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The first railway in Chile opened in 1851 between between Caldera and Copiapó, a distance of about 80 km. It was not, as claimed by some, the first railway in Latin America (that was in Cuba), nor the first railway on the South American continent (that was in Guyana).

The first Chilean line was built to standard (1435mm) gauge. Subsequent railway development in the country used a variety of gauges, mostly 1676mm but also a large amount of metre, 1067mm and other gauges. The 1676mm (5ft 6in) gauge is sufficiently close to Iberian (1668mm) gauge to permit the use of second-hand Spanish locomotives and rolling stock in some cases.

There are metre gauge international freight connections with Argentina at Soconpa and with Bolivia at Ollagüe. An isolated metre gauge line from Arica to a connection with Bolivia at Charaña has been out of use since 2005, although maintained in operable condition in anticipation of traffic being restored. An isolated standard gauge line, operated by a Peruvian company, connects Arica with Tacna in Peru.

In 2019, a feasibility study was initiated for a new 127km standard gauge railway connecting Santiago and Valparaíso, giving enhanced capacity and improved transit times. It would be privately funded.

Also in 2019, proposals emerged for a new 61km standard gauge commuter railway between Alameda and Melipilla, as well as various other enhancements to passenger services in the conurbations.

Santiago and Valparaíso both have modern metro systems.

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