Buenos Aires Subte (Subway)

I don’t know if anything does Christmas morning stomach butterflies to me as much as getting the chance to see a new subway. It’s been 4 years, 11 months and 8 days since I had the chance to explore a new subway system, that was Baku in Azerbaijan and feels like lifetimes ago.



  1. The Buenos Aires Metro was one of the first subway systems in the world (1913).
  2. The Buenos Aires Metro was the first subway in the southern hemisphere.
  3. The Buenos Aires Metro was the first subway in the Spanish speaking world.
  4. The Buenos Aires Metro is still the busiest in the southern hemisphere (pre-COVID).
  5. The Buenos Aires Metro features a hodge-podge of trains, with some built locally, some in Brazil, and Spain, and Brazil, and Japan, and China, and Belgium, and France.
  6. The Buenos Aires Metro was modelled partially on the NYC Subway, it’s easy to see this in the platforms, walkways and staircases.
  7. The buenos Aires Metro’s original trains, the 1913 wooden ones known as “The Witches”, remained in service for a century, being retired in 2013.

The thing I noticed, after first noticing how similar the designs are to the NYC subway, was how calm the system is. The subway still features drivers on all trains and all lines and the drivers bring their trains gently into station and depart again nearly silently. The Alstom trains are basically silent inside and ride incredibly smoothly as well, the Chinese trains are somewhat rougher, with some squeak and groan, but still not much.

Even during rush hour the system and its riders seem to me unusually placid, especially after recently enduring the craze of Mexico City’s subway or the Transmillenio in Bogota. I had always heard that the Buenos Aires subway was undersized for a city of 12,000,000 and in desperate need of expansion, which conflicts with what I have experienced so far. As it turns out, for economic reasons, Buenos Aires, and especially the transit system, has not yet recovered from COVID.

In the past 12 months the system has carried a ridership of around 75 million people, the normal pre-COVID, ridership was nearly 400 million annually. This would explain my experiencing the subway here as gentle and easy. I’m guessing it was a much more harrowing rush hour commute before COVID, but I’m really enjoying its sleepy charms currently.

Like the NYC subway the current need for updates and maintenance is clear, it feels like a charmingly neglected system, just like New York’s. Lighting is dim, wayfinding is poorly thought out and signage is lacking or in some cases just wrong. For example, my main line is Line D, in one station every single sign tells you different variations on “This way for Line D North”, and I need Line D South. After 20 minutes of bafflement I figured out the only way to reach Line D South is by following about a dozen signs that all say only “This way for Line D North” until eventually, at the far end of the last platform, there is a dark staircase down and one small sign “This way for Line D South. There is no possible way for a first-timer to figure this out without a lot of trial and error.

This all only adds to the charm for me though. I’ll be working remotely from Buenos Aires and likely won’t have time to fully explore the system, not to mention the above ground rail system that forms the other half of transit here, but so far I am loving it.

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