Rail transport in Central America

Rail transport in Central America

Rail transport in Central America consists of several isolated railroad lines with freight or passenger service. The most famous one is Panama Canal Railway Company, the oldest transcontinental railroad in the world, connecting Panama City with Colón since 1855. Other railroads in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama were built by private and public investors mainly to facilitate the transport of local agricultural produce (bananas, coconuts, coffee) to export markets and harbors. Their market share and profitability went into decline in the second half of the twentieth century and most lines have been decommissioned by the end of 1990s. As of 2007, railroads operate locally in Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama only; all rail transport has been suspended in Belize, El Salvador and Nicaragua. None of the operating railways crosses national borders.


There are no operational railroads in Belize. Historically, the only line - Stann Creek Railway built by United Fruit - connected Middlesex Estate with Dangriga port along present-day Hummingbird Highway between 1913 and 1937.


Guatemala has 200 miles (322 km) of operating 914 mm narrow gauge railroads between Guatemala City and Puerto Barrios, managed by US-based [http://www.rrdc.com Railroad Development Corporation] as Ferrovías Guatemala. They ran regular freight trains and occasional charter steam trains for tourists from 1999 until September 2007, when all operation was suspended following a conflict with the Government of Guatemala.

Railroads have been built in Guatemala since 1884. In 1912, the network was acquired by United Fruit Company, named IRCA and developed to connect Guatemala City with the Pacific coast (Puerto San José), Atlantic coast (Puerto Barrios), El Salvador (Anguiatú), Mexico (Ciudad Tecún Umán - change of gauges) and other places. In 1950s, the railroads went into a decline, resulting in nationalization (1968, new name was FEGUA - Ferrocarriles de Guatemala) and suspension of all services in 1996. In 1997, the government gave a fifty-year concession to the Railroad Development Corporation, which then resumed operations on one line in 1999.

Apart from this main network, there were two other local railroads - Ferrocarril de Los Altos from Quetzaltenango to Retalhuleu and Ferrocarril Verapaz to the North-West of Lago de Izabal. They were closed in 1933 and 1963, respectively.


Railroads in Honduras have been built in the northern lowlands (Valle de Sula) since 1880s by two competing banana growers - United Fruit and Standard Fruit. They never extended to the capital (Tegucigalpa) or to the Pacific coast and never linked to other countries. In 1993, the combined network had 785 km. All railroads in Honduras are 1067 mm. In 2006, three separate segments operated under the management of FNH - Ferrocarril Nacional de Honduras:
* San Pedro Sula - Puerto Cortes (50 km, freight trains carrying mainly lumber)
* City rail in La Ceiba (3 km, passenger transport between downtown and a western suburb, Col. Sitramacsa)
* Line between La Unión and Parque Nacional Cuero y Salado (9 km, transport of coconuts to a processing plant and of tourists to national park)

El Salvador

All rail transport in El Salvador has been suspended since October 2002, with the exception of a short-lived shuttle passenger train between San Salvador and Soyapango during emergency repairs on a road bridge in 2004 - 2005.

Railroads have been built in El Salvador since 1882 by The Salvador Rail Company Limited (later named FES - Ferrocarril de El Salvador) and United Fruit (IRCA). In 1975, the two companies merged into FENADESAL - Ferrocarriles Nacionales de El Salvador. At present, this agency oversees 554.8 km of disused tracks, connecting major cities and formerly linked to Guatemala railroads at Anguiatú. The railroads in El Salvador were of narrow gauge, 914 mm, the same as Guatemala.


There are no operating railroads in Nicaragua. The majority of lines were closed in 1993, the last one in 2001.

Narrow gauge railroads in Nicaragua have been built since 1878 on the Pacific coast. First was a Western division (from Corinto to Puerto Momotombo at Lake Managua, passengers to Managua had to change to a steamboat), then the Eastern division from Managua to Granada and finally a Central division connecting these two (thus eliminating the need for steamboats). In the following years, several branch lines were built. There were attempts to connect both coasts, but they all failed; except for a few isolated lines in the North, almost all of the network was in the Pacific basin. In 1993, there were 373 km of 1067 mm narrow gauge tracks in the Pacific region and isolated 3 km of 1.435-m standard gauge line at Puerto Cabezas in the Caribbean. Most lines were shut down on December 31, 1993. The last one - 6 km from Chichigalpa to Ing. S. Antonio - was decommissioned in September 2001.

Costa Rica

Railroads in Costa Rica are managed by state owned Incofer - Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles, and are of 1067 mm narrow gauge (the same as Honduras and Nicaragua). They operate suburban trains around San José and freight trains to the Pacific port of Caldera (outside Puntarenas). A private company, [http://www.americatravelcr.com/ America Travel] , organizes weekly tourist trains from San José to Caldera. Additionally, a 3.5 km long tourist "Swiss mountain railroad" with two tunnels runs on the premises of [http://www.pequenahelvecia.com/En/main.htm Hotel Los Héroes] in Tilarán, Guanacaste Province.

The first railroad in Costa Rica was opened in 1873, running between San José and Alajuela. In 1890, it reached the Atlantic coast in Puerto Limón. Construction of a Pacific railroad started in 1897 with the first train reaching Puntarenas in 1910. In 1926, a decision was made to electrify the lines; the first electric train reached Puntarenas in 1930.

The railroad network was damaged during an earthquake in 1991 and operation suspended in 1995. After 2000, the state railroad authority (Incofer) works to resume and popularize rail transport again.


The only operating railroad in Panama is Panama Railway - the oldest intercontinental railway in the world, connecting Panama City and Colón with passenger and freight trains since 1855. It provided a vital transport link between the eastern United States and California during the mid 19th century and was used for the construction of Panama Canal. In 1979, the US transferred control of the railroad to Panama; in 1998, it was privatized and since 2000, it runs on a standard gauge (1435 mm).

At the end of the nineteenth century, the government of Panama studied the feasibility of additional railroads. Panama Railway was commissioned to estimate the cost of a railroad from Panama City to David, Chiriquí. The cost was however too high and a decision was made, to build additional network in Chiriquí Province only. This railroad (Ferrocarril de Chiriquí) was inaugurated on April 23, 1916 with the first train on a steep mountain line from David to Boquete. Additional lines were built subsequently. After 1974, the infrastructure of Chiriquí Railroads has been transferred to Ministry of Public Works (Ministerio de Obras Públicas) and operations were stopped. In the beginning of the 21st century, the tracks of the defunct railroads are being dismantled and reused for construction of bridges in rural areas.


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

External links

* [http://www.fahrplancenter.com/AIFFLACentroamerica03.html Unofficial timetables of Central American passenger trains]
* [http://www.ferrolatino.ch/FLBEng.htm Ferrolatino - information on Latin American railroads]
* [http://railtrips.euweb.cz/c_cam_zgalerie_en.html Overview with contact addresses and photos]

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