The Extraordinary Tramways of
ASUNCIÓN

Paraguay

BY
Allen Morrison

[ Ver versión en español ]

The tramway on the pampas that so many rode and photographed at the end of the last century has gone forever and covered its tracks. In its last years its single car, number 9007, carried only a motorman and tramway fans. Trams and rails struggled without maintenance for two decades and the system finally fell apart. However, it was not always that way. Here are some of the high and low points in the history of an unusual street railway in South America. There is an all-time system map on another page.
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The first horsecar line was built by James Horrocks, an English agent of the Paraguay Central Railway, whose steam line reached the Paraguayan capital in 1861. Using rails discarded by the PCR, Horrocks constructed the city's first tramway in 1872, which ran from the Puerto (port) to the railroad station and the Belvedere, a pleasure garden on Avenida España near Calle Brasil [see map]. In 1884 Horrocks sold his company to a medical doctor and local developer, Francisco Morra, who had recently immigrated from Italy. Dr. Morra formed the Empresa de Tramways noted on this tram ticket [col. AM]:

Morra extended the line to the cemetery at the edge of town. The photograph below was taken somewhat later at the entrance to the park [W. D. Boyce, Illustrated South America, p. 434, Chicago, 1912]:

Another Englishman, Campbell Ogilie, added steam traction and pushed the Villa Morra Tramway another 10 km to Fernando de la Mora and San Lorenzo in 1894 [see map]. The rare, hand-colored postcard below shows a Porter locomotive and three double-deck cars with passengers on the roof at Recoleta cemetery about 1895. The church is still there today - at the intersection of Avenidas Mariscal López and Chóferes del Chaco in Villa Morra [col. AM]:

 Plans to electrify the tramway began in 1900 - and with them a struggle for franchises between Paraguay, Argentina, England, Germany, Italy and the USA. The Paraguay Central Railway acquired the rights for electric light and power in the city, formed Asunción Light & Power Co. and ordered 20 trams from United Electric in England in 1909 [United Electric Car Co. negative 574]:

In 1910 Juan Carosio, an agent for the German companies AEG and Siemens - which controlled electric power and tramway installations in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile - secured a contract for electrification of the tramway in Asunción. There was an international confrontation in 1912: Paraguay Central Railway reorganized the AL&P as Asunción Tramway, Light & Power Co., the United Electric trams arrived from England, electrical equipment arrived from Germany, and Virgilio, Vangioni y Compañía of Argentina arrived to install the rails and wire. Britannia ruled: ATL&P inaugurated the city's first electric line, from the Puerto to the Belvedere [see map], on 10 July 1913. Note that the English trolley poles were replaced by German bow collectors [col. AM]:

In 1914 ATL&P opened an electric line to Villa Morra via Ciudad Nueva and ordered a car from another British builder, Brush. Later that year it filed for bankruptcy and the tramway was acquired by a new Italo-Argentine firm called Compañía Americana de Luz y Tracción ("CALT"). In the 1920s CALT moved its depot and shops from its downtown location on Avenida Colón to the steam tramway yards at San Miguel [see map] and ordered six electric cars, numbered 22-27, from Società Italiana Ernesto Breda in Milan. (Breda supplied the same model to Lima, Peru.) Note initials "CALT" on the side [Breda photograph via Guido Boreani]:

 

Two years later, in 1929, CALT ordered six similar cars, numbered 28-33, from J. G. Brill in Philadelphia. The American trams resembled Birneys, but in fact were plain single-truck cars. The specimen below had been renumbered by the time it was photographed in 1976 [AM]:

 

The tramway network reached its peak in the 1930s with seven services in the central area and suburban lines to Puerto Sajonia and San Lorenzo [see map]. In 1932 CALT electrified the San Lorenzo steam line as far as Fernando de la Mora. The postcard view below shows Av. Mariscal López about 1940. The English tram in the distance is still in original form, but the one in the foreground has been remodeled. Those two strips far left – was that the path of the steam line? [col. AM]:

In the 1930s CALT also ordered six new trams from Compañía Argentina de Talleres, Industriales, Transportes y Anexos ("CATITA") in Buenos Aires. These vehicles were numbered 34-39. This photograph of a Catita car was taken near Fernando de la Mora [see map] in 1963 [Earl W. Clark]:

 

The photograph of remodeled English tram 17 below was taken on Calle Estrella in 1964 [Raymond DeGroote]:

Paraguay changed traffic direction in 1945 and downtown street track was reversed. Route 1, 2, 3 and 4 closed at this time but a new route 5 was built to Las Mercedes [see map]. The tram system was nationalized in 1948 and passed to the Administración Nacional de Electricidad ("ANDE"), which scrapped most of the original tram fleet. In 1963 ANDE imported ten "Tassara" cars second-hand from Buenos Aires, which it numbered B1-10. Here is B9 on Calle Padre Cardozo in Las Mercedes in 1977 [AM]:

In 1964 ANDE erected an office building in the tramway yard and moved rail facilities to an adjacent lot; new access track was installed on Av. General Santos [see map]. Tram operation passed in 1966 to the Administración del Transporte Eléctrico ("ATE") which closed the system in 1973. No streetcars ran in Asunción for two years. ATE reopened line 5 in 1975 and began importing used trams from Brussels, Belgium: trailer 603 and motorcars 1507/8/14/15, 1601/3/4/5/7/10 and 9001/3/5-8. The Belgian cars were single-end so needed triangles to reverse. ATE reopened route 9 in 1978. The photo below shows a newly-arrived Brussels tram at Villa Morra terminus in March of that year [AM]:

 

Route 9 closed again in 1979. ATE purchased new cars, then let them decay. Rather than maintain track that existed and was needed, ATE reopened old track, then closed it again. The entire 10 km length of route 10 to Fernando de la Mora was restored for a group of tramway fans in 1984 - and operated only one day! [See map.] Later that year rails were uncovered and wire was installed on part of route 4 to Puerto Sajonia that had been closed for 40 years. Then the project was abandoned. The view below of Av. Mariscal López in Villa Morra was taken during the brief revival of route 9. Note the Siemens line poles [AM]:

 

After 1984 the only streetcar line operable in Asunción was route 5 [see map]. The last group of Belgian vehicles to arrive were the 9000s which had been built in the 1950s and ran in Brussels until 1982. Here is 9001, still in its Brussels livery, traveling east on Calle Estrella in 1979 [AM]:

 

There was another brief renaissance in 1990. Acknowledging the appeal of its trams to visitors, especially foreign, ATE created a new tourist service on a loop downtown - the "microcenter" - which it labeled "A". Route 5 was relabeled "B". These signs appeared at several tram stops. But the service was shortlived [AM]:

 

In the 1990s ATE also decorated its trams with advertisements. Belgian 9005 was sponsoring the Dutch Bank at Las Mercedes terminus in April 1994. Route 5 was single track with passing sidings - one of the last lines of that type in the world [see map] [AM]:

 

But paint was the only attention that the cars received. By 1993 their mechanical condition was decrepit. The track had not been repaired in 80 years and derailments were routine. Commercial service on the system ended about June 1995 - the date is uncertain. ATE could make more money renting the trams to rich foreigners - who enjoyed derailments! - than by risking embarrassment for local fares. Freshly-painted 9007, crammed with German tram fans, makes one of its very last trips to Las Mercedes in October 1995 [see map] [AM]:

At Plaza Uruguaya [see map] the car emptied and the visitors positioned to capture Asunción's last streetcar turning in front of the Paraguay Central Railway station for the last time [AM]:

 

During the next two years car 9007 operated a few more charters, but in November 1997 the company declared the tramway system permanently closed. A 125-year saga had ended.

A visitor in 1998 found wire removed from the streets and five derelict cars - 9001, 9003, 9005, 9006 and 9007 - in the yard. In 1999 tram number 2007 was sent to an exposition grounds at Mariano Roque Alonso near the airport, where it was restored and remains today. In 2005 tram 9006 was repainted and placed on display on Plaza Uruguay in front of the railway station. This photograph was taken in 2006 [Ian Thomson]:

After it was vandalised in 2007, tram 9006 was removed from its perch and taken to the town docks. Visitors in 2011 reported four trams - 9001, 9003, 9005 and another unidentified - still rotting away at the old tramway depot in San Miguel [see map].

There was a rumor of a horsecar operation about 1900 in the city of Concepción 225 km north of Asunción. But no evidence of a tramway there could be found.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Paraguay. Dirección General de Estadística. Anuario Estadístico, 1914, 1915, 1917. Asunción, 1915, 1916, 1918.

Klug & Marés, S. A. Plano de Asunción. Asunción, 1917. Map shows numbered tram routes in detail.

Frederic Magie Halsey. "Compañía Americana de Luz y Tracción", Trade Information Bulletin #382, pp. 44-48. Washington, 1926.

W. Rodney Long. "Asunción Tramway", Trade Promotion Series #39, pp. 181-186. Washington, 1927.

Alejandro Maluga. Asunción, 1:15,000. Asunción, 1937. Map shows numbered tram routes in detail.

Juan Carlos Herken Krauer. Ferrocarriles, conspiraciones y negocios en el Paraguay, 1910-1914. Asunción, 1984.

Christian G. Werckenthien. "El Transporte Urbano de Asunción," Boletín de la Asociación Amigos del Tranvía #111 (2/1986) & 112 (3/1986). Buenos Aires, 1986.

R. Andrew Nickson. Historical Dictionary of Paraguay. New York, 1993.

Allen Morrison. Latin America by Streetcar, pp. 126-132. New York, 1996.


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Also see
The Asunción, Paraguay, Condom Tram

 

This webpage was created by Allen Morrison and launched on 14 April 2000. The page was revised and new illustrations were added in 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2009.

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