The International Steam Pages

Paraguay Steam 1995

Colin J. Churcher reports:

I rode the Paraguay Railway as part of the Trains Unlimited tour last year. We rode the entire main line from Asuncion to Encarnacion where there is a connection across the Parana River to Posadas in Argentina. There is now no regular passenger train service over the entire line. The Paraguay Railway is quite moribund and operates with a fleet of steam locomotives which are wood fired. For many years travellers have reported that the railway is on its last legs and cannot carry on for much longer. It is still running although there is now another factor to be taken into account. There is a hydro-electric dam under construction on the Parana River which will raise the level of the river and will flood the railway. Already the water level was about three feet over the tracks in some parts during the rainy season earlier this year. We travelled during the dry season (!) and the water was some two feet below the rails in places.

We started out trip from Asuncion behind 2-6-0 #152, a baggage car, two wooden coaches and a wooden diner. It was raining heavily and we made good progress through the outskirts of Asuncion and into the countryside. The villages have very wide red mud streets and there are many horse drawn vehicles to be seen. Paraguay has a delightful, slow pace of life. #152 was a strong engine and we made good progress to Sapucay where we visited the 19th century workshop. Steam locomotives #60 and #101 (both 2-6-0) were under heavy repair in the works while tank loco #5 was in steam in the yard. The works are powered by an ancient steam engine using a couple of steam locomotive boilers. There is an extensive system of overhead belts and pulleys snaking over our heads as we walked around on the mud floors.

The maximum speed on the railway is around 20 mph and we made it to Villarica that evening where a bus was waiting to take us to our hotel. The trains put up a great display of sparks from the hardwood logs which are burned in the locomotive. It is a good job that the country is quite wet as this minimizes the chance of lineside fires.

Next morning we boarded our train at Villarica for the long trip to Encarncaion. #152 made good progress through ground fog. The countryside is lush, I even saw oranges growing wild on the right of way.

At San Salvador we had an engine change. The only god thing about #59 was the bright red paint job. It had a serious steam leak in the pipe leading to the backhead but we set off in high spirits for Encarnacion. #235 was on washout in the shed while #524 was dead. It quickly became evident that #59 had a problem with the front bearing. It needed about 20 minutes attention every hour so we lost time - big time. The group was not dispirited with the prospect of a very late arrival however as there was plenty of food and beer in the dining car (Comedor).

We finally staggered into Bogado at 22:15 (60 miles from Encarnacion) to find that #54 had been sent out to rescue us. A bus also turned up to take some of us to the hotel.

The next day we had a look at the Encarnacion yard where we found #58, #102 and #104 in steam, #53 and #291 and #334 were dead. #54 was working trips to the interchange with the Argentine Railway. We were lucky as we saw the departure of the once weekly freight train to Asuncion. Yes there is now only one freight train each way a week - and this in the dry season. This must be one of the few railways that uses a calendar instead of a timetable.

The next day we had a charter freight train from Encarnacion to Bogado and return. In several places the water was very close to the tracks. We found a 2-8-0 #52 on a work train at Bogado.

I know many people have said this before but the railway cannot last much longer! The critical factor is the flooding of the line. The parts that are likely to survive are the interchange across the bridge to Argentina, containers are put on road in Encarnacion, and the irregular commuter train in the outskirts of Asuncion.

Quite an experience!

Rob Dickinson