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The ghost train of Paraguay

Locomotive photo taken at the railroad museum in Sapucai, Paraguay in July, 2011
Locomotive photo taken at the railroad museum in Sapucai, Paraguay in July, 2011
Photo Copyright by Robert R. Talley 2011, all rights reserved.

Paraguay had the first railroad system in South America. The railroad was begun in 1854 and completed in segments by 1889. Unfortunately it no longer exists as an operating railroad. The remaining remnants include a couple of museums and a few stations here and there. Of the two railroad museums one is the old train factory in the town of Sapucai. When the railroad operated this was where the trains were built, repaired and maintained.

A locomotive from yesteryear at the railroad museum in Sapucai, Paraguay
Paraguay Bicentennial Commission

The rolling stock on display outside consists of three locomotives, one nearly fully restored, a wood slat car that was used for transporting railroad workers and a crane on wheels. Children will have great fun climbing on the locomotive, getting into the cab and ringing the bell. Inside the shop building you can see antique machinery and some other rail cars in various stages of disrepair. A couple of workers looked semi-busy working on some engine parts.

The museum also includes the railroad's former administrative headquarters with antique office and dispatching equipment. The passenger depot is not open to view currently. Several buildings that housed railroad workers still exist. A few are occupied but most appear to be falling apart and abandoned.

After leaving the rail yard you can drive through town on the main road that parallels the line where the tracks used to run. Soon you will see one of the former railroad stations which has been very nicely restored. A little farther down the road there is another station that has been left to crumble. It doesn't look like any efforts were being made to restore it.

The other railroad museum is the former main depot in the capital city of Asuncion. The two museums are far enough apart to save that trip for another day when in the city. The opportunity came when Luc Van Ruymbeke had to deliver 1,000 pounds of frozen Tilapia fish from his aqua farm to a private indoor tennis club. He spent an hour there while the club's employees unloaded the shipment. Afterwards he had to make a few other stops in the suburb of San Lorenzo. When the errands were finished the evening commute had begun and the traffic was stop and go, more stop than go.

By the time Luc and guests got to the depot museum it was already closed for the day. They found a door that was open and went in to look around before a guard invited everyone to leave. The depot's exterior Victorian architecture is elegant; however the museum is rather bare. The very large interior houses only an old diner and a passenger car plus a very small locomotive. Hardly worth the trip. The museum at Sapucai is a better choice for rail fans and there's much less traffic.

After being escorted out of the museum Luc and his tourists went to nearby Plaza Mayor where the Cathedral of Asuncion, University of Asuncion and the former National Congress Building are located. Congress recently built a new building for itself and the old one is now a museum and meeting hall. Along with the musical, art and historical exhibits there are two wooden poster boards painted as a man and woman dressed in Spanish colonial period clothing. There are holes where people can insert their faces and the kids had fun taking pictures of each other in the "costumes".

Near one side of the plaza is the colonial palace. It was all lit up and very impressive looking. The palace is now used for government offices. Walking along the edge of the plaza on the Paraguay River side there is a wall about four feet high. If you look over the wall right below there is a shanty town slum. What awful living conditions! And right next door to the historic government and church buildings, too.

This is one of a series of articles about traveling to Paraguay written by Robert R. Talley. Copyright 2011 by Robert R. Talley, all rights reserved.


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