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

Although Guatemala still has a network of 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge railroads, no passenger or freight trains currently run, except for occasional chartered tourist trains.[ citation needed ]

Guatemala Republic in Central America

Guatemala, officially the Republic of Guatemala, is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, Belize and the Caribbean to the northeast, Honduras to the east, El Salvador to the southeast and the Pacific Ocean to the south. With an estimated population of around 16.6 million, it is the most populated country in Central America. Guatemala is a representative democracy; its capital and largest city is Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción, also known as Guatemala City.

3 ft gauge railways

Three foot gauge railways have a track gauge of 3 ft or 1 yard. This gauge is a narrow gauge and is generally found throughout North, Central, and South America. In Ireland, many secondary and industrial lines were built to 3 ft gauge, and it is the dominant gauge on the Isle of Man, where it is known as the Manx Standard Gauge. Modern 3 ft gauge railways are most commonly found in isolated mountainous areas, on small islands, or in large-scale amusement parks and theme parks. This gauge is also popular in model railroading, and model prototypes of these railways have been made by several model train brands around the world, such as Accucraft Trains (US), Aristo-Craft Trains (US), Bachmann Industries, Delton Locomotive Works (US), LGB (Germany), and PIKO (Germany).

Heritage railway railway used for heritage/historical/tourism purposes

A heritage railway is a railway operated as living history to re-create or preserve railway scenes of the past. Heritage railways are often old railway lines preserved in a state depicting a period in the history of rail transport.



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 ]

Puerto San José Place in Escuintla Department, Guatemala

Puerto San José is a city on Guatemala's Pacific Ocean coast, in the department of Escuintla. It contains about 20,000 people, making it the largest place along the Pacific coast of Guatemala. It was the Pacific port for Guatemala, but this was superseded in the 20th century by Puerto Quetzal, a few kilometers to the east of the town. The Puerto Quetzal complex is the major employer in the town. The local tourist industry caters largely for weekenders from Guatemala City. San José Airport has been refurbished lately and is now the official alternate airport for Guatemala City.

Escuintla Municipality in Guatemala

Escuintla is a city in south central Guatemala. It is the capital of the Escuintla Department and the administrative seat of Escuintla Municipality.

Guatemala City City in Guatemala, Guatemala

Guatemala City, locally known as Guatemala or Guate, officially Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción, is the capital and largest city of Guatemala, and the most populous in Central America. The city is located in the south-central part of the country, nestled in a mountain valley called Valle de la Ermita. It is estimated that its population is about 1 million. Guatemala City is also the capital of the Municipality of Guatemala and of the Guatemala Department.


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]

The Railroad Development Corporation is an American railroad holding company based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It operates several short line railroads outside the United States and acts as an investor, with management and institutional investors as partners. It was founded in 1987 by former Conrail employee Henry Posner III.

Hurricane Mitch Category 5 Atlantic hurricane in 1998

Hurricane Mitch was the second-deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record, causing over 11,000 fatalities in Central America, with over 7,000 occurring in Honduras alone due to the catastrophic flooding it wrought, due to the slow motion of the storm. It was the deadliest hurricane in Central America, surpassing Hurricane Fifi–Orlene, which killed slightly fewer people there in 1974. The thirteenth named storm, ninth hurricane, and third major hurricane of the 1998 Atlantic hurricane season, Mitch formed in the western Caribbean Sea on October 22, and after drifting through extremely favorable conditions, it rapidly strengthened to peak at Category 5 status, the highest possible rating on the Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale. After drifting southwestward and weakening, the hurricane hit Honduras as a minimal hurricane. Mitch drifted through Central America, regenerated in the Bay of Campeche, and ultimately struck Florida as a strong tropical storm. It then became extratropical and accelerated northeastward across the North Atlantic, before dissipating on November 9. At the time, Mitch was the strongest Atlantic hurricane observed in the month of October, though it has since been surpassed by Hurricane Wilma of the 2005 season. In addition, Mitch is the eighth-most intense Atlantic hurricane on record.

Mexico Country in the southern portion of North America

Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country in the southern portion of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Covering almost 2,000,000 square kilometres (770,000 sq mi), the nation is the fifth largest country in the Americas by total area and the 13th largest independent state in the world. With an estimated population of over 120 million people, the country is the tenth most populous state and the most populous Spanish-speaking state in the world, while being the second most populous nation in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico is a federation comprising 31 states and Mexico City, a special federal entity that is also the capital city and its most populous city. Other metropolises in the state include Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, Toluca, Tijuana and León.

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.

Intermodal container Standardized reusable steel box used for transporting goods

An intermodal container is a large standardized shipping container, designed and built for intermodal freight transport, meaning these containers can be used across different modes of transport – from ship to rail to truck – without unloading and reloading their cargo. Intermodal containers are primarily used to store and transport materials and products efficiently and securely in the global containerized intermodal freight transport system, but smaller numbers are in regional use as well. These containers are known under a number of names, such as simply container, cargo or freight container, ISO container, shipping, sea or ocean container, sea van or (Conex) box, sea can or c can.

Steel alloy made by combining iron and other elements

Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon, and sometimes other elements. Because of its high tensile strength and low cost, it is a major component used in buildings, infrastructure, tools, ships, automobiles, machines, appliances, and weapons.

Cement Hydraulic binder used in the composition of mortar and concrete

A cement is a binder, a substance used for construction that sets, hardens, and adheres to other materials to bind them together. Cement is seldom used on its own, but rather to bind sand and gravel (aggregate) together. Cement mixed with fine aggregate produces mortar for masonry, or with sand and gravel, produces concrete. Cement is the most widely used material in existence and is only behind water as the planet's most-consumed resource.

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]

Usufruct is a limited real right found in civil-law and mixed jurisdictions that unites the two property interests of usus and fructus:

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.

Right-of-way (transportation) right to make a "way" (as in a type of easement) over a piece of land

A right-of-way (ROW) is a right to make a way over a piece of land, usually to and from another piece of land. A right of way is a type of easement granted or reserved over the land for transportation purposes, such as a highway, public footpath, rail transport, canal, as well as electrical transmission lines, oil and gas pipelines. A right-of-way can be used to build a bike trail. A right-of-way is reserved for the purposes of maintenance or expansion of existing services with the right-of-way. In the case of an easement, it may revert to its original owners if the facility is abandoned.

The International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) is an international arbitration institution established in 1966 for legal dispute resolution and conciliation between international investors. The ICSID is part of and funded by the World Bank Group, headquartered in Washington, D.C., in the United States. It is an autonomous, multilateral specialized institution to encourage international flow of investment and mitigate non-commercial risks by a treaty drafted by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development's executive directors and signed by member countries. As of May 2016, 153 contracting member states agreed to enforce and uphold arbitral awards in accordance with the ICSID Convention.

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. [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 former main station in Guatemala city serves as railroad museum.

Railway museum

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

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 Honduras

Railroads in Honduras were built in late 19th and early 20th centuries by two competing U.S. corporations - United Fruit and Standard Fruit. All were in the Caribbean coastal area and never reached the capital. In 1993, the combined network had 785 km. At present (2006), only three separate segments remain in operation under the management of FNH - Ferrocarril Nacional de Honduras:

Rail transport in El Salvador

At present (2015), 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.

Since 2008, the only functioning railroad in Panama has been the Panama Canal Railway, operated by the Panama Canal Railway Company, successor of Panama Railway, which provides passenger and freight service between Panama City and Colón. Historically, there were also narrow gauge railroads in Chiriquí Province, which were been abandoned in the late 20th century.

Santa Catalina la Tinta Municipality in Corredor Seco, Guatemala

Santa Catalina la Tinta is a municipality in the Guatemalan department of Alta Verapaz. It is located in the hot Polochic River valley. It was originally part of the municipality of Panzós, but was given separate municipal status in 1999. La Tinta is the commercial center of the lower Polochic valley, and merchants and shoppers clog the town's streets especially on the official market days of Tuesdays and Thursdays. The town of Santa Catalina la Tinta is located at 110 km from Cobán and 278 km from Guatemala City.

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 the Panama Canal Railway, 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 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 the 1990s. As of 2018, railroads operate locally in Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama only; all rail transport has been suspended in Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. None of the operating railways crosses national borders.

General Manuel Belgrano Railway

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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
  19. "Shaw Group in talks with US railroad cos for Feristsa project, Central America, Infrastructure, news" . Retrieved 2010-10-16.