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The Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway (BAGS) (in Spanish: Gran Ferrocarril Sud) was one of the Big Four broad gauge, , British-owned companies that built and operated railway networks in Argentinamarker. The company was founded by Edward Lumb in 1862 and the first general manager was Edward Banfield after whom the Buenos Aires suburban station of Banfieldmarker was named, when it opened in 1873. After president Juan Perón nationalisation Argentina’s railway network in 1948 it became part of the state-owned company Ferrocarril General Roca.


On 7 March 1864, in a ceremony attended by the president Bartolomé Mitre, construction began on the site of the present day railway terminus at Plaza Constituciónmarker in Buenos Aires, and the line of 114 km as far as Chascomúsmarker was completed in 1865. The first terminus was completed in 1885 and on 19 September 1925 a foundation stone for the rebuilding of the terminus was laid by the Prince of Wales, later Duke of Windsor, during his official visit to Argentina.


By 1930 the company had become a vast enterprise, probably the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere, with over 8000 km of mostly (broad gauge) single track, 504 stations, 857 steam locomotives, 955 carriages, 16,602 wagons and over 30,000 staff. Its influence over the life and development of Buenos Aires Provincemarker was considerable. The railway network was planned to provide communication between towns in the interior of the province and the capital, and to enable the agricultural produce of the interior, much of which was destined for export, to reach the ports of Buenos Aires, Necocheamarker and Bahía Blancamarker.

Ancillary services

The company and its subsidiaries owned and operated many ancillary services including grain handling facilities, an experimental fruit farm at Cincos Saltos in the Rio Negro valley, a power station in Bahia Blancamarker, the Argentine Fruit Distributors Company, the Club Hotel de la Ventanamarker, the Condor long distance coach company, and a hotel with an adjoining golf course in Miramarmarker.


Puerto Ingeniero White, one of ports of Bahia Blanca, was built by the company who installed two grain elevators there in 1908 to cope with the increasing grain traffic, and constructed a jetty to provide berthing for four steamships. Together with the other British-owned railways, the company had a financial interest in the Compania Ferrocarriles de Petroleo in Comodoro Rivadavia whose wells supplied a large proportion of the fuel oil used by these railways. The railway controlled and operated the South Dock in Buenos Aires, at the mouth of the Riachuelo River.


Much of the goods traffic, including the movement of grain, livestock, fruit from the valley of the Rio Negro, was seasonal, as was the summer tourist traffic to Mar del Platamarker, Miramarmarker and Necocheamarker. Apart from the suburban services around Buenos Aires and Bahía Blanca, the main traffic flow was between these two cities and beyond by three routes: the direct line via Las Floresmarker, Olavarríamarker and Coronel Pringlesmarker; a variant of this from Olavarríamarker through General La Madridmarker and Saavedra; or finally via Las Flores and Tres Arroyosmarker. Services beyond Bahia Blanca through the Plaza Huincul oilfield to Zapalamarker in Neuquén Province, and to Barilochemarker in Rio Negro Provincemarker, at first provided by through coaches on trains to Bahia Blanca, soon developed to the point where it became necessary to run separate complete trains from Buenos Aires.


Always in fierce competition with the British-owned Buenos Aires and Ensenada Port Railway the BAGS took over that company in 1898.

In 1906 the BAGS proposed an extension of the line from Zapalamarker, 115 km from the Chilean border, across the Andes to the town of Lonquimaymarker in Chilemarker. Due to lack of funds the line was never built . This would have provided a rail link between the two counties in addition to the Transandine Railway, connecting Mendozamarker in Argentina with Los Andesmarker in Chile, which was opened in 1910.

Other mainline services included those from Buenos Aires via Bolivar to Carhuémarker, via Maipú to Tandilmarker, via Chasmarker and Ayacuchomarker to Necocheamarker, and services from Bahía Blanca to Toay in La Pampa Province and to Huinca Renanco in Córdoba Province.


Except during the 1939-45 war in Europe, most of the steam locomotives, almost all of which were manufactured in Britain, burned oil, a fuel in which Argentina was almost self-sufficient. Coal suitable for locomotive working was not available locally and had to be imported. The heaviest goods trains, reaching over 2000 tons during the harvest season, were often hauled by three-part articulated Garratt locomotives.


Hazards on the tracks included the accumulation of sand during and after high winds, stray cattle and the possibility of collisions at the many unprotected level crossings.


The railway's repair shops were built in 1901 at Remedios de Escaladamarker, 11 km from the Plaza Constitución, were the largest in South America, and employed nearly 3,000 men. Although primarily for repair work, the shops were equipped to make every part of a locomotive or a railway carriage. When the company took over the working of the Bahía Blanca and North Western Railway from the Buenos Aires and Pacific Railway company in 1925 it acquired the latter's workshops in Bahia Blanca.

Road competition

The year 1930 marked the peak of the company’s prosperity but towards the end of that year the ill effects of the progressive devaluation of the Argentine peso began to be felt and labour costs began to increase substantially. The company was also facing increasing competition from transport on the expanding road network.


In 1933 the administration of three British-owned companies BAGS, Buenos Aires Western and the Buenos Aires Midland were combined.


When the entire Argentine railway network was nationalised in 1948, during Juan Peron's presidency, the BAGS became part of the state-owned company Ferrocarril General Roca. At the same time it absorbed the former state-owned line from Patagonesmarker to Barilochemarker, the narrow gauge line from Ingeniero Jacobaccimarker to Esquel, affectionately known as La Trochitamarker, and the southern half of the French-owned Ferrocarril Rosario y Puerto Belgrano.

See also


  • D.S.Purdom, British Steam on the Pampas, Mechanical Engineering Publications Ltd, London, 1977.
  • William Rogind, Historia del Ferrocarril Sud 1861-1936, Edit. Ferrocarril Sud, Buenos Aires, 1937.
  • Colin M. Lewis, British Railways in Argentina 1857-1914: A Case Study of Foreign Investment, Athlone Press (for the Institute of Latin American Studies, University of London), 1983.

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