Rail transport in Costa Rica

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Train arriving into the Sabana-Contraloria station in San Jose. TrenLlegaSabanaContraloria-F1600x1200.jpg
Train arriving into the Sabana-Contraloria station in San Jose.
Universidad de Costa Rica Station, San Pedro, Montes de Oca. Railroad siding costa Rica mt de ocoa.jpg
Universidad de Costa Rica Station, San Pedro, Montes de Oca.
Map of Costa Rica showing rail lines as of 1987. Costa Rica map detail.PNG
Map of Costa Rica showing rail lines as of 1987.
Italians working in a Costa Rica's railway. A few of them remained to live in Costa Rica and their descendants resettled in the San Vito area Italianosferrocarril.jpg
Italians working in a Costa Rica's railway. A few of them remained to live in Costa Rica and their descendants resettled in the San Vito area
Interior of an Incofer Apolo 2400 type DMU. IntApolo2400.jpg
Interior of an Incofer Apolo 2400 type DMU.

Rail transport in Costa Rica is primarily under the stewardship of Incofer (Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles), an autonomous institution of the state. Incofer owns the national railway infrastructure and operates virtually all freight and passenger services, which consist primarily of commuter trains through the highly populated Central Valley. The whole Incofer network is 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) narrow gauge, although there are several small tourist railways of other gauges.[ citation needed ]

Costa Rican Central Valley plateau and a geographic region of central Costa Rica

The Central Valley is a plateau and a geographic region of central Costa Rica. The land in the valley is a relative plain, despite being surrounded by several mountains and volcanos, the latter part of the Central Range. The region houses almost three quarters of Costa Ricans, and includes the capital and most populous city, San José. The valley is shared among the provinces of Alajuela, Heredia, San José and Cartago. The region occupies an area of 11,366 km², more than a fifth of the country, and is drained by the Tárcoles River on the west side and by the Reventazón River on the east side.

3 ft 6 in gauge railways railways with tracks 1067 mm (3′ 6″) apart

Railways with a track gauge of 3 ft 6 in / 1,067 mm were first constructed as horse-drawn wagonways. From the mid-nineteenth century, the 3 ft 6 in gauge became widespread in the British Empire, and was adopted as a standard in Japan and Taiwan.


Unfortunately, much of the railway system requires major repairs. [1] An August 2016 OECD report provided this summary about the infrastructure, including the railways: "The road network is extensive but of poor quality, railways are in disrepair and only slowly being reactivated after having been shut down in the 1990s ... Internal transportation overly relies on private road vehicles as the public transport system, especially railways, is inadequate." [2]

OECD international economic organisation

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is an intergovernmental economic organisation with 36 member countries, founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade. It is a forum of countries describing themselves as committed to democracy and the market economy, providing a platform to compare policy experiences, seek answers to common problems, identify good practices and coordinate domestic and international policies of its members. Most OECD members are high-income economies with a very high Human Development Index (HDI) and are regarded as developed countries. As of 2017, the OECD member states collectively comprised 62.2% of global nominal GDP and 42.8% of global GDP at purchasing power parity. OECD is an official United Nations observer.


In 1871, construction was started on a railroad from Alajuela to Puerto Limón, via San José, on the Caribbean coast; the project was initiated by the government of General Tomás Guardia Gutiérrez and was surveyed in 1868 by the British civil engineer Edmund Wragge. The railroad from Alajuela to San José was completed by the beginning of 1873 and later continued until Cartago. Materials and equipment were brought into Alajuela from Puntarenas by oxen-powered carts. Due to a shortage of finances and natural obstacles (especially around Río Sucio), the construction of the remaining sections was delayed, and the entire line did not become operational until December 7, 1890.

Alajuela Canton in Alajuela Province, Costa Rica

Alajuela is the second largest city in Costa Rica. It is also the capital of Alajuela Province.

Tomás Guardia Gutiérrez President of Costa Rica

General Tomás Miguel Guardia Gutiérrez was President of Costa Rica on two occasions: from 1870 to 1876, and from 1877 to 1882.

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom (UK), officially the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and sometimes referred to as Britain, is a sovereign country located off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. With an area of 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi), the United Kingdom is the 78th-largest sovereign state in the world. It is also the 22nd-most populous country, with an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

Steam locomotive F.C. al P. no 1 Maria Cecilia in San Jose FCalP 1 Maria Cecilia.JPG
Steam locomotive F.C. al P. no 1 Maria Cecilia in San Jose

A contract for the building of the Pacific Railroad was signed in 1897, but again, the enterprise faced natural, financial and political difficulties. The Pacific Railroad was officially launched on July 23, 1910, when the first engine, Maria Cecilia, departed from Puntarenas to San José with passengers and cargo.

The transcontinental railway from Limon to Puntarenas became operational in 1910 and was central for the connection of the various fertile regions of the country, as well as linking Nicaraguan and Panamanian railways. [3] The route followed the Atlantic coast until the small port of Matina, before it passed inland to Reventazón River. From there, it bifurcated to cross the northern mountains, with one branch going north of Irazú and the other traversing the Ochomogo Pass. At San José, these lines reunited and the railway continued onto Alajuela, the small Pacific port of Tivives and Puntarenas. The railroad was jointly owned by the state and the Costa Rica railway company, with the latter behind the 1904 arrangement to build several branch lines through the banana districts of the Atlantic littoral.

Nicaragua Country in Central America

Nicaragua, officially the Republic of Nicaragua, is the largest country in the Central American isthmus, bordered by Honduras to the northwest, the Caribbean to the east, Costa Rica to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the southwest. Managua is the country's capital and largest city and is also the third-largest city in Central America, behind Tegucigalpa and Guatemala City. The multi-ethnic population of six million includes people of indigenous, European, African, and Asian heritage. The main language is Spanish. Indigenous tribes on the Mosquito Coast speak their own languages and English.

Panama Republic in Central America

Panama, officially the Republic of Panama, is a country in Central America, bordered by Costa Rica to the west, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The capital and largest city is Panama City, whose metropolitan area is home to nearly half the country's 4 million people.

Matina (canton)

Matina is the fifth canton in the province of Limón in Costa Rica. The canton covers an area of 576.48 km², and has a population of 37,549. Its capital city is also called Matina.

In 1926, a decision was made to electrify the lines, and the first electric train ran from San José to Puntarenas on April 8, 1930.

The Costa Rican railroad network was damaged during an earthquake in 1991 [4] and its operation was suspended in 1995. Since 2000, Incofer has been working to recommence and popularize rail transport again.

Jamaican Railroad Workers

Henry Meiggs Keith, an American hired by the Costa Rican government, was in charge of railroad construction to the Atlantic Ocean. Keith insisted on utilizing "black" (later known as Afro-American) workers for clearing the forest and building the railroad tracks, and in 1872 the first group of Jamaicans entered the country. These Jamaicans and their descendants would become the main inhabitants of the region, thereby establishing a culture that was unique within Costa Rica. Two large Jamaican migrations occurred; firstly, during the railroad construction era, and then in the next century, for the banana plantations owned by the United Standard Fruit Company.

A lineal descendant, in legal usage, is a blood relative in the direct line of descent – the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc. of a person. In a legal procedure sense, lineal descent refers to the acquisition of estate by inheritance from grandparent to parent and parent to child, whereas collateral descent refers to the acquisition of estate or real property by inheritance from sibling to sibling, and cousin to cousin.

Human migration permanent change of residence of people

Human migration is the movement by people from one place to another with the intentions of settling, permanently or temporarily in a new location. The movement is often over long distances and from one country to another, but internal migration is also possible; indeed, this is the dominant form globally. People may migrate as individuals, in family units or in large groups.

Banana plantation

A banana plantation is a commercial agricultural facility found in tropical climates where bananas are grown.

Italian Railroad Workers

Groups of Italian workers were hired to work in the construction of the Costa Rica's railways in the first years of the 20th century. Some of them remained to live in Costa Rica and a few of their descendants moved to the San Vito area in the mid 1950s. These agricultural colonists had to confront many problems, especially due to the isolation of this region. Nevertheless, from 1964 on, the production of coffee caused the outlook to change for the better: 500 Italian colonists and many Costa Ricans (someone descendants from the Italian rail workers) from different parts of the country were attracted by the economic possibilities that the area offered.

Current status

Although it once connected the Caribbean ports of Limon and Moin with the Pacific port of Caldera, traversing the Central Valley area and Costa Rica's largest cities along the route, the system fell into disrepair towards the end of the 20th century following a financial crisis that saw the President of Costa Rica, José María Figueres, order the cessation of Incofer's commercial activity, resulting in the redundancies of most of its workforce except for a select few who were charged with preserving railway assets. [5]

However, operations were never fully suspended, and there was always at least the occasional freight and maintenance traffic along certain parts of the network. Some other parts, on the other hand, were essentially abandoned until 2005 when urban passenger services were reintroduced along a corridor between the suburbs of Pavas, to the west of San José, and San Pedro, to the east. Since then, services have been greatly increased following investment in second-hand DMUs imported from Spain and the rehabilitation of dozens of kilometres of previously inoperative track. As of May 2014, the bulk of railway operations occur in the Central Valley area and consist of passenger services between the San José suburbs of Pavas, Curridabat and Belen, and between San José and the cities of Heredia and Cartago. Work is now[ when? ] under way to rehabilitate further sections beyond these main termini, such as between Heredia and Alajuela, and from Cartago to Paraiso, in order to extend the existing services. [6]

Trains (particularly freight trains, as well as a privately operated tour train) ran between San José and the port of Caldera until 2011, when a short section of the line was compromised following the construction of National Route 27. This prompted a dispute between Incofer and the highway developer, Autopistas del Sol. This dispute has not yet[ when? ] been resolved and Incofer officials have been quoted as saying that while they are technically able to run trains over the damaged section, it is dangerous to do so. Unfortunately, the resulting lack of regular traffic on this line has facilitated the theft of rails. [7]

Visitors to Costa Rica may perceive the railway as being somewhat limited compared to other forms of transport, due to the current lack of anything except a basic commuter service. [8]

Suburban rail

As of 2013, Incofer operates suburban commuter trains

Freight trains run near the port of Caldera in Puntarenas, as well as within the Limon Province.

Currently the service operates from two main terminals which are the old Atlantic and Pacific stations located in San José Downtown, around 3 kilometres (2 mi) from each other. Incofer has bought many Apolo 2400 series railcars from the former narrow gauge operator in Spain, FEVE. Those cars are used in the commuter train service with complementary operations of so-called "conventional trains" (old General Electric diesel locomotives pulling old passenger cars built in Costa Rica).[ citation needed ]


The proposed FERISTSA Railway would connect Mexico with Panama, passing through Costa Rica. [9]

There are no connections to Panama or Nicaragua.

Freight transport

Passenger transport overview

Map of the current status of the commuter train service of Costa Rica. Mapa del Tren Urbano de San Jose (Costa Rica).jpg
Map of the current status of the commuter train service of Costa Rica.

In 2006, the following trains ran in Costa Rica:

As of August 2008

As of October 2008

As of December 2008

As of March 2009

As of August 2009

As of April 2011

As of May 2013

Heredia - San José

Heredia - San José Railway
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Atlantic Station (Av. 3, Paseo de Los Damas)
San José
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Calle 17
San José
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Avenida 7
San José
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Torres River
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Route 108
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Route 32
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Cinco Esquinas
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Rivera Stream
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Calle Pantano
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Route 101
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Colima Station
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Avenida 4
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Virilla River
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Santa Rosa Station
Santo Domingo, Heredia
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Gertrudis Stream
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Miraflores Station
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Route 3
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Pirro River
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Pirro Exit
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Street 1
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Central Street
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Heredia Station (Av. 10, Ca. Central-2)

The Heredia, Costa Rica to San José, Costa Rica service runs only on weekdays in the morning (06:30-08:30) and in the evening (15:30-20:00) with trains leaving every half hour.

This service is operated at street level, which makes it difficult to achieve an optimum speed due to frequent encounters with busy streets, at average the speed is at about 20 kilometres per hour (12 mph). The service has three stops at stations without staff, in Miraflores (Heredia), Santa Rosa (Santo Domingo) and Colima (Tibás). Still, it's a lot faster than the bus which can take more than an hour at these times.

Pavas - Curridabat

This line runs from Pavas (a slum to the west of San José) through the south of the city to Estación Pacífico and then on to Estación Atlántico and from there east to the UCR, U Latina and Curridabat. Service is hourly in the early morning and evening (weekdays only).

San José - Belen

Trains leave from Estación del Pacífico and take 30 minutes to reach Belen (which is a little city just south of San José international airport).

Pacific Railroad Station. Pacific Railroad Station, Costa Rica..JPG
Pacific Railroad Station.

San José - Cartago

This new route opened in May 2013, the journey time is expected to be 43 minutes between San José (Estación Atlántico) and Cartago with 5 stops (UCR in San Pedro, Universidad Latina, Curridabat, UACA in Cipreces and Tres Rios). Price will be 550 colones.

San José - Alajuela

In January 2017 the train operation began between the provinces of San José and Alajuela by the way of Heredia. The total reconstruction of the track was carried out with welded rails. After Heredia Centro, the train stops at the station behind Walmart, San Joaquín de Flores, Río Segundo de Alajuela and Alajuela station near San Rafael Hospital. An ut 2400 apollo train is used. Monday thru Friday. Saturday run in the morning.

Noise and accidents

A critical issue is that there are no barriers or lights at level crossings, only a warning sign at every one of the many grade crossings. Train airhorns are used to warn pedestrians and cars at every grade crossing of an incoming train. This is in order to prevent accidents, which have been registered, but due to the train's low speeds, they result in non-fatal accidents. There have been, as well, registered complaints about the train's loud horns (same air horns used in freight trains in other countries), but they have been overruled due to the necessity to warn traffic and pedestrians. Also many Costa Ricans feel identified with the train horns since they have been used ever since the railroad started operations.[ citation needed ]

It is also noted, that the train horn is a necessity. Recent studies show, that when the train horn is not in operation, accidents tend to double, even at railroad crossings with proper drop needles, lights and warning signs. [10]

Workmen fixing track in San Jose. Note acetylene torch has been lit INCOFER Trabajando con antorcha de acetileno prendida.jpg
Workmen fixing track in San José. Note acetylene torch has been lit

Other problems include single-track running, out-of-shape sleepers, joints with gaps, lack of flange oilers in tight turns, track bed out of shape, sunken in several places, bent rail tracks, and worn rail track heads. Also, there is a lack of information at stations about timetables and prices.[ citation needed ]

Pavas - Curridabat Railway Service
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Freses, Curridabat
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Along Avenida 3,
San Pedro
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Universidad de Costa Rica Station,
San Pedro, Montes de Oca
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San Pedro
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Calle 23
San José
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Atlántico Station,
Av. 3, San José
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Along Avenida Central, Calle 25
San José
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Avenida 2,
San José
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Calle 15,
San José
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Along Calle 13
San José
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Along Avenida 20,
San José
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Pacífico Station,
Av. 20, San José
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Calle 8
San José
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Calle 42,
Mata Redonda, San José
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La Contraloría Station,
Mata Redonda, San José
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Route 27
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Pavas Station,
Pavas, San José

Swiss railroad

Tren Turistico Arenal Tren Turistico Arenal 01.jpg
Tren Turistico Arenal

At the Hotel Los Héroes in Nuevo Arenal, Tilarán Canton (Guanacaste Province), a Swiss hotelier has built a mountain railway for the guests of his panorama restaurant, Pequeña Helvecia (little Switzerland). The rolling stock had been originally used by a Swiss farmer from Chéseaux, who built a 600 mm (1 ft 11 58 in) field railway but never got a permission to run it. The hotellier bought it in 1999 and put in operation in 2000 as a tourist attraction under the name "Tren Turistico Arenal". As of 2004 and 2017, it is 3.5 km (2.2 mi) long, with an elevation of 200 m (660 ft) and two tunnels. [11] [ circular reference ]

See also

Related Research Articles

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There are many modes of transport in Costa Rica but the country's infrastructure has suffered from a lack of maintenance and new investment. There is an extensive road system of more than 30,000 kilometers, although much of it is in disrepair; this also applies to ports, railways and water delivery systems. According to a 2016 U.S. government report, investment from China which attempted to improve the infrastructure found the "projects stalled by bureaucratic and legal concerns".

San José, Costa Rica City and municipality in San José, Costa Rica

San José is the capital and largest city of Costa Rica. Located in the mid-west of the Central Valley, San José is the seat of national government, the focal point of political and economic activity, and the major transportation hub of this Central American nation. The population of San José Canton was 288,054 in 2011, and San José’s municipal land area measures 44.2 square kilometers, and an estimated 333,980 residents in 2015. The metropolitan area stretches beyond the canton limits and has an estimated population of over 2 million in 2017. The city is named in honor of Joseph of Nazareth.

Alajuela Province Province in Costa Rica

Alajuela is a province of Costa Rica. It is located in the north-central part of the country, bordering Nicaragua to the north. It also borders the provinces of Heredia to the east, San José to the south, Puntarenas to the southwest and Guanacaste to the west. As of 2011, the province had a population of 885,571. Alajuela is composed of 16 cantons, which are divided into 111 districts. It covers an area of 9,757.53 square kilometers.

San José Province Province in Costa Rica

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The Catholic Church in Costa Rica is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope in Rome. There are approximately 3.2 million Catholics in Costa Rica - 76% of the total population. The country is divided into eight dioceses and one archdiocese:

Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San José de Costa Rica archdiocese

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San José de Costa Rica is a Metropolitan Archdiocese and its suffragan dioceses are Alajuela, Cartago, Ciudad Quesada, Limón, Puntarenas, San Isidro de El General and Tilarán. The see was elevated to an archdiocese on 16 February 1921.

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San Ramón, Costa Rica Place in Alajuela, Costa Rica

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San Juan District may refer to:

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San Isidro District may refer to:

San Rafael District may refer to:

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The election of the Head of State of Costa Rica in 1844 was the first Costa Rican election in which the system of direct suffrage was used to elect the Supreme Head of State, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of April 9, 1844. A method that was abolished by the next election returning to indirect suffrage until 1913.

The League War was the second civil war of Costa Rica, as a member state of the Federal Republic of Central America. It passed between September and October 1835 in the Central Valley of Costa Rica. Its immediate trigger was the repeal of the "Ambulance Law", the law that established the rotation of the country's capital among the four constituent cities. The most important consequence was the triumph of the city of San José over the cities of Alajuela, Heredia and Cartago, which allowed its consolidation as the capital of Costa Rica.


  1. http://www.infrastructure-intelligence.com/article/aug-2016/infrastructure-costa-rica%E2%80%99s-achilles%E2%80%99-heel
  2. http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/economics/a-bird-eye-view-of-costa-rica-s-transport-infrastructure_5jlswbwvwqjf-en
  3. Wikisource-logo.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Costa Rica § Chief Towns and Communications"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 7 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 220.
  5. "INCOFER: Historia de la institución" [INCOFER: History of the institution](PDF) (in Spanish). Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 May 2014. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  6. "Jerarca de Incofer afirma que uso del tren para transporte de carga y llegada a Paraíso y Alajuela son tareas pendientes" [Chief of Incofer confirms operation of freight train and reaching Paraíso y Alajuela remain unfinished jobs]. La Nacion (in Spanish). Grupo La Nacion. 22 April 2014. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  7. "INCOFER incumplió con restauración del tren San José-Caldera" [INCOFER did not fulfill promise to restore San José-Caldera train]. Semanario Universidad (in Spanish). Universidad de Costa Rica. 8 June 2011. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  8. "Costa Rica Transportation". Destination360. Destination360. 2012. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  9. "Shaw Group in talks with US railroad cos for Feristsa project, Central America, Infrastructure, news" . Retrieved 2010-10-16.
  10. Office of Safety (April 1995). "NATIONWIDE STUDY OF TRAIN WHISTLE BANS". U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration. Noise Pollution Clearinghouse. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  11. Info at Ferrolatino.ch