The International Steam Pages
The Train at The End of the World, 2014
Jack Neville writes:
Our second ride (click here for the first in Uruguay) behind steam was on the Ferrocarril Austral Fueguino (FCAF), more popularly know as “The Train at The End of the World” I am not quite sure how one finds the end of a sphere but I will leave that discussion to the academics.
I had heard about the railroad some years earlier when it was described as being a new tourist line at the tip of Argentina. To be honest, as one who spent time chasing steam in Argentina in the 1970’s, but never managed to get to either the 2’-5-1/2” gauge Esquel line, now billed as the “Old Patagonia Express” or the Mitsubishi-built 2-10-2’s locomotives of the Ramal Ferro Industrial de Rio Turbio, I couldn’t imagine a tourist railroad so far removed from a large population base surviving. After all, who visits Ushuaia? Well, plenty of people as it turns out, from Antarctica expeditions to those taking penguin tours and vacationing cruisers going “round the Horn”.
This year, the FCAF is celebrating 20 years of operation. The railroad was originally built as a 600 mm gauge line in 1909 to transport Argentinian convicts from the prison into the forests of what is now the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego to cut timber for lumber and firewood, and began at the prison. Today’s operation utilises portions of the old right of way but begins approximately 8 kilometres southwest of the center of town. For those not taking a cruise ship tour with its one day in and out of port, or arriving in Ushuaia by air for a longer stay and wishing to ride the train on their own, the railroad is accessible via a short drive on the Av Dr Hipolio Yrioyen.
For the chaser there are a couple of good gravel roads that can be used to access the track in places. I suggest using Google maps Satellite View to see where they run.
Our tour started at the prison which was built by the prisoners themselves in 1902 and closed by Argentine President Juan Peron in 1947. The railroad however continued to operate until 1952 when it was abandoned and left to decay. Today the prison has been converted to a multipurpose museum featuring the area's history, art and the operations of the prison and the railway. Outside, between two wings of the prison there is one of the original locomotives (OK 4010/1911) and a coach on display.
The prison grounds are also home to the Maritime Museum that while small is well worth seeing. The line operates 6 locomotives, of which we saw four on our visit. Perhaps most interesting are the two 0-4-0+0-4-0. Garratts that employ a number of modern improvements by the famous Argentine steam designer L.D. Porta. For the builders and specifications on the FCAF’s locos see the locomotives pages on the El Tren del Fin del Mundo site: http://www.trendelfindelmundo.com.ar: Interestingly, the Garratts bear a very close resemblance to the K1, the very first Garratt built. K1 and a sister were built for the North-East Dundas Tramway in 1909. K1 was repatriated to the UK and today operates on the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways. See: http://www.whrsoc.org.uk/Projects/K1Loco.html
While we were waiting to board our train, locomotive No.3, Camilla, backed in with a rake of green coaches and then took on water before dropping back to the engine shed and pulling red Garratt Ing. H.R. Zubieta into the yard. Our train was headed up by blue liveried Garratt N2 and what appeared to be the newest iteration of FCAF coaching stock in companion blue. As the train leaves the station a history of the Ushuaia, the prison and the railroad, including significant features along the line is broadcast via an iPod over speakers in the coaches. The narration ends just short of the National Park station at the end of the line. Leaving the End of the World station, our train stopped a short distance out of the yard where an 0-6-0 diesel built in South Africa by Girdlestone Rail Company and named Tierra del Fuego, was coupled ahead of the N2. This diminutive locomotive was taken off at La Macarena station. and returned to Ushuaia with a maintenance train of permanent way crew of eight men and all their tools! While we waited at La Macarena station for those who wanted to visit the falls, Camilla arrived, dropped off a couple of individuals and returned to Ushuaia ahead of Tierra del Fuego. We then proceeded on to the end of the line where we reboarded our tour buses for a further excursion into the park before returning to the ship.
Jack has provided a number of pictures of the trip, the subjects should be clear from the text above. The final vehicle might appear to be a reminder of the line's former purpose but is actually what we in the UK would appropriately call a Portaloo.