Thoughts on Trains

I have written before about how I am a bit of a public transport junkie and about my first train ride in Argentina. I have tried several of the MetroBus corridors, I have ridden numerous bus and metro routes, and now I have tried some more trains, specifically the Mitre line that goes from the Retiro Station to the northern suburbs and ends up in Tigre. The first train I took was very new, very nice and very comfortable – much nicer than the ones I have taken from Cañuelas or Ezeiza. I had a seat and it was a nice ride through the leafy suburbs to San Isidro, a beautiful little town filled with trees and pretty houses. However, the same ride at nine o’clock at night was a different story – very crowded, extremely hot, all seats taken. The 45 minutes felt like an eternity! And I was very grateful that I don’t have a commute like that…

The trains in and around Buenos Aires are worn down, slow, and often dangerous – most of you will have heard of the train that crashed into the Once train station in February 2012, killing 51 people and injuring 700. There were 1000 people on the eight train car, and many of them had moved to the front cars to be close to the exit. There was another accident on the same station just three months ago, luckily nobody was killed.

As a train enthusiast, it is sad to see the state of the train system. With just some improvement in service, reliability, and infrastructure, it could be so much better, and it could attract back those people who now prefer cars, buses, or private minibuses. With the traffic of a city like Buenos Aires, anything to keep people off the road is good. It is clearly a much needed service – it is cheap and there are many lines – but it is difficult to do something about; many say that ADIF (the railway agency, La Administración de Infraestructuras Ferroviarias) is one of the most corrupt agencies in the country. All public transport is heavily subsidized – I could not believe that the 20km train ride to San Isidro only cost me 1.50 pesos!

In the capital, Mayor Macri recently increased bus and metro fares (the cheapest bus fare went from 1.60 pesos to 2.70, and the metro went up from 2 pesos to 3.50) to try to recover some costs. Of course any increase is noticeable for the poor, but transport is still FAR cheaper here than in most Latin American cities. A tiny pack of gum is 3.50 or 4 pesos. and I cannot think of anything that I could buy for two pesos. Macri is trying to raise prices to keep up with inflation but without having seen any real numbers, I am sure they are far from recovering costs.

I am not against public transport subsidies at all, because there are many positive effects and externalities from public transport: fewer cars on the road, easier access for the poor, less pollution, etc. However, I think the subsidies are better when they are NOT distributed evenly. I think a regular ticket should reflect more or less what needs to be taken in. Then, there can be discounted tickets – for children, the elderly, people who make less than a certain income, etc. Many countries have versions of this.

Anyway, this was a lot of rambling, I should try to clean it up but wanted to write a little bit about my train musings.

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