The BAGSR's route to Neuquén
The Cinco Saltos branch to be extended?
With the abandonment of the Vale proposals for a line to carry potash, 2017 saw the idea floated of extending the Cinco Saltos Branch by some 85 km to the north west, passing through San Patricio de Chañar to a terminus in Añelo, which is starting to become a centre for the extraction of gas by YPF (the Argentine state petroleum undertaking) using fracking techniques. The purpose of the line is to carry the up to 18,000 tons of stores daily, which are anticipated to be required to be transported from the Bahía Blanca docks once the project is fully under way.
It is envisaged that there will be four main elements in the project: a major upgrading of the line between the docks and Bahía Blanca extending to 20 km; an improvement to the next 540 km of the exiting line to Cipolletti, which is subject to a speed restriction of 40 km per hour and a 20 tonne axle-loading; major improvements to the Cinco Saltos branch line; and finally the 85 km of new construction, which does not involve a crossing of the Río Neuquén (1).
An article in Diario Río Negro (2) has this picture taken in the main erecting hall of the diesel repair works at Spurr. The locomotive, number MF103, is owned by YPF, but is crewed by Ferro Expreso Pampeano. It was an old locomotive which was completely dismantled, and then totally rebuilt at Ferreyra (province of Córdoba) by Materfer under the direction of the National Railway Equipment Company of the USA to provide what is effectively a totally new locomotive. It is provided with a 16 cylinder diesel engine, generating 3300 hp; it has a top speed of 130 km per hour and a 20 tonne axle load (3). The locomotive was seen under test in November 2015 in the Bahía Blanca area, in charge of about 5,000 tonnes!
More details are not given. We await with interest the release of further information.
This map, although issued in connection with the abortive Vale project, does also serve to illustrate this latest proposal. Cinco Saltos can be see to the north of Cipolletti. The branch extended north from Cinco Saltos to what is described as Bardo del Medio, called Km 1218 in railway days; San Patricio del Chañar may be seen as the last of the places noted along the side of the Río Neuquén; while Añelo is at the road junction to the north of Embalse los Barriales. (4).
By late 2020, there was still talking, but nothing very productive being achieved. The Government of the Province of Neuquén, however, had decided that the natural outlet, and connection, to the wider world should be via a port on the Pacific Ocean, reached of course by the Trasandino Sur. The indications were that the railway authorities in Chile were less than enthusiastic. (5) 
1 Newspaper La Nueva [Provincia] – 28 October 2017 – Desde YPF confirman que se realizará el ferrocarril entre Bahía y Vaca Muerta.
2 Newspaper Río Negro – 30 September 2017 – El tren a Vaca Muerta entró en el presupuesto 2018.
3 Taringa! — Una locomotora nueva y otra renovada ya estarían listas para comenzar sus tareas en YPF.
4 Audiencia pública por el trencito de Potasio Rio Colorado, una madeja con muchos hilos para tirar…, 8300web 7 December 2010.
5 PortalPortuario.com, 22/11/20, on line.