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Railways in Argentina

Of all the measures undertaken by President Peron, none was more popular in Argentina than the nationalization of the British-owned railway system.

Argentina’s first railway was inaugurated on August 30th, 1857. Starting in a plaza in the centre of Buenos Aires, the line ran like a tramway through the streets of the town and then out into the country, westwards, to the village of Floresta, a total distance of 10 kilometres. This was the beginning of the huge railway network which subsequently made possible the exploitation of the rich pastures of the pampa; but the beginning was far from easy.

It was in 1853 that a group of enlightened Argentines formed a company (the Sociedad del Camino de Hierro de Buenos Aires al Oeste) with the purpose of constructing a railway from Buenos Aires to Floresta. But the people who had promised to buy shares in the enterprise were so slow in making payment that (in the words of a provincial senator) “the company... had to go from door to door entreating the shareholders, appealing, not to their personal interest, but to their patriotism.”1

So inadequate were the subscriptions that the directors feared that they would be unable to afford the luxury of steam-engines, and they therefore applied to the provincial government for permission to use horses as a means of traction. They pleaded the merits of the horse, arguing:

“To use the horse—which is so cheap in this country—instead of fossilized coal would produce, it is true, less velocity... but it would produce as much as the present state of our country can require... Nothing would be gained by a locomotive’s ability to make several journeys in the day, because there would be no object or utility in doing so.”2

In response to this request the company was released from the obligation to use steam-engines.

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