government. [ [http://www.rrdc.com/news_fvg_announcement_07_06_2007.pdf RDC press release, 06.07.2007] ]

Ferrocarril de Los Altos

Outside of the IRCA network, an electric railroad "Ferrocarril de Los Altos" used to connect Quetzaltenango and Retalhuleu between 1930 - 1933. It was destroyed by a hurricane in 1933 and never rebuilt. The remains are on display in a dedicated museum in Quetzaltenango. [ [http://www.munixela.com/?view=sections&mod=26&id=175 Hernández, L (2004): El Ferrocarril de Los Altos, Munixela website] ]

Ferrocarril Verapaz

Another isolated railroad, Ferrocarril Verapaz (also known as Ferropazco), used to connect Panzós and Tucurú in Alta Verapaz Department. Its construction was authorized in 1884 and completed in 1895. [ [http://www.inforpressca.com/municipal/archivospdf/verapaces/historiaygeografiaverapaciana.pdf Historia y Geografia Verapaciana, Infopressca 2004, page 47] ] . Its main purpose was to transport coffee from farms (fincas) controlled mainly by Germans to the port of Panzós on Polochic River, which merged to Lago de Izabal and the Caribbean Sea. The company was nationalized in 1943 [ [http://www.congreso.gob.gt/gt/mostrar_ley.asp?id=9705 Decreto Gubernativo No 3078 - Forced expropriation of Ferrocarril Verapaz y Agencias del Norte Limitada in 1943] ] . In 1956, the government created a national company "Ferrocarril Verapaz y Servicios Anexos" [ [http://www.congreso.gob.gt/gt/mostrar_ley.asp?id=4746 Decreto Gubernativo No 1122 - establishment of Ferrocarril Verapaz y Servicios Anexos in 1958] ] . Operations stopped in 1963. [ [http://www.mineco.gob.gt/mineco/analisis/historia/TOMO6/Infraestructura,%20Comercio%20y%20Servicios.pdf Perez Riera, R.: Infraestructura, Comercio y Servicios Públicos, page 4] ] .


In 2008, the FERISTSA Railway would connect Mexico with Panama with 1435mm gauge via Central America. [ [http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/FERISTSA Reference.com/Encyclopedia/FERISTSA ] ]


See also

* Guatemala
* Transportation in Guatemala
* Rail transport by country
* FERISTSA Railway would connect Mexico with Panama - 1435mm gauge.

External links

* [http://www.rrdc.com/op_guatemala_fvg.html Ferrovías Guatemala] - current operator of Guatemalan railroads (more links imbedded inside)
* [http://www.tramz.com/gt/q.html Ferrocarril de Los Altos] – history, 17 photographs, 2 maps
* [http://www.steam.demon.co.uk/trains/guat002.htm Report from a tourist train trip] with map, gradient profile and photographs
* [http://railtrips.euweb.cz/c_gua_rail_en.html Overview of rail in Guatemala] with contact addresses, photographs and links
* [http://www.prensalibre.com/pl/domingo/archivo/revistad/2005/julio05/240705/dfondo.shtml Germans in Verapaz] , article in Prensa Libre with a picture of Ferrocarril Verapaz

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