Tough Transit For Commuters On Argentina's Railways

Riding the commuter trains around Argentina's capital can make for a dismal, sweaty trip on cars that mostly date back to the mid-1960s.

Users of the seven lines that connect Buenos Aires with neighboring municipalities complain about rundown railcars, careless drivers and a lack of information at stations.

And they worry about safety. One train slammed into a downtown station last year, killing 51 people and pushing the government to take over direct operation of the trains from private companies. Then a crash in June killed three people.

Cameras installed after the latest accident have captured train drivers reading books, talking on cellphones and even sleeping while operating trains.

"We're afraid," says Mariza Cano, a maid riding a crowded train on the Sarmiento line with her 11-year-old daughter. "We're often feeling that we'll be lucky if we reach our destination, but sometimes there's no other option but to travel by train because taking the bus takes way too long."

President Cristina Fernández has promised improvements by early next year including 1,000 new railroad cars. Some railcars manufactured abroad have been purchased and put into the fleet. Stations have been painted. New electronic screens inform passengers about arrivals and departures.

But commuters say that much remains to be done and that riding the trains remains a hassle.

The railways, signals and track have had little upgrading since being built early in the 20th century. The lines' electrical system is more than 80 years old.

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