The International Steam Pages
Steam in South America, November 2002
Chris Lewis reports on the Railway Touring Company's trip to South America, November 16-30th
Visited Quinta Normal Railway Museum. Some 15 locomotives on static display in Santiago. Others also visited San Eugenio workshops.
Night train to Temuco suspended because of accident. Girl fell through train (maybe corridor connection). Unknown whether service will restart. Travelled on day train, EMU at speeds up to 140 kms/hr. Covered 400 kms in four hours with some six stops. Must be the fastest train in South America. "Cab rides" were given.
The wine train was to operate again this summer. The locomotive was being overhauled in Santiago. (Ian Thomson adds: "The Wine Train has not operated yet. We are trying to get the act together. There was to have been a publicity run before the end of 2002, but it did not happen, since the locomotive is not yet ready."
Continued by road to Valdiva. Travelled on steam ship Collico. There is a tank engine in a bad state here. Did round trip on preservation train 2.6.0 number 620. Run round was at Antilhue but proceeded another mile to a large river bridge for many run pasts. This was meant to have been a steam journey from Temuco to Valdiva but non-operation of sleeper caused re-arrangement. Did not visit Temuco steam museum for same reason.
The two plinthed locomotives are still at Puerto Montt. Freight still reaches Puerto Montt.
Travelled across the Andes to Argentina via three lakes route. Takes one day in summer, two days in winter. Scenery magnificent.
Travelled on steam train from Bariloche to Perito Moreno. Not an impressive operation from the locomotive point of view. The engine, 121, sounded far from well. Its performance reflected this with several stops for steam. It left an hour late with insufficient fuel oil to complete the journey and became progressively later. It filled up with diesel on route from 45-gallon drums. This probably caused its failure on the return journey and a diesel was summoned. Arrived back some five hours late. Unless things improve this service will not survive and the locomotive will be unusable.
Moved to El Maiten for Patogonia Express. One engine operable there, No 6 with No 1 recently overhauled. No trains had operated out of there for many months. Our train went to Lepa 73 kms. Most of this route had not been used for 18 months. The track was overgrown and caused serious slipping. At times two persons were "sanding" the line in front of us. (One was the MD of the system, a very rare occurrence on a railway.) The track was in a worse condition beyond Lepa. (See later.)
Travelled next day from Esquel to Nahuel Pan and return 19 kms. This section still has a good tourist service. Tried to continue beyond Nahuel, some of the time with two walking in front inspecting the track. Went about three kilometres before they would not allow it to go further because of track condition.
Next day train was to restart going northwards from Lepa. However, we were taken by coach via a location on the line. Here there was a platelayer's trolley that took four of us about seven kilometres to a bridge reportedly damaged during the winter. After going across the bridge we found the embankment behind the abutments was partially washed away. This was still happening.
The MD of the line was optimistic that the whole section from Esquel to El Maiten would be operational within a few months. One must question whether this would ever happen. The section from Ing Jacobacci had not seen a train for many years.
Motive Power on the northern section was 6, a Baldwin. Motive Power on the southern section was 105, a Henschel. No 1 was at El Maiten, had been overhauled and should have double-headed the return train but was failed with tube leaks on the day.
No other engines were operation but it was reported later a Baldwin was available at Ing. Jacobacci (and was kept there, but obviously without duties). The only other locos intact were Henschel 114 in Esquel shed looking reasonable but out of use, and Henschel 107 looking very run down and obviously had been out of use for some time, at Nahuel Pan. It was reported a Henschel was next to be overhauled, presumably 114. This would give two operational steam engines at both Esquel and El Maiten.
Politics play a large part in any continuing operations here. Obviously local government has to put money into these operations to either improve or merely maintain the current position. Jobs and tourism influence these decisions. The workforce at El Maiten has dropped from 2000 to 23!
Overall the operating engines seemed very well maintained and the staff very friendly. At the end the MD apologised for not being able to provide more over the three days.
At Buenos Aires we visited the Ferroclub Argentino. This was an impressive preservation operation including a Welshman, Roger Davies. The staff was enthusiastic. Two engines were in steam:
Beyer Peacock class 11B 2.8.0 of 1913 no 1913. This pulled a coach for a short distance.
Orenstein & Koppel 0.6.0T of 1913 no 1937. This pulled a small freight train.
There was also a Cowans and Sheldon crane no C56 of 1925 in operation and a miniature steam railway. Other locomotives were:
Even the unrestored locomotives were in good external condition apart from the 12A.
Main line train operation was very rare because of charges (including insurance).
It was confirmed that track overhaul was taking place between Viedma and Bahia Blanco (922kms) so that through trains could operate between Buenos Aires and Bariloche. A time of 40 hours was suggested comparing with plane of 2 hours. Completion of track upgrading was said to be May??
The Uruguay Railway Circle was our host for railway matters. Again a very professional group.
Our charter train on November 28 left Montevideo Station behind 1500 class General Electric Co Co of 1954. (Full details available.) Beyer Peacock class N3 2.6.0 no 120 took over at Sudriers (27 miles) for the 51 miles to Minas. (No 120 is actually 119 but the numberplates for 119 were lost.) 120 returned the train back to Montevideo. At nearly 40 mph the footplate was "exciting." The track was far from perfect.
This was the last steam working from the magnificent Montevideo station that has statues of George Stephenson and James Watt amongst others. The station was to be closed that weekend. A new station has been built a few hundred yards away so that the station can be redeveloped. The suburban station was unused for many years but a limited suburban service now operates.
We again left Montevideo station on November 29th by Brill railcar built in the mid 30s, again cab rides allowed, to the works at Penard. This seemed to be shared between the preservation society and the national railway system AFE. Locomotives (steam and diesel) from both were present. The Railway Circle's Manning Wardle 0.6.0ST of 1890 was in steam. A Beyer Peacock locomotive B17 2.6.0T was being overhauled and should be operable in a year. Beyer Peacock (I was told) S144 2.8.0 was on shed but in very poor condition. Henschel 2.10.0 no 158 was pulled out of the shed for our inspection. This still seemed to be owned by the National Railways.
The Brill railcar returned us to Montevideo station.
The tour was a major success.