The Extraordinary Tramways of
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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.
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]:
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 9007 was sent to Mariano Roque Alonso, a town just beyond the airport, where it was restored, painted yellow and was still displayed in 2011 [see photo at the bottom of this article]. In 2005 tram 9006 was also repainted yellow 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.
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.
Alejandro Maluga. Asunción, 1:15,000. Asunción, 1937. Map shows numbered tram routes in detail.
Allen Morrison. Latin America by Streetcar, pp. 126-132. New York, 1996.
Elvio Díaz Valinotti. "Una reliquia olvidada entre yuyos y basurales" in ABC (Asunción), 28/4/2011. Illustrated survey of surviving trams. Photo of beautifully restored car 9007 in Mariano Roque Alonso.
Copyright © 1999-2099 Allen Morrison - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED