Argentina has the largest railway system in South America, with 33,744 km (20,968 mi) of track as of 2002. Although railroads link all the provinces, the three provinces of Buenos Aires, Córdoba, and Santa Fe contain about one-half the total track and are the destinations of about two-thirds of all goods carried. The seven major railroads and all other lines belong to the state and are administered by Argentine Railways. Until 1947, when Perón bought them at a price exceeding their real value, the railroads were mainly under the control of British interests. Since then, they have been in decline and have regularly run up large deficits. Gauges are often incompatible, forcing virtually all interregional freight traffic to pass through Buenos Aires. The railroads' share of merchandise transported has declined gradually since 1946, dropping from 12.6 billion ton-km in 1973 to 9 million ton-km in 1991.
A five-year railroad modernization and rationalization plan was initiated by the military government in 1976, but the general decline of the railway system was not halted, and the number of passengers carried dropped from 445 million in 1976 to about 300 million in 1991. The subway system in Buenos Aires, completely state owned since 1978, consists of five lines totaling 36 km (22 mi).
The continued deterioration of the railroads has resulted in a sharply increased demand for road transportation, which the present highways cannot handle. By 2001, the nation had 215,434 km (133,871 mi) of roads, of which 63,553 km (39,492 mi) were paved. In late 1969, a tunnel under the Río Paraná was opened, connecting Santa Fe with the nation's eastern region. The road system is still far from adequate, especially in view of Argentina's rapidly increasing automotive industry. In 2000, the total number of registered vehicles reached 4,785,189 (including 3,722,992 passenger cars).
The main river system of Argentina consists of the Río de la Plata and its tributaries, the Paraná, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Alto Paraná rivers. There is a total of 10,950 km (6,800 mi) of navigable waterways, offering vast possibilities for efficient water transportation. The river system reaches Paraguay, northeastern Argentina, and regions of Brazil and Uruguay. The La Plata estuary, with its approaches and navigation channels, is the basis of the entire river system. The La Plata ports (Buenos Aires and La Plata) account for more than half of all maritime cargo, including more than two-thirds of all cargo transported on the river system. The Paraná is easily navigable up to Rosario, but the 171-km (106-mi) stretch between Rosario and Santa Fe has considerably less depth and is less suitable for oceangoing vessels. Up-river from Santa Fe, the Paraná rapidly loses depth and is navigable only by small ships.
The port of Buenos Aires handles about four-fifths of the country's imports and exports, and it is the focus of river traffic on the La Plata system. Other major ports are Rosario, Quequén, Bahía Blanca, Campana, and San Nicolás. Most port storage facilities are owned and operated by the government. In 1961, the State Merchant Fleet and the Argentine Overseas Navigation Fleet were merged to form the Argentine Maritime Lines. This state company carries approximately one-half of all Argentine overseas freight. In 2002, the merchant marine consisted of 24 vessels with a total GRT of 147,505.
Buenos Aires is the most important air terminal in South America. The four principal airports include Aeroparque and Ezeiza, both at Buenos Aires, Catarata Iguazu at Iguazu, and El Plumerillo at Mendoza. In 2001, there were 1,369 total airports and landing fields, of which only 145 had paved runways. The government line is Aerolíneas Argentinas; however, there are other major Argentine airlines and many foreign lines operating in the country. In 1997, the total scheduled civil aviation services flew 124 million freight ton-km (77 freight ton-mi) and carried 5,738,600 passengers on domestic and international flights.