WHILST the Mercosur free trade zone may have revived freight traffic on Latin America’s railways, the same cannot be said for the residual passenger operations. Word reaches us from Uruguay that the pro-rail party in government since 1993 has been ousted by the administration which abandoned all services in 1988.

Our correspondent reports that for ’political reasons’ AFE has cancelled the August 1993 concession for Ferrotransporte to run four daily trains each way on the 64 km Montevideo - 25 de Agosto commuter line, taking over the service itself on January 2. A few days later, AFE ’suspended indefinitely’ the rural Tacuarembó - Riveira train as ’highly unprofitable’. Despite extensive upgrading of the 118 km route, AFE had extended the running time from 2h 40min in 1993 to 3h 45min, and the faster railcars which replaced loco-hauled trains last April spent long periods sitting at the stations waiting time.

Across the Andes in Ecuador, it is the railcars which are the problem. ENFE has suspended all passenger services, for the embarrassing reason that all its autoferros have broken down ’irrevocably’. Presumably the locals have reverted to the traditional mode; riding on the roofs of boxcars on the remaining freight trains.

  • Travellers to Africa reveal similar problems have reached Uganda Railways Corp, hovering on the verge of bankruptcy. URC has withdrawn all domestic passenger trains and its Lake Victoria ferries. Freight trains continue for now, but the only coaches to polish URC metals appear on the through train from Kenya, run by KRC. o