THE Argentinian government has announced that it will temporarily extend the commuter operating concessions for the standard-gauge third rail electrified Urquiza and metre-gauge Belgrano North lines, which operate from Federico Lacroze and Retiro stations in Buenos Aires respectively, serving the city’s western and northwestern suburbs.

The extensions will run for up to 18 months and were announced in the Official Gazette in early April. The terms state that when the government has appointed new operators, the concessions currently held by Ferrovías (Belgrano North) and Metrovías (Urquiza) will be terminated. A similar 18-month extension was agreed in 2020 although tender exercise for new operators is now planned.

The new contract extensions also make it clear that the government plans to introduce open-access operating principles on both routes, reversing aspects of previous concession agreements.

In practice, the Belgrano North line already hosts freight traffic operated by Argentinian Trains Cargo while the Urquiza line is the only standard-gauge commuter line in Buenos Aires and is isolated from the rest of the network following the removal of connections to the 85km Buenos Aires - Zárate line. Standard-gauge infrastructure remains in use for freight north of Zárate to the borders with Paraguay and Uruguay.


Ferrovías is part of the privately-owned Emepa group, while Metrovías is part of the Roggio Group, a previous operator of the Buenos Aires metro system, which is now operated by the Emova joint venture, also partly owned by Roggio.

Ferrovías has operated the Belgrano North line since 1994 and has achieved high levels of punctuality and reliability compared with other commuter services in the Buenos Aires region. Nevertheless, the government rejected its request for a new 10-year concession in 2018.

All of the other former commuter concessions are run by the state-owned Argentinian Trains, which was steadily directed by the government over the last decade to replace concession holders following poor performance.

The government signed agreements with Chinese companies in January 2022 to modernise both lines. The Belgrano North route will be electrified and new rolling stock introduced in partnership with China Railway International Group. CRRC Qingdao Sifang is to supply new rolling stock for the Urquiza line.

Argentinian Trains Infrastructure has already invested in station refurbishment on the Belgrano North line and added two new stations to replace older, less well-located stations.