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Monday, June 11, 2012

Derailing and Demistifying the Dangers of the Argentine Rail System

If the nation of Argentina had its very own facebook page with updates and statuses, the relationship status between the gov't and the people would be set to "complicated". On that note, this would also be the relationship status most expats would choose to describe their relationship with Buenos Aires,  complicated.  I'll leave that for another blogpost, for now let's focus on the gov't and the people.

A couple months ago I wrote a blogpost Reeling from a Real Rail Disaster. It was about one of Argentina's worst rail disasters that happened this year on Ash Wednesday.  In that blogpost I chose to focus on my personal feelings of having to challenge myself not to live in fear but to trust God instead. There wasn't enough room in that blog to really explain the ongoing drama that had been happening between the gov't, the people and Trenes de Buenos Aires.  It is a situation that has been going on for more than 30 yrs before this accident ever happened.  And I hope that this blog will open your eyes to see that this was an accident that didn't quite happen by accident.

In the 1990's due to a number of things happening in the economy, all the railway lines in Argentina were privatized and divided amongst 4 different railway companies. One of them being "Trenes de Buenos Aires". This company has two lines that it operates. One of them is the line where the crash happened at Estacion Once close to where I live. And the other line they operate goes from Retiro (another suburb in BsAs) to Tigre. I have never used the line that the crash happened on but I have used the other one when I want a daytrip out of Buenos Aires to places like Tigre or San Isidro for a break.

To keep the cost of things down, the gov't placed a cap on the train fares for these companies, meaning that their fare could not be more that a certain amount. But running a train line is not cheap at all and to make up for their losses, the gov't heavily subsidized these companies and provided funds. However they still got to remain as private companies.

Here is where things got really fuzzy.......subsidization came without strings or conditions. So these railway companies and the people who ran them received the money to cover the cost of operation without any accountability. And to make a long story short, very little money went into maintaining the trains themselves and alot of money went into the pockets of some of these operators for their own personal uses. It resulted in trains being used that had not been updated for decades with newer models that could withstand crashes.

For decades, the issue of safety had been brought up multiple times to both the train operators and the gov't and ignored.  It was an issue that got ignored until Ash Wednesday 2011 when something happened that nobody could ignore.  Now that the nation of Argentina has made the headline news around the world, there will be increased pressure on the government to make good on its multiple promises to bring change to the Argentine railway system.

To make it clear, I don't live in fear taking the train in Buenos Aires. I would take the train and I would even take the train that went on the line that crashed if I had to. Understand that Argentines and people in the third world don't care less than all of you out there about their health and safety. They are just as nervous about getting up in the morning and loading the train as you would if you were in the same predicament. But what makes people different in the 3rd world is that nothing keeps them from living on.

There is so much more to be said on this issue and i am constantly trying to find ways to explain to my audience in a very uncomplicated manner what is a very complicated subject. That is part of the fun of running a blog on Argentina :)  To help you understand, I'll say it like this....if the people of Argentina had to hire one artists to sing one song to the gov't and the railway operators, there is no doubt that it would be the Kelly Clarkson hit "Already Gone". The song sums up the public's feelings perfectly.....

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Amorous Alpacas

Amorous Alpacas