News & Reviews News Wire Veteran North American-built diesels still hard at work in Argentina

Veteran North American-built diesels still hard at work in Argentina

By Keith Fender | April 6, 2023

EMD and Alco products still see regular freight and commuter-rail duty

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Blue Alco locomotive with short string of hopper cars
Alco RSD16 No. 8502, in the new livery of Trenes Argentinos, handles an aggregates train at Alianza Yard west of Buenos Aires on March 23, 2023. This unit was built in January 1958 and originally delivered as Ferrocarriles Argentinos No. 4617. Keith Fender

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentina’s railways continue to use diesel locomotives supplied new by American builders EMD, GE, and Alco in the late 1950s, with Buenos Aires possibly the only place on the planet where those diesels are working side by side, hauling and switching freight in 2023.

More modern Chinese-built locomotives, as well as electrification, have replaced some of the older diesels in commuter rail service in the last decade. But while no longer commonplace, 1957 U.S.-built EMD G12 units still work on commuter trains alongside slightly more modern, but now 61-year-old, EMD GR12 designs, as well as Alco RSD35 and RSD39 designs built in Canada and Spain, respectively.

Alcos hauling freight and passengers

Blue diesel on commuter train belching black smoke
The RSD35s built by MLW in 1962 remain in freight service across Argentina’s main 5-foot, 6-inch gauge network. A small number may be drafted into commuter service around Buenos Aires. Such is the case here, with No. 6458 displaying typical Alco exhaust as leaving Villa Ballester with a service to Zárate on March 22, 2023. Keith Fender

Until 2012, the Alco RSD16 export design was still working commuter rail services on the San Martin line from one of the three of Buenos Aires Retiro stations. Some 130 of these units were delivered from Schenectady, N.Y., in 1957, to Ferrocarriles Argentinos, the then-state railroad. In the last decade, new Chinese-built locomotives equipped with Cummins diesel engines have replaced them. However, the RSD16 design is not history, as several freight operators still use them daily, and a few of the old passenger units have been kept as shop switchers.

Other Alco designs are also still in regular use: the RSD35 model, 110 of which were delivered from MLW in Montreal to Ferrocarriles Argentinos in 1963, and a smaller number of 1965-67 Spanish-built RSD39 locomotives. Eighteen of these wound up in Argentina for commuter rail service in the 1990s after careers first in Spain and then in Portugal. The RSD35, like the other Alco designs in Argentina, has the Alco 251 engine. It is still used for freight service by new national rail company Trenes Argentinos, which has largely replaced private passenger concessions resulting from the mid-1990s privatization of Ferrocarriles Argentinos.

Some private freight concessions resulting from that privatization remain, although Trenes Argentinos has taken over others and invested in more modern Chinese-built diesels in the last decade. Both RSD16 and RSD35 units are used in freight service across Argentina on the mostly broad gauge (5 foot, 6 inch/1676 millimeter) network, from the Atlantic coast at Buenos Aires to the foothills of the Andes mountains around Mendoza.

EMD G12 and GR12 units

Blue diesel on commuter train at station platform
Built in February 1957 (as Ferrocarriles Argentinos No. 4515) and still in daily passenger service, EMD G12 A614, in the new Trenes Argentinos corporate livery, is at the station in Mercedes, west of Buenos Aires, after arriving with a train from Moreno in the western suburbs on March 24, 2023. Keith Fender

Prior to electrification of routes from the city’s Plaza Constitución terminal, completed in 2017, EMD G12 and GR12 locomotives hauled many of the commuter trains. These are now handled by Chinese-built EMUs. Much like the Alcos, the older EMD designs still have some passenger work, and at least one former passenger G12 is now used as a switcher by the Buenos Aires port authority. Ferrocarriles Argentinos received 25 EMD G12s from La Grange in 1957, and 68 more units, most classified as the GR12 model, in the early 1960s. Large numbers of GR12s remain in freight service in the country’s north with private concessionaire Nuevo Central Argentino. A handful are in passenger service, too.

Passenger trains with old diesel locomotives are now mostly, but not completely, on outer suburban routes normally connected to electrified routes into the city center. It is on these routes —such as Merlo-Lobos, Moreno-Mercedes, and Villa Ballester-Zárate, all west of the city center — that the RSD35, RSD39, G12, and GR12 units can be found, alongside some more modern EMD G22 and GT22 locomotives built in the 1970s to 1990s.

EMD commuter rail designs

The EMD G22 design is still widely used for commuter rail service – with around 25 meter-gauge G22 locos (most built under EMD license in Argentina 1976-80) operated by private concessionaire Ferrovías from Retiro Belgrano station to Grand Bourg and Villa Rosa. National operator Trenes Argentinos also uses a small number on the meter-gauge lines in the south of the city, although most trains are now modern Chinese-built DMUs.

More modern GT22 locos, built in the U.S. and Canada from 1972 to 1998, are still used for passenger service on the southern parts of the Roca commuter rail system south of the city and for some long distance services, alongside modern Chinese locos. All of the private freight concession companies also use the GT22 design.

— Updated April 7 at 10:25 p.m. CDT to correct figures on number of RSD16  and RSD35 locomotives, and that all were delivered to Ferrocarriles Argentinos.

Blue diesel leading commuter train along double-track line
Built March 1962 at La Grange and still in passenger service 61 years later, GR12 No. A627 leaves Marcos Paz, west of Buenos Aires, with a service from Merlo to Las Heras on March 15, 2023. Keith Fender

3 thoughts on “Veteran North American-built diesels still hard at work in Argentina

  1. There are still a few EMD G12’s in service in New Zealand, though they were rebuilt around 1980 as the “DC class.” Up until electrification around 2014 dozens of them were used on commuter trains in Auckland.

  2. Mr. Fender. Thanks for the update on the US design/manufactured locomotives. I lived in Argentina for a number of years as a journalist and used to commute to work downtown on the San Martin wide gauge line that employed the RSD16s. I can’t imagine the mileage on those engines now. Ferrocarriles Argentinos and several of the subsequent freight concessions created under former President Carlos Menem (mostly revoked in recent years) also used RSD16s across the wide gauge lines in Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Mendoza and Santa Fe provinces. The G22s are still in use on the Ferrovias (ex-Belgrano) line out of Retiro and possibly on the so-called Belgrano Sur line. A solid design and real workhorses over the past 45 years or so. The RSD35s always seemed underpowered for commuter service on the heavily used lines and when I saw them, they were hauling a car or two to more distant locales from the capital in Buenos Aires province. Ferrocarriles Argentinos also had a Baldwin design somewhat similiar to a RF16 of which a few examples did get picked up and utilized by one of the freight concessions. Lastly, GE had a number of U12 and U13 designs that were jack-of-all-trades on the meter, standard, and wide gauges. I saw a YouTube video not too long ago showing either a U12 or U13 hauling passenger trains from the capital. Another durable design that served the country’s rail network well.

  3. When I grew up in the 40s-60s, I recall people commenting on how they still drive Model A Fords everyday, and fly many DC3 planes, in Argentina. And that predated another living “museum”, Cuba, who is well known for it’s old everyday cars and locomotives, and the only other North American Country besides the U.S., Canada, and Mexico that is AAR compliant from the pre-Castro Sea-Train days.

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