Iconic ‘Las Belgas’ to make its final stop

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Century-old wooden cars of Argentina will be replaced by new ones from China

Question of safety:Interior of one of the historic wagons, which will retire this weekendPhoto: AFP
Question of safety:Interior of one of the historic wagons, which will retire this weekendPhoto: AFP

To the chagrin of nostalgic Argentines, the world's oldest running subway commuter train, a dimly lit, century-old wooden car beloved by tourists and Buenos Aires residents, is scheduled to make its final stop this weekend.

Unless defenders of the old trains secure a last-gasp court order or law to keep it in service, the Belgian-made carriages will be mothballed on Saturday before being replaced by slick new cars made in China.

On track since 1913

With a curved roof, wooden benches and blue and grey exterior, the trains made by the company La Brugeoise, Nicaise et Delcuve in Bruges, Belgium have graced the tracks of the southern hemisphere's first subway line since 1913.

But the capital's government believes it is time to retire the underground trains for fear they could be dangerous, even though the ancient Line A has only recorded one accident with passengers in its history.

The debate

Several lawmakers have introduced legislation and made court requests to save the Brugeoise trains, affectionately known as "Las Belgas" ("The Belgians") or "Las Brujas" ("The Witches").

"These trains can work perfectly for 100 more years," said Cesario Blanco, one of 130 mechanics in the century-old subway car repair shed known as el polvorin, the powder keg.

Only the subway cars of Budapest, from 1896, are older but the Hungarian trains are only used for tourist tours.

But Javier Fernandez, who led a study conducted by the Madrid metro at the request of the subway service operator Metrovias, concluded that authorities were "confusing age with safety."AFP



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