The Ferrocarril Central Norte (FCCN) (in English: Central Northern Railway) was the first 1,000 mm (3 ft 33⁄8 in) (metre gauge) railway built in Argentina by the state. Its aim was to extend the existing British-owned Central Argentine 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm) (broad gauge) railway from Córdoba to Tucuman and 1,000 mm (3 ft 33⁄8 in) (metre gauge) was chosen for reasons of economy.
The construction and subsequent operation of the line was entrusted to Compañia Telfner who began work on the line in 1873 which reached Recreo on 1 May 1875, San Antonio in July later that same year and Tucuman on 30 October 1876. On 28 December 1876 the national government took over the running of the line and appointed Rafaél Aranda as General Manager of the FCCN.
A branch line from Frias to the city of Santiago del Estero was opened on 23 August 1884, and one from Recreo to Chumbicha was opened on 17 February 1886. Construction of the line north from Tucuman towards Salta and Jujuy reached Vipos on 1 April 1885, later that year in June the section from Ruiz de los Llanos to Juramento was completed and in March 1888 the section Vipos to Ruiz de los Llanos was opened. On 28 October 1887 the line from Alto Cordoba to Tucuman, together with the branch lines from Frias to Santiago del Estero, and from Recreo to Chumbicha, 884 km of track in total, were sold to the British-owned Córdoba Central Railway. This left the FCCN with only the 226 km section from Tucuman to Juramento which was then extended to Guemes and from there branch lines were completed to Salta and Jujuy by 1891. On 14 January 1896 the State bought the French-owned Ferrocarril de San Cristóbal a Tucumán and changed its name to Ferrocarril Central Norte Sección Sud whilst the line from Tucuman to Salta and Jujuy became known as Ferrocarril Central Norte Sección Norte. In October 1900 the section from Pacará to Finca Elisa on the line to Río Hondo in Santiago del Estero Province was opened.
The branch line from Perico to Ledesma in Jujuy Province was opened on 24 August 1904 and extended to Yuto on 20 August 1909. The section from Zubiría to Talapampa on the line from Salta to Alemania was opened on 18 August 1906 and the section from Jujuy to Humahuaca on the line to La Quiaca on the border with Bolivia was opened later that year on 2 September and was extended to La Quiaca on 25 May 1908.
The first section of the line to Chile via Socompa from Empalme Cerrillos to Rosario de Lerma was completed on 27 August 1907. The section from Finca Elisa to El Bracho in Tucumán Province was opened in August 1901. In Santiago del Estero Province brach lines were opened from Empalme Añatuya to Tintina on 11 October 1904, from Clodomira to La Banda on 2 March 1906 and from Puna to Santa Justina on 27 August 1907. On 17 January 1908 the section from Santa Fe to San Cristobal was opened and on 16 September 1909 the section from Las Cejas to Antilla was completed.
The line from Bracho to Palá Palá was opened on 6 December 1909 and extended to Leales on 20 June 1915. In 1911 the service between Bandera and Los Juríes was opened and in 1912 between Quilmili to Gancedo and extended to Puerto Vilelas and to Tintina and Campo Gallo in 1914. The line from Rapelli to Betbeder was opened on 15 April 1915, from Naré a San Javier on 30 June 1915 and from Empalme Añatuya to Los Linares on 28 September 1916. The section from Formosa to Kilometre 100 was opened on 22 September 1910 and extended to Las Lomitas on 20 July 1915. The line from Yuto to Embarcación was opened on 28 November 1911 and Embarcación and Las Lomitas were finally joined in 1931, thereby establishing a rail link across Formosa Province between the city of Formosa and the cities of Salta and Jujuy. The branch line from Pichanal to Orán was opened on 30 June 1915 and another from Empalme Metán to El Tunal was opened on 21 December 1916. The section between Talapampa and Alemania was opened on 7 October 1919.
On 11 October 1909 the rail network built by the state-owned company Ferrocarril Argentino del Norte was taken over by the FCCN. A branch line between Cebollar and Andalgalá was added on 27 April 1910 and a section from Empalme Sarrezuela to San Juan was opened on 7 August of the same year thereby providing a rail link between Córdoba and San Juan. A branch line from Dean Funes to Laguna Paiva was completed on 21 December 1912.