My Beloved Metropolitan Vickers

Until I turned 17 or so, my world revolved around the suburb I grew up in (Olivos, BA). I traveled, of course, but my daily activities were circumscribed to a radius of maybe 5 miles from where I lived: the school, the gym, my friends. Anything beyond that was “far”.

Towards my final years in high school, I found myself going more often to “the city” (Downtown Buenos Aires). Especially as I started preparing for college.

I did not have a car, and anyway, the best way of getting around the busy city was the train. It took 25-30 min to get there. I had 2 options.

There were a few ways of getting to the city from where I lived:

  1. Take the bus which took forever, often standing up and crowded.
  2. Take the “Linea Mitre” train at Olivos station to Retiro. Quick trip, crowded in the morning but fast (about 30 min). The station less than a 1 km from my home.
  3. Take the other “Linea Mitre”.  Slightly longer than #2 but comparable. The station was 1.3 km from my home.

2, 3 were my favorites and I liked I could load balance them if one happened to be “down”. This didn’t happen very often, but it did (e.g. strikes, power issues, etc.).

The line from Olivos to Retiro was served with Toshiba electric units that were relatively modern (bought in the 60’s, so 20-ish years old), and where comfortable when not fully loaded.

The line from Mitre to Retiro was served by mixed formations: the same Toshibas and…older Metropolitan Vickers like these:


I loved these. Sometimes, I would skip trains to specifically get in one of these. My two favorite spots were:

  • Right next to the conductor, (behind the little square window you see over the headlight). I could peek into the cabin, and look at the controls, gauges, etc.
  • In the “furgon”. A special section of the train you would go with a bike or bulky stuff.

Unlike the more modern Toshibas, the Vickers had a mix of motorized and non-motorized units. The “M.U. 72” label on the picture above stands for “Motor Unico”, meaning that the unit is motorized and is “single class” (no First or Second Class). Local trains in Argentina were of single class. Long distance had a few levels: Coach, First, Pullman, all the way to actual cabins with real beds. I took a 33-hour ride once in one of such cabins. That will be another post.

Back to the Vickers, the units labeled “A.U.” meant they were “Acoplado Unico” (not motorized). Riding these was much more interesting, it was a little bit like being on a rollercoaster. They moved side to side, up and down. Lot’s of fun!

Riding these units was my first choice second perhaps to being next to the conductor.

The trains showed their age of course: the windows rarely worked. The floor had holes and you could see the rails below you.

Another favorite was riding on the doors that were not automatic. You could feel like you were flying. The true test was riding on the door over one bridge:


It was not that high, but I was young, and I felt I was on top of the world. And for 2 seconds or so, I hold the handles tight and felt very scared and brave.

I rode these trains for years. In the last years, they were refurbished once and painted white, but to me, nothing replaced “los marrones” (“the browns”). And will forever remain my favorites, my beloved Vickers.


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