Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Buenos Aires' oldest subways cars didn't quite make it to 100 years in service. State and city officials hope to give new life to the retired La Brugeoise cars soon.
South America's first subway system turns 101 years old today.
The Buenos Aires subway system, known as Subte, debuted December 1, 1913. Originally spanning 2.1 miles, the first rail cars took Porteños between Plaza de Mayo and Plaza Miserere along a single line. Today, Subte has 83 stations along six different lines and an annual ridership of 310 million.
Many of those very same first trains, Belgian-made "La Brugeoise" cars, stayed in service until mid-January 2013, replaced with modern subway cars and just missing out on a full 100 years of service. With unforgettable wooden interiors and increasingly hard-to-find spare parts, the old rail cars gave modern Buenos Aires an incredible connection to the city's past while they lasted.
Two of the 78 cars were restored and put on display at Plaza de Mayo to commemorate Subte's centenary but the rest, according to Tiempo Argentino (link in Spanish), sat exposed outside a rail yard until last March. As a result, many of the La Brugeoise cars were vandalized; the damages include shattered windows and stolen door handles.
In October, the Argentine government granted historical protections to 15 of the remaining La Brugeoise cars. City lawmakers hope to see some of those put back on Line A but for educational, cultural and tourism purposes only.
In their final days of regular use, AP photographer Natacha Pisarenko documented Subte's oldest subway cars carrying passengers on Line A: a ride that's a lot sleeker and a little less charming today.