“On this day in 1913, the Buenos Aires Metro opened. It was the first subway system in Latin America, the southern hemisphere, and the entire Spanish-speaking world.
In the early 20th century, Buenos Aires was booming. In 1903, some 895,000 people lived in Argentina’s capital city. To get around they used some 4,700 horse-drawn carriages and about 60 automobiles. Ten years later in 1913, its population had reached almost 1.5 million and the number of automobiles rocketed to 7,400. Road traffic was a mess. Searching for new forms of mass transit, Congress awarded a contract to the Buenos Aires Western Railway and the Anglo-Argentine Tramways Company to build an underground freight and passenger railway.
On 15 September 1911, construction began on the ambitious m$n 17 million project. Some 1,500 workers were hired; and 31 million bricks, 108,000 bars of cement, 13,000 tons of iron braces, and 90,000 square metres of insulation were ordered. The work commenced and continued for more than two years. On 1 December 1913, the Plaza de Mayo subway stop was inaugurated to great fanfare. The following day it opened to the public and 170,000 passengers climbed aboard to enjoy the first subway of Latin America, and indeed, the entire southern hemisphere. It was, at the time, among the most modern, comfortable, and well-designed mass transit systems in the world. The Buenos Aires Metro sported a natural ventilation system, granite staircases, La Brugeoise luxury train cars, and friezes of different colours for different stations to help a widely illiterate population identify each stop with ease. Argentines were awe-struck by the modern metro, which even enjoyed glossy print promotions.
Today, that original route, Line A, is still in use and has become an icon of Buenos Aires. Line A is the oldest line of the Buenos Aires Metro and it continues to use the same Belgium-built La Brugeoise cars used at its inauguration.
Over the decades the Metro has expanded and now has six underground lines, a total track length of 96 kilometres, and more than 1.7 million riders daily. The Buenos Aires Metro is today one of the busiest metros in the world. “+
Credit: © Peter Horree / Alamy
Caption: Murals were made to help illiterate passengers find their stop on the Buenos Aires Metro.