The International Steam Pages

El Tren del Fin del Mundo (The Train at the End of the World) - Part 8

This is Shaun McMahon's latest report (5th March 2003) Click here for the first part (May 1999), the second part (10th July 1999), the third part (February 2000), the fourth part (8th March 2000), the fifth part (20th April 2000), the sixth part (24th September 2001), and the seventh part (23rd November 2001): Also check out the railway's website.

Some three years have lapsed since a detailed update has been issued on progress concerning the locomotive modernisation program here at Ferrocarril Austral Fueguino in Ushuaia. This does not mean that we have not been busy with such matters, in fact the opposite being the truth, as readers will see from the following. Read on...........!

As many will remember, we left the story with Camila having suffered a severe deformation of the inner firebox right hand sidesheet. The locomotive was duly taken out of service and the decision taken to fully strip down the engine in order to remove the boiler for a full inspection. This was done and within a few weeks Camila was nothing more than a rolling chassis with the boiler jacked up in the frames so as to allow an in depth inspection to be carried out. Locomotives No.2 Nora and No.4 Tierra del Fuego took care of the rest of the high summer service. A closer look at Camilas boiler revealed that this was no ordinary failure of the inner firebox sheet. Discs of material were removed from the outer and inner sheets which enabled better access to be gained for inspection of the water space as the diagonal positioning of the washout plug bosses obstruct clear visibility in this area. The findings revealed that a build up of scale had occurred in this area (the left hand side was also checked only to find a build up of the same nature) over a 5 year period due to lack of a boiler washout and inspection program, allied with not using boiler water treatment! Some months prior to the this failure, the writer had begun the practice of applying boiler water treatment to FCAF locomotives, however in this particular case the situation was far to serious for such to have any real effect. Compacted scale was removed by the bucket full and the boiler washed out in order to give a clearer picture of the situation within. A few days afterwards a close inspection of Nora's boiler revealed a thick build up of scale lying dormant in the foundation ring area and was quickly attacked and removed by high pressure washing and iron rods! Readers should remember that at this point in time we were using the traditional method of washing out (as is applied in the UK, South Africa and many other parts of the World) rather than the much-advanced USA method of cleaning boilers. The latter gives far better results and allows the locomotive to be out of service for a minimum number of hours and was adopted by ourselves at FCAF once the water treatment program was properly under way in its entirety during 2001. Vital for clearing sludge build up.

Arrangements were made for Camila's boiler to be shipped to Buenos Aires for repair, however due to delays with paperwork relating to customs clearance (though the East side of the island of Tierra del Fuego is Argentine it is not mainland Argentina thus strict customs and excise restrictions apply to goods entering or leaving the province of Tierra del Fuego) it did not leave Ushuaia until May 2000. In the meantime the opportunity was taken to complete work to the rest of the locomotive which had been left undone from winter 1999 due to pressure upon the department to get the locomotive into traffic for the high summer service (1999/2000). Such included the fitting of air sanding equipment and a modification to the flange lubrication system. With the locomotive in a state of full strip down the chance was taken to measure up for stage 2 modifications which will see the full transformation of this locomotive into a rugged heavy haul machine.

Once news was received that the boiler had arrived safely in Buenos Aires, the writer made arrangements to travel up to the capital city in order to supervise the work in hand along with engineers from INTI (Instituto Nacional Tecnologia Industria) who act as the railways' inspecting body. A marine repair shop had been chosen in the La Boca region of Buenos Aires and Camila's boiler appeared quite small in these surroundings compared with those of the 'End of the World Workshops' in Ushuaia. Repair work involved cutting out the damaged plate and welding in a patch, the existing stays being used rather than being replaced at this point in time. The deformed plate that had been removed was taken away to the INTI laboratories in the Province of Buenos Aires for stress analysis to be carried out. Other work carried out at the time included fitting of foam height meter plug accommodation bosses. Once complete the boiler was given a hydraulic test and arrangements made for it to be sent back to Ushuaia. By now the FCAF was well into the winter season and sub zero temperatures were being experienced followed by heavy snowfalls. Nora was being maintained in service on busier weekdays and weekend trains, with Tierra del Fuego looking after the rest of the service. Readers will remember that diesel locomotive No.1 Rodrigo had failed due to a broken axle during 1999 and had been laid up awaiting funds to be made available for its repair. By early July the mechanical work that had been carried out to Camila was complete and the boiler was on site and ready to fit in position. During 1999 it had been proposed to fit heavy insulation to the barrel and outer firebox of Camila and now we had the ideal opportunity to go ahead with this work. Kaowool high-density lagging had been chosen as the best available material with several boxes of this having been shipped to Ushuaia from Buenos Aires one month earlier. The boiler was lifted into the frames and positioned. Fitting of the insulation and cladding began immediately along with refitting of component parts.

With all going reasonably to plan the writer decided that it was high time to take annual leave having arrived in Ushuaia during March of the previous year, and arrangements were duly made to travel to the UK for a period of one month. Tranex were still awaiting news from Railroad Development Corporation of Pittsburgh, USA as to the final loading and shipping of the two YP class metre gauge locomotives to an, as yet, undecided destination and I left Ushuaia with the knowledge that I was likely to be called upon to visit India so as to complete this work in the very near future. It was the first time back in the UK following emigration to South Africa in 1994 and the curiosity to see the changes that had taken place during those years of absence was immense. The opportunity was taken to meet in London with David Morgan of FEDECRAIL so as to discuss plans for the forthcoming First World Tourist and Steam Train Conference, a significant part of which was to be dedicated to steam locomotive development, with a practical demonstration of what could be achieved in very difficult and remote conditions to be carried out at FCAF Ushuaia. The UK steam locomotive boiler water crisis had also attracted attention in recent times and I made several visits to different railways in order to carry out investigations into this matter and to see how our ongoing development work concerning boiler water treatment in Ushuaia could assist in some way or another. I also took the chance to meet up with Adam Harris in order to review some parts of the English version of 'La Locomotive Vapeur' and with David Wardale so as to discuss some matters relating to his Class 5AT steam locomotive proposal. News was received that Henry Posner III was visiting the UK towards the end of my stay and this offered a good opportunity to discuss with him in person the final details of the loading and transportation of the YP steamers from India. A date for this work was set and I headed back to Argentina at the end of August in the knowledge that I would be flying back over the same route as far as Europe and then on to the East in only a matter of a week or so!

During my absence reassembly of Camila had gone more or less according to plan. However, freak snow blizzards suffered in August meant that most of the works staff had been on snow clearing duties for several days, thus delays had begun to set into the schedule. The delays and occasional cancellations caused by ice and snow were situations that I was determined to eliminate in future years by giving the locomotives good snow clearing abilities allied with a better way of blizzard clearing by means of a rotary snow plough. Tranex had also been awarded a prize for its ingenuity from one of Argentina's leading tourist magazines, so before returning to Ushuaia I was asked to go along to the ceremony held in one of Buenos Aires high ranking hotels. Fortunately L.D. Porta had also been invited to this event, so we took the opportunity to discus various matters, including a modification scheme for RDC's YP steamers and the LVM's 801 and 802 designed for Salta (Argentina) and Spain respectively. Back in Ushuaia I found that Camila was but a few weeks away from completion and I had only a couple of days to check through matters before heading off to India in order to ensure the safe loading and dispatch of RDC's YP locomotives in Bombay, nowadays known as Mumbai.

Upon arrival at the port of Mumbai YP's 2257 and 2684 along with their tenders were sitting neatly on the back of their respective low loaders. Once clearance from port officials was given the units were driven from the holding area up alongside the MV 'Le Yi'. This was the ship that (following many months of painstaking organisation by RDC and Tranex) had been dedicated to the task of taking these locomotives from India to a new temporary home in Togo. A good description of the acceptance steam testing at Ajmer works and details of shipping appear elsewhere on this website, so I will not attempt to repeat such here. It is however worth noting that 871 of these locomotives were manufactured between 1949 and 1970. When properly maintained (which was not the case in latter day steam operation on Indian Railways) these engines were described by shed staff as quite lively and reliable machines. The YP class was a simple, no frills engine as indeed required for Indian operating conditions. Some complaints were made on occasion as to the uneven tyre wear, which seemed to be suffered at frequent intervals. This was blamed upon improper balancing of reciprocating components. Many details of these locomotives would be considered sub standard by today's level of steam locomotive engineering (refer to specification of proposed 5AT locomotive) but the overall design is quite good and would be something worthwhile to work upon in order to improve.

Whilst I was away in India, Porta had wasted no time in researching a possible modification scheme for RDC's newly acquired locomotives. Once back in Buenos Aires I briefly met with him in order to discuss this in detail and we agreed that we would continue with the design work as our time allowed us to do so given that we were both occupied with our other respective full time projects. The Cuban engineers were busy finalising the design of the LVM 800 in the drawing office set up by Porta a couple of blocks away from his apartment and at that point in time it looked as if work on building this revolutionary engine would soon begin! Options for modifying the YP's included conversion from standard coal firing to coal firing on the gas producer combustion system or wood firing on the gas producer combustion system or oil firing using a rotary burner as had been successfully applied by Phil Girdlestone on several SAR broad gauge locomotives and more recently on the 2 modified WCR 'R' class locomotives in Australia. Saying goodbye to Porta and Buenos Aires I headed south on the afternoon flight to Ushuaia and the next day assessed the state of affairs at the End of the World Workshops.

As was mentioned earlier on, locomotive No.2 Nora had done very little recently in the way of hauling passenger trains, being kept steamable for busier days or any special event. In actual fact it had not seen much in the way of service since around June, though in my absence it had made one trip for photographic publicity purposes and a cylinder drain cock body had been broken off upon colliding with a large block of ice that was foul of the running line. With Camila being out of traffic and winter passenger figures falling to an all time low for the FCAF, it was decided to make substantial use of the then new diesel locomotive No.4 'Tierra del Fuego'. This would enable Nora's mileage to be kept as low as possible in order for it to survive another high season as second engine. The poor winter takings meant that FCAF was facing another cash flow crisis and as I had feared some months earlier all this would bottleneck at around the end of September. I was not wrong and faced with a chronic staff shortage in the engineering department, it was time to make another 'crisis plan' in order to salvage the forthcoming high season. The original scheme had been to complete Camila and have it tested and in service by the beginning of September thus allowing Nora to undergo routine mechanical maintenance, this was now not to be and with the directors and Traffic department crying out for steam on all regular trains it was a case of all hands on deck to get Camila running again. By 24th September we were in a position to steam test Camila but due to problems suffered earlier on with the incorrect fitting of the oil control valve during my absence from Ushuaia the fuel circuit was not quite complete. However the steam engine is a marvelous machine which allows all sorts of tricks to be played when necessary (the correct way of describing this state of affairs might be 'abuse has no limits concerning the steam engine'!) hence that same evening I steamed Camila using a wood fire. Steam testing continued for some days in this manner with the odd tree within the station grounds being felled in order to provide fuel. At the same time it was a good chance to carry out some practical experimentation as far as wood burning goes just in case one day we have a gas oil crisis on the island and also with respect to the possibility of converting RDC's YP steamers to wood firing using the GPCS.

On Thursday 28th September Camila moved under its owns steam for the first time since 12th February. The oil firing circuit was completed by the following day, the fitter by now knowing which side of the control valve was open and which was shut, and mainline testing began. Nora was kept on standby within station limits but fortunately was not needed to pull any loads (at least it kept the Traffic Dept. happy - and no doubt their nerves at ease - in case any surprise event that required steam traction was sprung upon them by the company Chairman!). 6th October saw Camila double heading the service train with Tierra del Fuego and was deemed fit for service from 7th October onwards. The traditional 'asado' (Argentine for barbeque and normally celebrated at the end of a project) was given to the staff on the evening of 8th October and celebrations carried on into the early hours of Monday morning. Some detail finishing was carried out between trains during the following week and more serious work such as a rear bogie broken leaf spring meant that we had not yet finished burning the midnight oil at the workshops! One item that we had not had time to complete during the winter had been the fitting of the rear sanders. Camila's front sanders were straightforward in their design utilising the original sandbox that had been supplied along with the engine back in 1995. Attempts had been made to connect an improved mechanical linkage during 1999 in order to allow some form of sanding effect whilst Camila was working forwards (the steepest gradient of 1 in 22 is experienced on the outward journey at the approach to La Macarena Station) and during its shopping period during 2000 these had been converted to air operation along with the provision of rail cleaning steam jets for forward and reverse running (the flange lubricator circuit had also been improved by providing a larger condensing pipe running along the top of the frames). The newly fitted (though not yet connected) foam height meter bosses and plugs did not allow the fitting of the rear sand box (identical to the front sandbox and again supplied with the engine during 1995) and hence another plan had to be made. This was quickly solved by using Nora's former two front sand pots (that had not been used in any case) and mounting such on the water tanks just in front of the fuel tanks. This proved a convenient position as it allowed sand to reach the railhead at a point just ahead of the rear drivers without torturous bends in the delivery pipes. Once fitted in position they were connected to the air sanding circuit and worked a treat. The operating valves for the front and rear sanding gear were conveniently fitted within the driver's reach, the front control valve being positioned slightly above the rear sanding control valve. It was intended to fit a foot pedal so as to make sanding a 'hands free' operation, however due to financial and time constraints it was not possible to do so at this point in time.

With Camila in daily service, some attention could be paid to Nora. In view of the fact that high season was nearly upon us and the first cruise liner was due to arrive on 2nd December, the original list of work that I had prepared had to be cut back dramatically, even what was left of the planned work was not completed due to staff shortages and the occasional emergency that arose during the month of November. The carriage maintenance plan was altogether cancelled leading to roller bearing failures in the bogies of carriage 1201.

Nora was given what amounted to a thorough examination with only the bare essentials being attended at this point in time. One matter that was looked at was capability to haul slightly heavier trains and not completely run out of water in the tanks before it reached Estacion fin del Mundo. I decided to increase its water capacity in order to see how far we could go with this machine in its run down state. Two disused petrol tanks were evident on the pile of scrap metal at the far end of the works yard and upon measuring these up a total of 300 litres of extra feed water would be gained. Mounting had to be simple and temporary. This was achieved by mounting the two tanks side by side upon the front water tank and connecting them by a balance pipe. A hole was cut in the front water tank top so as to allow a flood feed from the auxiliary tanks into the main tank should the driver require such before arriving back at Estacion fin del Mundo. As originally built, Nora's front water tank had a flat top with an all round lip this in turn meant that the auxiliary tanks could be mounted 'free' rather than having to secure such in position. This also made the mounting and dismounting a five minute job! The auxiliary water tanks were painted in corresponding livery, however, though very practical and useful during that particular season they proved to be a very ugly feature of No.2 in what was to be its final unrebuilt state.

Before the year 2000 came to an end some other interesting happenings occurred with respect to the railways locomotive fleet. As was mentioned earlier, boiler water treatment of a type prescribed by Porta had been administered to Numbers 2 and 3 since the writer began work at Ushuaia during early 1999. Up until now it had been a case of removing large pieces of scale from the inner boiler barrel, inner firebox and tube bank. However as the treatment is continually applied not only is the initial scale build up removed but also broken down into a mobile sludge as vigorous circulation goes on during daily steaming. This type of treatment also requires a high alkalinity to be present in order to sustain its effectiveness. During the first few weeks of Camila returning to daily service a serious case of foaming occurred and the cause was found to be that the boiler water was not alkaline enough to counter the side effects of the treatment. Measured dosages of caustic soda were added to the treatment dosages along with extra application of polyamide antifoam. This proved successful and the foaming was now at least under control. On Friday 10th November Camila's rear bogie derailed on the mainline turnout giving access to line 3 in the works yard, fin del Mundo. The cause was found to be that the bogie wheel flanges had worn to a knife edge profile due to lack of side control springs being fitted to this rather important component. As originally designed Camila had not been intended to run round sharp curves as are found on FCAF (sharpest curve on the line is 34 meter radius), so during trial running during 1995 the side control gear was removed. This area was looked at in some detail during the overhaul carried out during winter 1999, however a supplier of new tailor made side control coil springs was not located, likewise time constraints had not allowed us to reprofile the existing wheelset. As our bad luck would have it a torrential rain storm began within 10 minutes of the derailment and by the time the locomotive was back on the rails and turnouts examined all of the staff involved with the work were soaked to the skin! A new wheelset was ordered from a railway workshop in the Santa Fe region of the country but arrived in sub standard condition, remedial work being necessary in order to bring it up to a standard suitable for fitting to the locomotive. 31st December saw FCAF break the Latin American record for passengers carried in one days operation on tourist railway. The previous record stood at 740 passengers on the 'Tren a las Nubes' in the province of Salta, northern Argentina (the maximum train formation on this line is 11 carriages due to the zig - zag arrangements for gaining height over a short distance, such being taken into consideration when the LVM 801 was initially designed in early 2000), 1069 passengers were transported over FCAF on that day with the limiting factor being the amount of available road transport between the port of Ushuaia and Estacion fin del Mundo - an extended line to the centre of town would have allowed far more passengers to be carried in a single days operation. The service was operated by Nora and Camila with Tierra del Fuego on standby and shunting duties.

The high summer train service continued vigorously as we entered 2001. Nora's regular driver Chris Parrott (who was by now my technical assistant as far as UK and continental Europe was concerned) was busy on data collection work in order to compile a profile of the engine in original condition. The auxiliary water tanks were proving to be a success and we were able to raise Nora's maximum load from 5 to 6 loaded passenger coaches as a direct result of this temporary modification. The writer began to imagine what would be the state of affairs when the locomotive was modified and the water carrying capacity doubled? Given that we were only a year away from the beginning of such a rebuild and modification scheme I thought it high time that I turned my attention towards the re design of this locomotive. Camila's overhaul and limited modification, though successful, had really only been a pilot project in order to demonstrate what was ultimately possible with the design and manufacture of the LVM 803. However before we could begin the new engine we had to put in order what we already had in stock - after all Tranex had paid a substantial amount of money for Nora to be designed and manufactured in the first place. The overall plan of how to improve this machine had been floating around in my head for more than 2 years, it was now a case of practicalities as to how we could achieve this given the very limited resources that were available at Ushuaia. I began looking at the possibility of being able to tyre the existing wheelsets; at least that would eliminate one very basic problem that existed. Alas, the original design of wheelset as fitted to Nora would not even give us a minimum material tolerance on the back faces by which we could fit and secure tyres so it looked as if a new design of wheel was inevitable. The spare wheelsets along with spare boiler and other component parts had been shipped to South Africa during January 1999 with a view to manufacturing 'Nora 2' (as it had become known), but even the spare wheelsets would not give us anything extra for the tyres to grip to upon shrink fitting. Rebuild and modification would only consist of stage 1 work, in keeping with the trend that had been set with respect to Camila. Even so this would amount to no small work, the combustion system would need replacing along with exhaust system, live and exhaust steam circuit would have to be streamlined whilst fuel and water capacities needed increasing. The cab was to low for comfortable operation and the existing layout of the cab controls did nothing for the ergonomic efficiency of the engine. So during spare time away from the direct operation of trains (remember that our staff shortage meant that I was acting as standby and spare driver for most of the high season) it was back to the drawing board with a view to gaining at least some time on the re design of detail components and budgeting of this forthcoming project.

Around this time Camila's left back driving axlebox was beginning to make rather alarming noises. Knowing of the seriousness of the rear bogie side control problems that we were suffering I became concerned at the amount of side thrust that the rear main driving boxes were experiencing when working in reverse from Estacion Parque Nacional to Estacion fin del Mundo. It was decided to keep an eye on the axlebox at this point in time and apply plenty of roller bearing grease on a daily basis (memories of 'keeping alive' the freight transhipping gantry on the Alfred County Railway at Port Shepstone came to mind at this point in time, where all sorts of unorthodox techniques were used so as not to cut off the timber log supply between the farm land narrow gauge and national broad gauge systems) in order to keep the locomotive in service for the time being. The noise coming from the axlebox became less and we breathed a premature sigh of relief.

The number of cruise ships arriving at the port of Ushuaia had increased since the previous high season and a busy 'boat day' was due on 21st February. Quite some time ago my attention had been drawn to pitting of the wheel profile of Nora's driving wheels (as mentioned elsewhere steel tyres had not been fitted to the drivers during their manufacture hence the wear of the wheel profiles was directly proportional to the quality of the cast wheel centres), this was not a good state of affairs and as such had also been detected on the carriage bogie wheels it led us to believe that sub standard castings had been produced at the time of manufacturing this equipment during the early 90's. After all at FCAF the annual mileages for locomotives and rolling stock had not been that high during previous years! Late on the afternoon of 20th February I made a routine mechanical inspection of Nora. All seemed well until I began to look at the LH driving wheel flange of the trailing axle (rear power unit). Part of the flange had broken off and upon touching it another part of the flange fell off in my hand. Our suspicions as the inferior quality (and of course the fact that Carupa workshops had not tyred, nor made provision for such, the driving wheels) had been proven correct and I immediately informed senior management that the locomotive was withdrawn from traffic until further notice. That was the easy part, now came the difficult part in as much as deciding whether to go ahead with patching up the units with spare wheels, spending the next year designing for stage 1 rebuild and modification or carrying out all of the work in hand 1 year earlier than planned? Following some discussion with the company board it was decided to take the latter option and in doing so we knew that we were letting ourselves in for a very busy time between dismantling the locomotive and completion in readiness for the forthcoming 1st World Tourist and Steam Trains Conference scheduled for Ushuaia during the coming month of October. Dismantling took place almost immediately and within a couple of days Nora was but a pile of parts in the workshop and adjoining yard. Office work for the rebuild continued frantically with much midnight oil spent working through the initial specification that would see Nora transformed into something a little different to what the railway had seen before. For the remainder of February the 2 train set service was handled by Camila and Tierra del Fuego. I had planned a visit to Buenos Aires in order to meet with Porta and then separately with the company board in order to ensure that all was in place to complete Nora's rebuild by the deadline date of second week of September 2001. It is worth noting that by now the structure of the Argentine company, Tranex Turismo S. A. that owns and operates FCAF had altered slightly during recent months. As was mentioned earlier, FCAF had suffered a fall off in winter trade during 1999 and 2000 (this not being helped by a relatively poor high summer 1999/2000 coupled with major expenditure involved with the purchase of locomotive No.4 Tierra del Fuego) and therefore had experienced cash flow problems. Thought had been given to bringing in major shareholders from overseas or even selling the railway in its entirety, however this would have meant drastic changes to what had been already set up at Ushuaia coupled with the possibility of altering company policy as far as steam locomotive development was concerned. Instead, Ing. Sergio Rodriguez Zubietta a long time friend of the company decided to invest a substantial amount of money in Tranex. As a major shareholder he was therefore by now heavily involved with the running of the company and twelve 12 months later Zubietta was to become Vice Chairman of Tranex Turismo S.A. with special responsibilities for technical and financial matters.

By Thursday 8th March I was all set to leave for Buenos Aires, Camila arrived back on shed at 16.45 with a very hot and broken up L2 coupling rod bush. The motion was quickly dismantled and it was obvious from first site that we had run out luck with L3 axlebox roller bearing. Like Nora a few weeks earlier Camila was withdrawn from traffic. We were nearing the end of the high season with only a few more cruise liners calling in at the port of Ushuaia. There were no steamers left in service and traffic would now have to be maintained with the only locomotive left working on the railway, No.4 Tierra del Fuego. As well as hauling ordinary passenger and charter trains, No.4 was also being used at this point in time in order to provide engineering train services in conjunction with the track maintenance programme, so very careful rostering was the order of the day. At least we had collected sufficient data with respect to Nora in order to quantify many of the forthcoming modifications.

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Rob Dickinson