Paraguay was one of the very first nations in the Americas to begin building a rail network. Plans for a rail network were first drawn up in 1856. The first few kilometres of track was then subsequently opened in late 1861.

After this the track was slowly extended southwards. The final completion of the track was delayed due to the War of the Triple Alliance in the late 1860s. However afterwards the work was able to continue taking the tracks as far a Encarnacion on the border with Argentina. A distance of 376km.

The tracks themselves were laid out by British engineers. Initially on a gauge of 5′ 6″. Once through the Argentinian border had been reached it was decided that it would be beneficial to have the Paraguayan network running on the same gauge as the of Argentina. The Argentinian network ran on a gauge of 4′ 8 1/2″. Accordingly the entire Paraguayan network had to be converted to the new gauge.

The line connecting Asuncion to Encarnacion was the only passenger network in the country. There were a number of privately financed stretches of track built in the north of the country but those were all built of the transport of goods.

Some of the northern lines did acquire passengers in the 1930s when they were found to be ideally placed for the transport of troops to the front during the Chaco War. A war Paraguay successfully fought against Bolivia over disputed and poorly charted lands that lay between them.

The trains that ran on the Paraguayan rail network were from the beginning until the final closure of the line in 1999 all steam driven. These large engines were like the track British built. In view of the available resources they were not powered by coal but instead were all wood burning.

At the time of closure of the line almost all the engines running on the tracks were locomotives built between 1910 and 1914. There were just a couple of newer locomotives dating from 1953. Almost all of that rolling stock is in various states of preservation at different sites across the nation.

Up until 1996 there had been a daily passenger and goods service running between Asuncion and Encarnacion. At that point it was then scaled back to a weekend tourist service as far as the town of Ypacari. Approximately 50km from Asuncion.

Rail was never a high speed mode of transport. The grand old trains travelled along the lines at a stately 20km per hour. The trip to Encarnacion took the best part of a day.

The weekend tourist service continued only until 1999. There was then an accident which resulted in the death of a child and the subsequent enquiry found that the costs of bringing the system up to modern standards would not be economically viable.

Subsequently a shorter section running from the Botanical Garden station on the edge of Asuncion to the nearby town of Aregua was reopened a a tourist route in the early 2000s. This though also ran short of funds and was also shut down after a few years. By then the general state of the track had deteriorated such that derailings were becoming common.

There are now three main locations across Paraguay where the old trains are stored and displayed.

The first is the old central station in Asuncion. This is a fine Victorian building. It was also until 1991 the only place on the network with signalling. A gong to announce a trains departure.

Now it is the National Railway Museum. In it are held several carriages and a collection of artifacts connected to the history of rail transport in Paraguay. Also stored there is the Sapucai. British built and in October 1861 the first train to run in Paraguay. It is still fitted to the gauge of 5′ 6″.

Then on the outskirts of Asuncion is the Botanical Gardens station. Here displayed in the open are a couple of the old wood burning locomotives. They are well maintained and if circumstances were to allow would be capable of returning to service. Displayed as they are in the open air they are ideal for getting and idea of the size and strength of the old trains.

Finally approximately 80km from Asuncion are the railway workshops at Sapucai. Within these are stored a number of locomotives. Mostly still in working condition. The workshops have been converted into a museum and in addition to the trains they also hold the heavy machinery that was required to make and maintain the railways. The machinery was imported and much of it still displays the stamps showing where it was built.

At present there are no trains running in Paraguay. So although there is much to be seen it is all static. Costs will probably keep it that way for the foreseeable future. Furthermore since the closure of the line much of the old tracks have either disappeared or been built over.

I was fortunate in the many years ago I was able to take the train from the Botanical Gardens to Aregua. A two hour trip covering not many kilometres. A very pleasant trip thought countryside with children waving as the train passed by. Then with a couple of hours in the smart lakeside town of Aregua for lunch and sightseeing before the return trip to Asuncion.

As for the future there is from time to time talk of overseas investment being brought in to give Paraguay a modern rail network. This though would be a multi million dollar project. In addition to new rolling stock new track and possibly even a new route would be required.

For the moment to prospect of words turning into actions remains distant.