Rail transport in Guatemala

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Freight train of Ferrovias Guatemala in Sanarate on September 3, 2004 Guatemala Sanarate freighttrain1.JPG
Freight train of Ferrovías Guatemala in Sanarate on September 3, 2004
Roundhouse at Guatemala City Station with Diesel and Steam locomotives on February 14, 2007 Roundhose at Guatemala City Station.JPG
Roundhouse at Guatemala City Station with Diesel and Steam locomotives on February 14, 2007

Guatemala has a network of 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge railroads, passenger and freight trains currently run.



Freight transport was the main business of Ferrovias Guatemala. GT Sanarate freighttrain2.JPG
Freight transport was the main business of Ferrovías Guatemala.
Guatemala rail map of 1925 Guatemala rail map 1925.jpg
Guatemala rail map of 1925

Construction of the first railway in Guatemala commenced in 1877 [1] and the first section began operation in 1880, connecting Puerto San José and Escuintla, [2] being extended to Guatemala City in 1884. [1] The line to Puerto Barrios, known originally as Northern Railroad of Guatemala and still exists, was completed in 1908. [1] The network was soon acquired by United Fruit, and in 1912 renamed the International Railways of Central America which was also known as IRCA. 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 Ferrocarriles de Guatemala which was also known as FEGUA. The condition of tracks continued to deteriorate and all traffic was shut down in 1996.[ citation needed ] Only nostalgic tourist trains (by Trains Unlimited) ran on parts of the network in 1997 and 1998.[ citation needed ]


In October 1997, a 50-year concession was given to Railroad Development Corporation (RDC) which started to rehabilitate the network. [3] They were delayed by the need 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. [4] 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 not been repaired since 1996. Including those, the railroad network would have counted 497 miles (800 km). [5]

From 1999 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. It transported containers, steel, cement, paper and bananas between the Caribbean coast and the capital over a network of 200 miles (320 km)as of 2006, but quit in September 2007. [6] It connected Guatemala City to Puerto Barrios with short branches in Guatemala City container terminal and Puerto Santo Tomás.

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 ( es:Declaración de lesividad ), 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. [7]

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. [8] [9] The case was registered with ICSID on August 20, 2007 with number ARB/07/23. Due to the continuing uncertainty leading to losses, FVG decided to suspend all operations as of October 1, 2007 [6] while continuing with legal actions against the Guatemalan government. [10] The arbitration case was finally decided in favor of RDC and US$14.6m paid as compensation. [11] As of 2011, most of the bridges have been dismantled and sold for scrap by thieves, making a potential revival of railways in Guatemala difficult, as it would cost millions of dollars to rebuild.

In August 2012, there were proposals to start some new passenger services, including a link from La Aurora airport to Guatemala City. [12]

Ferrocarril de Los Altos

The site of a former train station in Quetzaltenango Xela train station.JPG
The site of a former train station in Quetzaltenango

Outside of the IRCA network, an electric railroad Ferrocarril de Los Altos used to connect Quetzaltenango and Retalhuleu between 1930 and 1933. It was destroyed by a hurricane in 1933 and never rebuilt. The remains are on display in a dedicated museum in Quetzaltenango (Ferrocarril de Los Altos  [ es ]). [13]

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. [14] 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. [15] In 1956, the government created a national company Ferrocarril Verapaz y Servicios Anexos. [16] Operations along Ferrocarril Verapaz y Servicios Anexos stopped in 1963. [17]

Tourist trains

Tourist train on February 16, 2007 Tourist train at Alto Mire Olga.JPG
Tourist train on February 16, 2007
Old steam engine in the Guatemala City Railway Museum Guatemala City Railway Museum 3.JPG
Old steam engine in the Guatemala City Railway Museum

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. [18] Traffic control used a modified Track warrant Control method. The main station in Guatemala city also serves as railroad museum.

Railway museum

The Museo del Ferrocarril FEGUA is located in the railway station at Guatemala City and displays steam engines, a diesel engine, passenger and freight cars, and other memorabilia of the Ferrocarriles de Guatemala.

Proposed light rail

A light rail system called Metro Riel is planned for Guatemala City.

In Books

Adventure traveler Richard Halliburton described Guatemala's former main railroad line in New Worlds to Conquer (1929). Travel writer Paul Theroux described his journey by train through Guatemala in his book The Old Patagonian Express , as he traveled from Boston to Patagonia.

See also

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Rail transport in El Salvador

At present (2020), no trains are operated in El Salvador. The national railroad corporation is FENADESAL, a division of CEPA. It oversees 554.8 km of all disused 3 ft narrow gauge lines connecting major cities and formerly linked with Guatemala railroads at Anguiatú.

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Rail transport in Puerto Rico History of rail transport in Puerto Rico

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Santa Catalina la Tinta Municipality in Corredor Seco, Guatemala

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Belgrano Norte Line

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Northern Railroad of Guatemala Northern Railroad of Guatemala

The Northern Railroad of Guatemala was a railway system that ran from Guatemala City to Puerto Barrios, the main port of Guatemala between 1896 and 1968, when the American United Fruit Company had the monopoly of the railway system thru its affiliate, International Railways of Central America, along with the docks at Puerto Barrios, the banana plantations in Izabal and the cargo and passenger transport with its Great White Fleet. The system was highly efficient, but once a parallel highway was built, it could not compete and eventually was handed back to the State of Guatemala in 1968. After that, the system start to slowly lose its relevance, as the trucks were more profitable than railway transportation. It ceased regular operations in 1996, and has remained partially abandoned since.


  1. 1 2 3 Williams, Glyn (July 2006). "Railways in Guatemala" . Retrieved 2010-01-12.
  2. Ross, Delmer G. (1977). "The construction of the Interoceanic Railroad of Guatemala". The Americas. 33: 430–56. JSTOR   980947.
  3. Posner III, Henry (1998): Guatemala - Last stand for rail in Central America, Rail Business Report 1998
  4. Zimmermann, K.(2002): In Guatemala, a railway Phoenix rises. TRAINS Magazine.
  5. Ferrovías Guatemala home page
  6. 1 2 Central America going nowhere. Railway Gazette International August 2007.
  7. RDC press release, 28.08.2006
  8. RDC press release, 13.03.2007
  9. DeGuate, 14.03.2007
  10. RDC press release, 06.07.2007
  11. http://www.railwaygazette.com/news/news/cs-america/single-view/view/full-settlement-for-railroad-development-corp-in-guatemala-dispute.html?sword_list[]=guatemala&no_cache=1
  12. "Guatemala passenger revival plan - Railway Gazette". Railway Gazette International . Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  13. Hernández, L (2004): El Ferrocarril de Los Altos, Munixela website
  14. Historia y Geografia Verapaciana, Infopressca 2004, page 47
  15. Decreto Gubernativo No 3078 - Forced expropriation of Ferrocarril Verapaz y Agencias del Norte Limitada in 1943
  16. Decreto Gubernativo No 1122 - establishment of Ferrocarril Verapaz y Servicios Anexos in 1958
  17. Perez Riera, R.: Infraestructura, Comercio y Servicios Públicos, page 4 Archived 2006-05-19 at the Wayback Machine
  18. Statistics of FVG