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El Salvador-Transportation

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El Salvador Index


Figure 7. Transportation System, 1988

El Salvador's transportation sector, which included railroads, major highways, and air transport, connected the country's major regions. Even though these systems were extensive, the disruptions of the civil conflict made travel dangerous and undependable.

El Salvador has had a fairly complete railroad system since the early twentieth century. In 1987 there were 602 kilometers of railroads in El Salvador. Over one-half of the tracks (380 kilometers) were owned by Salvador Railroads, which was built with British capital in the late 1890s to transport coffee from Sonsonate and Santa Ana to the port of Acajutla. By 1985 Salvador Railways, which was nationalized in the mid-1960s, was forced to curtail operations because of guerrilla attacks.

By 1980 the country had over 10,000 kilometers of roads, of which some 1,500 were paved. The major arteries were the Pan American Highway and the Carretera Litoral. The Pan American Highway ran through Santa Ana, San Salvador, and San Miguel. The Carretera Litoral ran mainly along the coast but also went through Zacatecoluca and Usulutan. Road transportation was periodically blocked by the guerrillas, who intermittently controlled extensive eastern portions of both highways. For example, during the October 1982 guerrilla offensive alone, more than 100 vehicles were burned on the Pan American Highway. Truckloads of soldiers were needed to convoy fuel trucks on the highway between San Salvador and San Miguel. The transportation stoppage reportedly caused a major gasoline shortage in San Miguel, where motorists sometimes had to visit several service stations in order to fill up their tanks. The guerrillas also sabotaged the Litoral and Cuscatlan bridges, the two primary routes across the Rio Lempa, one of El Salvador's most significant geographic obstacles (see fig. 3).

The two major ports in El Salvador were Acajutla and La Union, both large shipping ports with significant infrastructure for fisheries. Ilopango International Airport, located near San Salvador, was one of Central America's most modern airports, and it was the only airport in the country suitable for jet aircraft. El Salvador's only commercial airline, Central American Air Transport (Transportes Aereos Centroamericanos--Taca), owned seven commercial aircraft that provided service to Central America, Mexico City, Miami, and Los Angeles. Nevertheless, considering its size in the late 1980s, El Salvador had a large number of airfields. Of the country's 138 airfields, 95 were usable, but of these, only 5 were paved. Although noncombatant crop dusters used most of the airfields, some were caught in the crossfire of the civil conflict. One cotton cooperative reported that one of its pilots had been killed and that two others had been wounded by guerrilla snipers.

Data as of November 1988

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