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Appendix 4

The construction of the Neuquen route of the FCS; translated from Chapter 25 of William Rögind's book.

[Note for anglophone readers – The name Neuquén may refer to one of three different things. It is the name of a national territory, later province, bounded by Chile, and the present day Argentine provinces of Mendoza, La Pampa and Río Negro. The administrative centre of this province is also called Neuquén, which may sometimes be rendered in Spanish as Neuquén Capital. Finally it is the name of the river. This river joins the Limay in a confluence (La Confluencia) from which it flows to the sea as the Río Negro.]

 

CHAPTER XXV

1896 – 1899

THE FIRST CONQUEST OF THE WILDERNESS WAS ACCOMPLISHED BY THE ARGENTINE ARMY, THE SECOND, BY THE SOUTHERN RAILWAY

SUMMARY

Threats of a war with Chile. – The Government procure the construction of a strategic railway. – Negotiations with the Undertaking of the Southern Railway. – Ad referendum contract. – Discussions in Parliament. – Approval of the contract in March 1897. – The Undertaking vigorously undertakes the studies of the different sections. – The engineers start work. – The section from Bahía Blanca to Río Colorado is completed in September 1897. – The second from Río Colorado to Choele-Choel is opened to public service in June 1898. – The whole line to the Neuquén (La Confluencia) is completed on 30 May 1899. – Great preparations for the opening of the line. – The Undertaking gave the ceremony a shine. – The President of the Republic in person attended the event. – A great flood of the Río Negro. – The trains are unable to reach La Confluencia. – At Chimpay station, the President, General Roca, declares the line open. – The speeches. – Telegram from the London Board. – Return journey. – Excursion to the military port. – Banquet in honour of the Local Board. – Decree of the Executive Power giving the name of Ingeniero White to the station of the port of Bahía Blanca. – Causes of the rising of the Río Negro. – The London Board presents an elegant silver chalice to the President, General Roca. – The President gives thanks for this token.

 

"The Board of the Southern Railway, as if it has a clear vision of the future, without making detailed calculations, without a moment‘s hesitation, undertook the work which the Government required for national security. They did not skimp on money, nor waste time, nor spare effort. The rails from Bahía Blanca to the Neuquén were laid with a briskness which was without precedent. This is a new and beautiful witness to the benefits which this country enjoys through the capital and enterprising spirit of the English."

From the speech of the Most Excellent, the President, General Roca on the opening of the line to the Neuquén.

THE sword of Damocles, of a possible war between Chile and Argentina, was about to fall on the heads of both countries throughout a half century, compromising their political and economic futures.

Chile‘s occupation of a portion of Magallanes territory in 1843, signalled the start of the frontier dispute with that Republic.

Four years later, the diplomatic debate started with the protest formulated by the Argentine Government and renewed successively and alternately, when internal and external political circumstances permitted. It resulted in various treaties, among them those of 1856 and 1881. When the time came to draw the line of the agreed frontier on the ground, following the naming of the experts stipulated in the convention of 1888, a question arose which required altering the treaty line which had been defined as the watershed of the Andes.

Since then a divergence of opinion in respect of the rules of procedure to be followed in the demarcation was noted among the experts.

[end of page 194]

This intense divergence of opinions caused the works projected for the summer season of 1892-93 to be abandoned.

In Chilean newspapers the clamours increased, day on day, War was spoken about impertinently.

In 1894, Chile ordered a formidable military preparation, sending General Korner to Europe to buy armaments and engage German officers, and authorizing the construction of a second fleet.

The season of 1894-95 then had to be fruitless.

The Chilean and Argentine commissions could not understand each other.

International questions had been almost always settled in the Argentine Republic by means of conceding lands which it owned, with a prodigality which considered its rich inheritance inexhaustible.

Chile, on the other hand, had advanced its frontiers over its neighbours, so that eventually the poor one became the richest, by means of joining all that the others gave, whether high quality or poor.

It has been said that two rival ancient noble houses had engraved on their heraldic shields symbolic mottoes.

"Twist and don‘t double" said one "Double and don‘t twist." said the other.

The first could well be appropriate to the Argentine shield...

In these years, Chile furtively sent numerous commissions of officers into the interior of our territory, charged with studying the topography of the Argentine frontier regions, not from the point of view of its geography, but that of the military. The cries increased with repercussions in Europe. Bankers suspended business with us; immigration was paralysed; business within the country was checked; capital became nervous, and public opinion suffered the terror of the spectre of war.

Then, recently, the National Government started to act, and the first measure which it took was to promote the construction of a strategic line to enable an army, in case of war, to be deployed in the direction of the Andean Cordillera.

---

In mid 1895, His Excellency, the Minister of the Interior, Dr Benjamín Zorilla, revealed to the Chairman of the Local Board of the Southern Railway, that the Government had the intention of procuring the construction of a railway to the Neuquén and that they believed that the Southern Railway Company was the way to achieve this.

The Chairman of the Local Board replied to the minister that, some time ago, a survey of the route had been carried out, and that the information acquired by the company was not promising. It would be necessary for effective state help to be given, as the lands were lacking water and grazing, and the population was sparse over a very wide area.

The Minister of the Interior persisted in his idea, offering in recompense a grant of lands as a premium. This was not accepted, as the whole route of the projected line was wholly in private ownership. Its appropriation was not practicable; thus, after careful study of the matter, and with the object of assisting the Executive Power in the proposition expounded by the Minister of the Interior, the following contract was formalised:

"Between His Excellency, the Minister in the Department of Foreign Relations, authorised by the Minister of the Interior representing the Most Excellent, the National Government on the one part, and Don Guillermo White, representing the Undertaking of the Great Southern Railway on the other part, have agreed on the signing of the contract whose articles are as follows:

Article 1. – The Undertaking of the Great Southern Railway obliges itself to construct a railway line and telegraph starting at Bahía Blanca and reaching the west side of the confluence of the Limay with the Neuquén, following the most convenient route as may be shown by the studies to be carried out."

"Article 2.– The said studies, with the corresponding plans, shall be submitted to the Executive Power for approval within six months of the signing of this contract."

"Article 3. – The Nation, on its own account, shall acquire the necessary lands for the line, stations and workmen’s housing and sign them over free to the Undertaking in the following amounts: [end of page 195]

a) "Thirty five metres width along the whole length. The thirty-five metres may be reduced to fifteen metres within the common land of the village of Bahía Blanca and may be widened up to seventy-five metres where it be necessary due to the height of the embankments or the depth of the cuttings.

b) "Twenty hectares for each principal station, excepting in the town of Bahía Blanca, where the Undertaking already owns the necessary land, fourteen for each intermediate station and fourteen for staff housing.

"Article 4.– The track will have the same gauge and be constructed of materials of the same quality as the network of the Undertaking making use of steel rails of twenty five kilogrammes per metre and being provided with adequate locomotives.

"Article 5.– The Railway and the Telegraph will be completed within two years of the approval of the studies, except in the case of misfortune or force majeur.

"Article 6.– The National Government binds itself to obtain from the Province of Buenos Aires, the necessary authority for the execution of the extensions and branches in accordance with the contract dated 25 June 1895, between the Undertaking and the Province of Buenos Aires and in the event of not securing them will suffer the penalties imposed on the Undertaking.

"Article 7.– The line to be constructed by virtue of this contract, its extensions and branches, will remain for fifteen years exempt from the observation of the legal arrangements which fix the train times. This point will be, during the time indicated, a matter of regulation which the Executive Power establish in agreement with the Undertaking.

"Article 8.– Materials used for the construction and operation of the Railway and the Telegraph, its extensions and branches and of the whole network owned by the Company are declared exempt from importation rules and all types of taxes for fifty years.

"Article 9.– Each year the Executive Power in agreement with the Undertaking, will fix the amount and type of materials and articles which will be free of taxes in accordance with the previous article.

"Article 10.– The properties, furniture and fixtures which comprise the Railways and Telegraphs of the Undertaking and which are allotted to the operation and traffic will not pay National, Provincial or Municipal taxes during the same term of fifty years.

"Article 11. – Authority is granted to the Southern Railway Company to construct wharfs, cranes, stores and other installations which may be necessary in the Port of Bahía Blanca for the loading, unloading and accommodation of all traffic of the railway. Its existing installation may serve as the basis of this, and is definitively incorporated into this contract, with the modifications or extensions which may be necessary, or the construction of new installations in accordance with to the needs of the traffic of all its lines, all subject to prior approval of the Executive Power of the plans, and not being able to charge higher tariffs than the corresponding ones in the Port of the Capital.

"Article 12.– The Undertaking will apply to the railway line and telegraph from Bahía Blanca the basic tariffs in sealed gold which currently apply to its own lines and may maintain them for all without distinction while the nett income does not exceed 10% per year of the capital in shares and loans.

"Article 13.– For the purposes of the preceding article, expenses remain set at 50% of gross receipts, and having reached that, the reduction in tariffs will be proportional to the excess nett income.

"Article 14.– The Nation awards the Undertaking 756,000 pesos sealed gold in national currency, paid in ten annual instalments of 75,600 pesos sealed gold, and making the payment of two annual instalments on the day that the public service starts over its whole length and thereafter at the end of each year.

"Article 15.– The Undertaking will have the right to extend the line and to construct branches in whichever direction, subject to prior approval of the [end of page 196] Executive Power under the conditions stipulated in this contract, subject to the approval of the Honourable Congress, but without obligation on the part of the State to give them the necessary lands for the line, stations and staff housing.

"Article 16.– The Southern Railway Company will have the right to take the water it needs for the stations, staff housing and for the operation of the Railway from any rivers it encounters in the vicinity of the route and also to carry it by means of canals, aqueducts or pipework from the point of abstraction to the Railway in accordance with the plans approved by the Executive Power, declaring that the right of servitude to pass these over the properties will be in the public interest. The indemnities required by these servitudes are the Government’s responsibility.

"Article 17.– In the event that the Undertaking does not give effect to the requirement in Article 5 of this contract, it will pay the sum of 5,000 gold pesos for each month of delay in completing the works. [end of page 197] helped by the natives and completed by those scientific procedures which favourable outcomes have such an influence in the stock raising and agricultural industries which are, and will be for many years, the most solid base for our national wealth.

"Article 18.— The expropriation of the lands required by the line, extensions, branches, station and staff housing to which this contract refers is declared to be in the public interest.

"Article 19.— Whatever difference arise in respect of the validity, interpretation or execution of this contract, it will be submitted for decision to the named arbitrators in legal form.

"Article 20.— The period stipulated for the presentation of the studies and plans mentioned in Article 2. shall run from the date of this contract.

"To these ends we sign this in Buenos Aires, Capital of the Argentine Republic, 16 March 1896."
A. ALCORTA. — Guillermo White.

We reproduce the message of the Executive Power to the National Congress accompanying the ad referendum Contract entered into by the Minister of the Interior, representing the National Government and the Chairman of the Local Board of the Southern Railway, for the construction of the line from Bahía Blanca to the Neuquén:

"The Executive Power have the honour to submit to Your Honours for approval the ad referendum contract signed with the Southern Railway Company which has received the special attention of the Executive Power, taking into account the general interests of the Nation, and very especially the declarations made by a commission of the Honourable Chamber of Deputies which the Executive Power could not ignore.

A railway line was wanted which, leaving an Atlantic port, would cross our wilderness lands and would reach the banks of the Neuquén. It will ensure our sovereignty in that extensive region, making our position clear and carrying effective guarantees of complete security for the fearful spirit of our scattered and timorous inhabitants.

The achievement cannot be doubted that the contract which the Executive Power sends you completely fulfils with the stated intentions and will facilitate the daily communication and efficient action of the public powers along the whole length of the projected line.

Four large commissions, made up of competent personnel, have been sent to undertake the studies, to prepare the plans, and to set out the line of the railway, dividing up the work along the whole length. The public impatience for seeing them carried out much as before, actively and energetically, has had a happy outcome on the resolve of the Local Board, who deploy vigorous activity, worthy of all praise. The manager leaves next Thursday to direct and oversee the work personally, despite his arrival from Europe only a few days ago.

The day is not far away then, when we will see these immense wildernesses transformed into what may be eight provinces, with flourishing populations, established in fields watered by voluminous rivers, made fertile by rational and intelligent efforts of European immigrants, greatly [end of page 197] helped by the natives and completed by those scientific procedures which favourable outcomes have such an influence in the stock raising and agricultural industries which are, and will be for many years, the most solid base for our national wealth.

As for the financial conditions established in the contract, the Executive Power merely declares to Your Honours that, in its opinion, the Nation did not obtain, in even its most prosperous times, such easy advantageous conditions as have been obtained in this present case as Your Honours may note with careful study of the contract which is submitted for your deliberations.

The Executive Power believes that it has a duty to call the attention of Your Honours to the persistence with which the Chairman of the Local Board, citizen Don Guillermo White, whose considerable and so honourable part in the agreement of this important contract, has upheld Article 14 (sic) in which the Undertaking reserves to itself the right to extend this line on the same specified conditions. Thus, that day is not far away, when we will see a railway crossing the Andes, establishing vigorous Andean bonds with the Republic of Chile, and unite these peoples, which will be the most effective guarantee of its international requirements, by the solidarity of the commercial and political interests which they will be called to form. In the opinion of the Executive Power, it is not impossible that a time will arrive shortly when public opinion, which is no more than the expression of common feelings, imposes solutions of peace on the questions which presently upset us. These two nations may dedicate their efforts, their longings and their vigorous actions to resolving the questions which oppose civilization and progress in this part of America.

With such worthwhile intentions, the Executive Power has the honour to salute Your Honours with its most esteemed consideration."

---

On 26 June 1895, Messrs McPhail & Co. had obtained a concession for the construction of a railway line from Bahía Blanca to Chos-Malal which was modified by a decree of 11 September of the same year.

In view of the negotiations between the Executive Power and the Undertaking of the Southern Railway, the concessionaires withdrew their petition, presenting the following note, dated 18 October 1895, to the Chamber of Deputies. "McPhail & Co. by their proposal presented to Your Honours to construct a railway line from Bahía Blanca to Chos-Malal do not wish to obstruct the initiative of the Executive Power in signing the ad referendum contract with the Southern Railway with a similar objective, nor want our concession to be a reason for delaying the sanction of law authorising the work [end of page 198] necessitated by the national defence, and motivated by the purest patriotism, withdraw our proposal, despite the works carried out and the priority which we can adduce in our favour.

But, as on the other hand, we hold the belief that, for various reasons, the Southern Railway will not achieve the construction of this railway line. On withdrawing our proposal, we reserve for the future, the rights which are legitimately ours, as authors and initiators of the idea, which the other Undertaking, seeks to carry out after us.

We wish to place on record that we would not have withdrawn our proposal voluntarily, had it not been for the influence of the Executive Power on the Undertaking of the Buenos Aires Southern."

The discussion in the Chamber of Deputies anent the law of concession for the construction of the line to the Neuquén started in the third session of Prorogation of 23 October 1895 under the chairmanship of Dr Alcobendas.

The reporting member of the Public Works Commission, Señor Cantón, explained the brief considerations which the reciprocal obligations established in the ad referendum contract between the Undertaking of the Southern Railway and the Executive Power, concluding his speech with the following words:

"Mr Chairman: If the Chamber accepts, as I hope it will, the report of the Public Works Commission, it will incorporate by this single act, 500 kilometres more of railway to the several thousand already in the Republic for its growing progress.

It will also fully incorporate some thousands of leagues, which are today abandoned to the most lamentable sterility into the grand cause of civilization.

It will open, at last, new routes for national production, especially pertaining to agriculture and stock rearing, which are called to reach a level without equal in the world, in this part of the continent on which we live.

The Commission has faith that this colonising railway, within two years, will permit the lonely and fertile lands of the Neuquén and the Limay, as well as in the first foothills of the Andean Cordillera where, up to yesterday, was heard only the strident howl of the savage, to hear the harmonious vibrations of steam echoing, which, on being set free, will announce, with its expansive potency, that the time of a new era of civilization, work and prosperity has come.

The earnestness of the Undertaking of the Southern Railway inspires this faith, Mr Chairman, and the act so often repeated in the country, that wherever railway lines are extended, there follows, as a species of spontaneous generation, numerous centres of population, with the multiple manifestations of human activity, which on placing rails in this fecund Argentine soil are converted into marvellous seeds, appropriate to the age of iron, which on germinating produce hamlets, villages and towns.

I see on near horizons, the time in which these parallel lines of steel between the Atlantic and the Andean Cordillera in turn give drive and life to the lonely vast and fertile valleys which the copious rivers Negro and Colorado irrigate and make fruitful and implant greater involvement in livestock and agriculture in the national territories of Pampa Central, Río Negro and Neuquén also project southwards always seeking more benefits, until the trepidation produced by the [end of page 199] vertiginous journey of the locomotive reaches and touches the limpid and tranquil waters of Lake Nahuel-Huapí, thus making national sovereignty effective over all the whole of the Republic by means of the two most efficient factors for progress at this end of century; steam and electricity: the first the emblem of strength and work; the second the symbol of the unity of Argentine thought. (Here! Here!)

These are the reasons and reflections, wisdoms, declarations and hopes which the Public Works Commission have believed it to be their duty to present to the Chamber for the better scrutiny and sanction of the project which I have had the honour to present." (Here! Here!)

One of the most challenged, discussed and resisted articles was the eighth, by which all types of materials destined for the construction and operation, not only of the line from Bahía Blanca to the Neuquén, but also for the whole of the Southern Railway network were declared tax free for fifty years.

This was one of the unavoidable conditions imposed by the Undertaking for making the line, without which it would have not been possible to raise any capital in order to carry out this work.

The article in question was extensively discussed in the Chamber. The Deputy, Señor Barroetaveña started by first declaring:

"I have demonstrated to the Honourable Chamber that burdening the railways with provincial and municipal taxes is legislating on internal commerce, with the result that tariffs will be immediately raised to the prejudice of the industries of the country in a most serious way."

He replied to two or three points made by the Deputy for Buenos Aires. I believe that the Manager of the Undertaking of the Southern Railway, does not raise the question with the Minister of the Interior as an ambitious or capricious threat by the railway, if the exemption from local taxes is not agreed. I, for financial reasons, give account to the exigencies of the Undertaking. It is a rich and powerful undertaking; but its wealth is invested and secured here in our land. A much enlarged capital needs to be subscribed in London for the construction of the line to the Neuquén, some two hundred leagues. Are the European markets inclined towards for our credit just now? Is it easy to raise capital there to take to the Argentine Republic? The whole world knows that our external credit rating has declined, and that it is very difficult to open a way in the European markets, if a law is not presented accompanied by all the guarantees and privileges to which Alberdi refers. It is very difficult to raise the necessary capital in Europe to construct the Neuquén line.

Señor del Valle – Will the Deputy permit me? And with the leave of the Chairman.

Has the Deputy calculated the value of the immense privileges which are given by the exemption from taxes on all materials on all the lines?

Señor Barroetaveña – All is little!...

Señor del Valle – In two or three years the Nation will have paid the cost of the railway to the Neuquén!

Señor Barroetaveña – I will now reply to this question which is asked by the Deputy for Buenos Aires in the earlier debate when dealing with declaring importation to be free of duties the of articles required by the Undertaking for the construction of whatever branch is being made in the Republic.

And I uphold the agreement with the Minister, fully appreciating the benefits of railways. It would be as nothing to exempt them from such tax, since, under the Constitution, the Congress, may give inducements and exemptions from taxes.

Would that our territory be filled with railways by the declaring importation to be free of duties!

This would be the damage which the Deputy presents us resulting from the exemption which the Undertaking seeks for all its lines. Would that we will be so prejudiced every year!

But Mr Chairman, the same Deputy remembers the law on railways of the province of Buenos Aires which exempts without limit of time – within its boundaries – all local railways from all provincial and municipal taxes; and I applaud this law of the legislature of Buenos Aires. Would that all the provinces would promulgate similar laws in stead of persecuting the railway undertakings with taxes. They would be the best stimulus for attracting capital.

Moreover, this Southern Railway, and all its branches, is a national railway, for, by virtue of the law of ‘91, all railways which leave the capital of the Republic are national and they penetrate the provinces.

But dispensing with what has been said, do not the reasons of economic, industrial and strategic order [end of page 200] justify Congress making this concession?

If there are doubts about the constitutionality, they may be discussed after the case is taken to the Court; but we may not deprive the country of such an important railway.

On the other hand, I have demonstrated with the honesty which I use in all my assertions, that the jurisprudence of our Court, in harmony with the one of the United States and with the doctrine of the treatyists establishes that the exemption of local taxes by national laws, cannot be set aside by provincial laws; that public works exempted from taxes by national laws, here as in the United States, cannot be burdened by local laws.

I‘ve nothing more to add, Mr. Chairman."

---

Once the contract was formally signed on 31 March 1896, the Undertaking of the Southern Railway, put the work in hand, and in July of the same year the plans and studies for the first 175 kilometres of line were presented for approval.

On 26 August the plans were approved with the only observation made by the Executive Power being that the use of coquinetes or Livesey system cups would not be permitted.

[Note for readers – I’ve a problem here in the translation. I don’t know what coquinetes means nor what the Livesey system cups are. My suspicion is that coquinetes are a type of pressed steel sleeper. Livesey were a London firm of railway engineers who provided much railway expertise for British owned railways in Argentina and other nearby countries. And I suspect that the cups are a system of pressed steel stools (secured across the gauge with a tie bar). Both of these types of support would require to be imported, whereas the alternative, timber sleepers, could be sourced within the country.]

On 19 August Señor Martínez Velazquez was named as the authorised person to acquire the lands for the first section.

On 5 October 1896, the plans and documents of the second section, from Kilometre 175 to the end of the line, or Kilometre 559.673 were submitted. These were approved on 24 March 1897.

The construction of the line to the Neuquén was carried out under the technical direction of the engineer, Carlos Malmén, who achieved the completion of the various works with notable speed, and who was generously acknowledged by the Undertaking.

By a decree of 13 September 1897, the Undertaking received the authorization requested to open the section of the Neuquén Railway from Bahía Blanca to the Río Colorado, 171.5 kilometres, for the conveyance of goods and passengers, using the trains carrying construction materials.

The second section from Río Colorado to Choele-Choel (177.750 kilometres) was provisionally released to public service by a decree of 30 June 1898. The third section from Choele-Choel to Chelforó (56.2 kilometres) was opened on 31 December of the same year. Finally, on 30 May 1899, the Executive Power authorised the Undertaking to open the whole line to public service from Bahía Blanca to the confluence of the Limay and the Neuquén as from 1 June.

The opening of the railway to the Neuquén was celebrated with all the solemnity of a national event. This was a line which was conceived and executed with an urgent strategic objective and afterwards it was converted into an agent of peace, progress and international coming-together through prudence and diplomatic seriousness. The opening was then carried out under the most friendly auspices. A military line, as it was in concept, was developed as a factor for populating, and a sign of the richness of those widespread wilderness regions which this line traverses through the heart of the Pampa to end in the foothills of the Cordillera.

The Enterprise of the Southern Railway gave extraordinary solemnity to the festivities with which the locomotive’s arrival at the Neuquén was greeted. This aroused the memory of the national impression in 1867 caused by the arrival of the rails at Córdoba from the banks of the Paraná.

The Undertaking of the Southern Railway has in its history brilliant pages which recall of great events, such as the completion of the line to Bahía Blanca; but none of these was, in the opinion of the Nation, of the importance as that one to the Neuquén. None was them were solemnized as this last one.

It was truly impressive that, in a country then owning a railway network of more than 16,000 kilometres, the act of opening of a new line was greatly privileged by attracting the President of the Republic and the whole of the Executive Power, the larger part of the Congress and a considerable number of private citizens [end of page 201] whose number would have been increased without limit, if the invitation were not necessarily restricted.

The newspaper La Prensa of 31 May 1899, speaking of the opening of the line to the Neuquén said among other things:

"To the Undertaking of the Southern Railway, deserving more than a title, is due the honour and glory of the initiative and the execution by its treasury of that event, joining the legitimate interests of private investment capital with the most powerful general interests. The applause in this time of rejoicing is thoroughly deserved. It oversaw the great work when the State, without money and without credit, sought negotiators to service its debts and organise war-like elements in defence of the integrity of the same territories to which the lines of rails, which reach the Neuquén, are heading."

The newspaper La Tribuna of the same date expressed itself thus – to carry the railway to the middle of the national territories was an aspiration, developed long ago, understanding that the most important problems of the national life would be resolved in large measure by this means. Colonization, industry, commerce, security and even national defence all would need the help of the railway. The Neuquén Railway would have cost the Nation fifteen million gold pesos and had been, with everything, an isolated work. Happily, the Government found in the Undertaking of the Southern Railway the efficacious co-operation which was necessary to achieve this great work, advancing 500 kilometres further into the wilderness and taking effective possession of thousands of leagues of lands, suitable for stock-rearing and agriculture, which were worth nothing yesterday, and which today form part of the national wealth.

The needs of national defence precipitated this work, which will cost the Nation less than a million gold pesos payable in ten annual instalments. Happily, the future of the railway will be otherwise, and in place of serving to carry the ingredients of war, it will serve commercial traffic to develop the national production, tying itself, as it has to be tied, to great plans for colonization from the Atlantic to the Cordillera.

It is appropriate, therefore, that the opening of the railway to the Neuquén is seen as a national event of the greatest importance, which has taken place some twenty years after the military expedition commanded by General Roca reached the banks of this river.

It is today the lot of the old Minister of War, who conceived and executed the plan of that campaign, with such success, and so happy an outcome, to open the railway with hours of distance, which occupied his army, more than a month’s continuous march in 1879.

On the inauguration of his first presidency, General Roca said that one of the preoccupations which dominated him was the creation of lines of communication. The second presidency was started in a similar vein, under the best auspices. The statesman has the great and legitimate satisfaction of presiding over the opening of the railway which complements the glorious conquest of 1879."

---

All the numerous inherent difficulties, and the lengthy and detailed organisation, of such a complicated festival as the opening of a railway line, hundreds of leagues from the centres of resources, and in the middle of a wilderness, having been overcome, the three official trains left Constitution station on the morning of 31 May 1899 at the times previously announced.

In the midst of the greatest cordiality, comfortably installed and well served, the journey was made without any incident, save the demonstrations of the authorities and people at various locations along the line. The importance of the President of the Republic, and his retinue, was celebrated.

In the evening of this first day, the invited guests on the various trains started to hear of the flooding of the Río Negro which would prevent them from reaching their destination. [end of page 202] On the morning of 1 June, it was known officially that beyond Chelforó the waters already covered the rails.

Despite this, the President of the Republic, wanted his retinue to get to know the famous valley of the Río Negro and ordered that the journey be continued as far as possible. The order was promptly carried out with the trains leaving Bahía Blanca on the morning of the first.

When dawn broke, the trains were already passing along the banks of the Río Colorado and were greeted by passers-by, who getting out their carriages at Pichi-Mahuida station took complete possession of the picturesque river in the midst of the most enthusiastic acclamations.

Meanwhile, the news of the seriousness of the flood continued to arrive, and it became clear that it would not be possible to reach Roca. At least the Río Negro, its valley and the general aspect of the district could be seen.

Once more the order to go on was given, the celebrated journey continued, or rather the crossing of the arid wilderness which separates the Río Colorado from the Río Negro, reaching at last Choele-Choel.

From the windows of the train, which here runs along the top of the steep sides of the valley of the Río Negro, it was possible to view the extraordinary panorama of a district invaded by water. In the distance, in the mists, the green tops of the trees on Choele-Choel island, even further away the grey feet of the slopes, and all over the centre a silvery mass interrupted by areas of grey earth spotted with dark green.

At this time, it was supposed that the waters had not reached the rails and in consequence the order was given to advance with care with train number 1, serving lunch as the whole line was opened officially.

Lunch having been finished, and champagne served, the train was stopped finally by the waters near Chimpay station, before the most majestic portrait which human imagination could conceive. The line to the Neuquén was solemnly opened in the midst of tumultuous applause, not only in the President of the Republic‘s train, but also the others, which had arrived and which stood alongside each other on the three sidings of the station, confusing their passengers.

The following official speeches formed the formal opening:

 

LETTER FROM FRANK PARISH

"With great emotion I find myself privy to the pleasure of accompanying you while I carry out the duties which fall to me; duties which, on other occasions, I have had the honour to carry out, and which fill the present occasion with so much pleasure and interest.

I wish to offer to the President, General Roca, my personal homage and friendship, assuring him of the profound admiration and interest which I have for his person and for the enlargement of the Argentine nation, wishing to be with everyone and to contribute to the success of his progressive politics. The agreement established between two nations, whose boundaries have today been put in contact by means of this railway, will be a new peaceful triumph for General Roca, offering a road for outstretching Argentine and Chilean hands and opening a new epoch of peace and happiness for the two nations.

The years fly by, and I have to submit to the disabilities of my age, which has interrupted the progress of my desires and do not allow me, save from afar, to contemplate the future, the destiny of the Argentine Nation and the Southern Railway, which I hope will continue to go forward together to the end.

I leave the running of the interests of the Southern Railway in capable and more energetic hands, with full confidence, knowing that I am irrelevant to the completion of the work which will be brought to fruition. In Mr White, who presides today on behalf of the Company, and is a citizen who merits, by his previous work all your respect, [end of page 203] as ours, and which has the special qualities which we want to cultivate to demonstrate our complete confidence in Argentines.

He, more than anyone, will know how to uphold the unity among the interests of the Company, which he represents, and those of the country of his birth.

I am happy to be accompanied by an Argentine, my wife, so that I may never forget the pleasant memories of my long life amongst you, which will remain for ever impressed on my memory."

Perhaps something I have added to my sphere is to complete the work started by my respected father, the first British Envoy who, by means of the treaty with the Argentine Republic, placed the foundations of the international edifice, which has so promoted the interests and the union of the two nations, and beneath whose inspiration I have followed my task, each day acquiring more faith in its future.

I ask all here present, as well as others who have not forgotten me, and especially my friend General Roca, that they allow me to stretch out hands from afar and accept this last souvenir as proof of my affection for them and for our common homeland.

 

SPEECH BY Mr GUILLERMO WHITE

CHAIRMAN OF THE LOCAL BOARD OF THE SOUTHERN RAILWAY

Most Excellent President

Gentlemen

The Company of the Great Southern Railway have granted me the great honour of being their representative at the opening of the line to the Neuquén, whose construction has facilitated the means of covering, in hours, the great distances which separate us from Buenos Aires.

Do not forget, Gentlemen, that the distance, two years ago, could not be traversed in less than fifteen days, and this with all sorts of inconveniences and privations, not forgetting danger in all its forms, which the harsh unsociable and short-of-water wilderness presents.

Meanwhile, I have crossed it today, without feeling its icy blasts, and without being frightened by its impressive loneliness. I have seen it thus, but as the hurricane is felt from the sheltered armchair close to the fire.

Before this achievement of strength and human intelligence, I must at least record the phrase with which America greeted Europe on transmitting the first telegram across the Atlantic Ocean: Glory in Heaven to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of good will.

Men of good will! Precisely that which this great work represents!

Men of other races and tongues, who have not dared entrust us with their capital so that we might open up ways through the wilderness, carrying civilization and progress to the most remote areas of our immense territory.

And allow me, Gentlemen, may we remember the frequency with which the good will of the Government, of man and of English capital has been felt in our history. [end of page 204] England was the first nation to recognise our legitimate existence in front of the world; in London, the first enterprise under the historic government of Rivadavia was for the construction of the port of Buenos Aires. From this nation came the first agriculturalists and stock-rearers to this country and to them we owe the introduction of the first breeds of pedigree cattle, sheep and horses which transformed the primitive unproductive native breeds to the choice products which we send to their markets today.

Remember also that, the vigorous action of David Robertson (later Lord Marjoribanks) who achieved the formation of this company in London in 1862 which, at once, constructed the railway from Buenos Aires to Chascomús, sprung from a group of English residents, so well sponsored by some Argentine gentlemen.

This group of men, of tenacious will and vigorous optimism, never gave up feeling affection and special liking for this soil, and made it obvious with long-lasting works.

And it is just to say that this current of sympathy and English capital has not been limited to the railway undertakings; on the contrary, it is found protecting all human endeavours; from the most humble industry to the strongest banking institution.

Thanks to this same capital, I have no doubt, Gentlemen, that the lands you have just traversed, and which this railway has joined to the port of Bahía Blanca, will be, in a not too distant future, the seat of villages and cities, and that these thirsty sterile lands will slake their thirst from the abundant waters of the Colorado and the Negro, returning to man an hundred fold the fruit of their work, capital and intelligence.

And I don‘t harbour doubts in this respect, precisely because I see the country handed over to work, with a single noble aspiration in its government and people, the longing for peace.

But, Gentlemen, for this peace to be truly fertile, it requires the most perfect equilibrium among the diverse elements which make up the nation. It needs its action developed under the shelter of just equitable laws which protect and stimulate work, and which are observed without odious exceptions on the part of public authorities, and without painful transgressions on the part of the people.

And, in furtherance of this aspiration towards the ideal, allow me, Mr President of the Republic, to remind you of that phrase of the celebrated English statesman, who attributed the greatness of his country to the faithful compliance with the law, good or bad, but observed without [end of page 205] wavering. I assert, Gentlemen, that because this railway was constructed strictly within the constraints of the law of contract which authorised it, it is the first step in the enlargement of these territories. The efforts of all men of good will, which have contributed with their work or capital to this great work, gather the merited fruit of their labour.

Now Gentlemen, I ask you to stand and accompany me in a toast, because our country is great and happy within the harmonious exercise of its institutions, and because everlasting peace reigns among our children and brothers.

Accompany me also in a toast for the President of the Republic, and with me wish him that, during every year of his government, the immortal month of May may be celebrated with achievements such as the present.

Mr President of the Republic: please hand over the Neuquén Railway to the civilized world. I conclude my speech.

 

SPEECH OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC

LIEUTENANT GENERAL JULIO A. ROCA

Gentlemen:

It is today exactly twenty years since, at the head of a body of the army, I reached these banks of the Río Negro to establish on them the military forces which we needed to take real and definitive possession of the Pampa and Patagonia, thus fulfilling a law of the Nation and satisfying an aspiration and necessity felt since the first days of the Spanish conquest.

The wilderness, in reality in those times, started in the vicinity of the village of Azul. Olavarría, Carhué, Puán y Bahía Blanca, were merely military forts, lost in the immense savannah of the Pampa, beneath whose protection, small groups of families barely lived with continuous worries and fears.

To reach the confluence of the Limay with the Neuquén, the division under my direct orders took forty days of continuous marching, crossing territories of which we had hardly any notion, and which the popular imagination populated with innumerable war-like tribes and mysterious terrors.

Twenty years later, in this picturesque valley, where once we found fresh tracks of the fugitive indian, we greet the sun of May and raise up our tents alongside the great river with the immense satisfaction of having completed a successful campaign, enlarging the homeland‘s dominions and resolving for ever the age-old problem of the frontiers.

On completing today this new conquest, which is complementary to that one, allow me, Gentlemen, linking one enterprise with the other, recall the memory of the expedition of ‘79, which reminds me on this memorable occasion of all my companions-in-arms.

Many of them cannot associate themselves with this grand celebration of civilization, who prepared nevertheless when they advanced step by step, experiencing all types of privations and suffering, on the road in the wilderness so that the settler with his flocks and agricultural tools might peacefully use and work the land and the railway advance triumphantly to receive his products to carry them to the ports and consumers’ markets.

On this great day, it is worth remembering the Argentine soldier who lived in a constant battle with the savage, and has been the pioneer of our progress in the immense space, closed by barbarism which colonization has left us as an inheritance.

Gentlemen: This railway which allows us to achieve in a few hours, conveniently and comfortably, the [end of page 206] undertaking of the journey which the divisions of the national army took, experiencing great difficulties, was born under the administration of Dr Uriburu, in difficult and dangerous times for the Republic, considering purely strategic objectives. Providence, or the good sense of the people, has wanted it to become a new bond of peace and friendship with Chile, because, instead of stopping there, it has later to go onto find the Pacific through the Cordillera of the Andes.

In such circumstances, the Board of the Southern Railway, as if it had a clear vision of the future, without making strict calculations, without wavering for an instant, undertook the work, that the government required in name of national security. Not skimping on finance, nor time, nor effort it laid the rails from Bahía Blanca to the Neuquén, with unprecedented speed. This it is a new and beautiful testimony of the benefits that the country owes to the capital and the enterprising genius of the English.

When recognizing it thus, we cannot forget that nucleus of energetic resolute men who established the Southern Railway Company, among whom you have named Messrs Drabble, Fair and its present Chairman, Mr. Parish, old and staunch friends of the Argentine Republic. I must also link your name, Mr. White, with that of those who, working for the good and the progress of the country, have earned your gratitude through their fine personal qualities.

The Southern Railway Company has developed with the national life. In 1865, little more than one hundred kilometres long and with a capital of £750,000, today is 3,500 kilometres long and has a capital of £21,000,000; a remarkable example of the progress of a great company and of the benefits that one finds here with the capital in the hands of intelligent and practical businessmen.

With such help, the territories which we have just crossed will be without a doubt, in the not too distant future, as I have said, seats of populations and new industries. Its irrigation is easy, taking advantage of the mighty rivers that the nature has put to its service.

Many years will not pass before this valley of the Río Negro, as the valley of the Nile, and provided with an equally amazing fertility, becomes an emporium of production and wealth.

We arrive happily in a epoch, in which we can surrender ourselves to all types of promising prospects. The Republic is at peace with all nations. Order is set in its place, and the links of progress are revealed with an extraordinary vigour, facing the future with tranquillity and confidence.

Under these auspices, gentlemen, I am pleased to declare open the railway line from Bahía Blanca to the Neuquén".

 

CABLEGRAM FROM THE LONDON BOARD

London, May 31. -- The Southern Railway salutes the President of the Republic and his companions, offering him most lively congratulations on the peaceful conquest of new territory, crossed by the Southern Railway, wishing that the opening of this line is successful and opens a new civilizing era for those remote regions of the Republic.

All honour be to General Julio A. Roca, the initiator of this beneficial work, and to the Argentines who have accompanied him in his new conquest of the wilderness.

- - Frank Parish.

 

SPEECH OF MR. WOODBINE PARISH

When seeking permission to direct some words to this distinguished meeting of Argentine and English gentlemen, and those of other nationalities, in the presence of the worthy President of the Republic, I do not have any status other than the one of being son of the Chairman of the Southern Railway Company, whose advanced age prevents his undertaking the journey from England to occupy this position in this celebration, and to contribute, as he wishes to pay homage to his distinguished long-standing friend, General Roca, and at the same time to stretch out his hand to his friends here.

Nobody better than a son knows the feelings of his Father, and I can with all sincerity assure all here present, that nobody participates with more pleasure than he, in everything that concerns the progress and prosperity of this country, and nobody feels more pride when contemplating the magnificent result of the Southern Railway, one of the principal elements of the greatness of the country, to which end he has dedicated so many years of his life.

I can also say that, when handing over his position today to Mr. White, he does so with all confidence, recognizing that in his hands the celebration will not lose anything [end of page 207] of importance and that the representation of an English company by an Argentine, will be accepted as a proof of our great esteem for your personality and our brotherliness with Argentines.

To conclude these observations, I wish to express to the honourable gentlemen who have spoken and to the distinguished gathering here present, the most grateful thanks for the praise which has made mention of my Father and for the flattering manner with which it has been received.

To President Roca, and his fellow citizens, I must present my fervent wishes that the Argentine Republic continues to prosper and so, in a not-distant future, it may occupy its predestined place among world powers.

 

THE BANQUET IN ROCA

The banquet in Roca could not be held due to the flooding, which made it impossible for the trains to go beyond Chimpay. All the preparations having been completed, everything was ready in Roca to hold the banquet.

The fresh food in refrigerated wagons, together with the staff, left on 27 May. The wines, liquors, preserves, etc had been sent a week earlier to Roca, with the exception of the champagne and cigars, which reached their destination only on the 28 May due to the break in the line and were collected by the first special train at Choele-Choel.

Numbered cards were made showing the table and seat numbers, with a duplicate for use in the cloakroom. The waiter service was arranged in such a way that each waiter served five people.

 

PREPARATIONS IN VILLA ROCA

On the 18th of that month, the rails had reached the point at which the viaduct and bridge over the River Neuquén were to start. From there to the river a temporary line had been laid, crossing the gullies and small arms of the river, so the gathering could admire the majestic river from close-by, which on this occasion was sufficiently high.

In order to allow the trains for the opening to return the same order as they arrived, a triangle had been provided with sufficient capacity for the three trains, the first, on its arrival there, entered it, turned and reversed to the river before moving onto the main line in order to await the arrival of the other two trains which undertook the same manoeuvre, thus leaving way for the first train to return to Roca followed in turn by the second and third train.

Near the end, a dead-end siding had been provided for shunting and a windmill with two water storage tanks for the engines and ponds for the coaches.

In the part of the main line, forming part of the triangle a great triumphal arch was erected with flags and appropriate emblems.

 

IN THE VILLAGE

A large galvanized iron shed had been erected here, some 56 m by 10 m, in order to hold the opening banquet on the return from the Neuquén.

The three trains were due there at 6.30 p.m. on 1 June.

The shed comprised: the main hall some 49 m long, having at one end a portion for cloakrooms with 270 numbered pegs, and at the other end, a similar space for the musicians. The two communicated with the hall by means of large arcaded windows with drapes.

The main hall was decorated all over with bunting, flags and shields.

The ceiling was in the Argentine colours of blue and white, placed along the length of the hall and the storks‘ nests, which rose above the roof, had been hidden by garlands in the English colours.

The walls had been covered in panels, each one defined by painted columns, between which had been extended a yellow bunting whose centre was filled with a wheel with spokes painted red and white. [end of page 208]

Shields with English and Argentine flags had been placed on the pillars and on various other places.

There were garlands of blue, white and red cloth on the upper part of the walls and on the the eaves of the roof.

The floor was covered with a rich garnet-coloured carpet. The whole had an excellent effect.

The tables for the banquet were in three groups, each one comprising a table the length of the hall with transverse tables at convenient distances one from the other. In the centre, where the President, members of Congress, etc were, there were three tables and elsewhere five.

In the centre of the middle table was a decoration representing a railway at the foot of a mountain.
There was electric lighting with 140 bulbs which were distributed conveniently from the rafters of the roof. There was a sun made up of little electric light bulbs on the middle table.

The outside of the shed was decorated with garlands, banners and emblems.

At the banqueting table there were seats for 275 people.

Arranged at the middle of one side of the shed was another smaller shed for the kitchen and its appurtenances.

While these preparations were being made, the Río Negro, which was already high enough, continued to rise, and on 31 May, the day of the departure from Buenos Aires of the trains for the opening, overflowed its banks in an alarming manner, reaching at last the line at various points giving rise to a partial flood and the blocking of the line.

In the previous December, the line had experienced an extraordinary rise of the river, more or less equal to the highest ever known, which was said to have been in 1879. It was thought, at first, that it would not interfere with the festivities, but unfortunately the water level kept on rising in an extraordinary manner, the waters reaching a height never seen in these valleys and sweeping away in its path most of the villages and many thousands of head of livestock and, even it is said, a number of settlers who had been surprised by the current.

The exciting ceremony was concluded and the incredible rapidity with which the waters rose was evident. It was decided to send the trains back immediately, preceded by a pilot engine carrying the Traffic Superintendent who, in anticipation of whatever adversity, took with him a number of surface men and some equipment.

Train number 3, which carried Master Furlotti’s orchestra, which had been contracted for the banquet, sent the President’s train off to the strains of the national anthem and whose final chorus saluted with enthusiastic acclamations and long-live the homeland.

Having lost sight of the first train, trains numbers 2 and 3 left in turn at twenty-minute intervals.

The journey between Chimpay and Choele-Choel was undertaken with great anxiety due to the amount by which the waters had risen, already covering some parts of the line and making the crossing of a culvert truly dangerous, as the violence of the water was threatening to sweep it away.

In Fortín Uno station, the trains again met up. An improvised banquet, provided by the Company in its dining carriages, was held there for the President of the Republic and other invited people, as the pleasure of holding it in Roca, as had been intended, had been prevented by the unexpected.

The greatest joy and true freedom reigned in each one of the dining carriages. In each there was a real feast of talent and good humour.

The exquisite wines and liquors and the happy sounds of the orchestra lead by Señor Furlotti, [end of page 209] produced the greatest liveliness to the banquet, and the respective trains plunged across the wilderness plain into the small hours of the night, with the murmuring echoes of the brilliant festival which they were celebrating.

Gold and silver commemorative medals were issued and the speeches given in train 1 were read in all the dining carriages.

Moreover Doctor Ernesto Frías, ex Eastern Minister; Messrs Machado, Falcón, Bernabé Láinez; Deputies Doctor O’Farrell, Doctor Morel, Doctor Gouchon and Doctor Carrasco; Doctor Lamarca, Doctor O’Connor and Doctor Fresco and Messrs Wibberley, Krabbé, Allen, Thurburn, Runciman, Munro, Cook, Drysdale, Galeay, Paten, Partridge, Loveday, etc.

The festival was over and its being twelve midnight, the trains set off again for Bahía Blanca, where they, except the President of the Republic and one or two of his companions, who had decided to return directly to Buenos Aires, were to meet to visit the works of the Military Port.

The President‘s train separated from the rest, and set off eastwards in the early hours of 2 June, reaching the Federal Capital on the evening of that same day.

Meanwhile, the rest of the retinue transferred into a special train made up only of the dining carriages of the three trains and left at 10 a.m. towards Punta Sin Nombre, where they were received by the engineer in charge of construction Mr Luiggi, who advised them as to the fortifications and Military Port, which, thanks to his talents and competence, the country was about to own.

The committee met in Fort 3, heard the national anthem in the midst of the most reverent silence. Four 24centimetre guns thundered, and their heavy shots fell at enormous distances in the Atlantic Ocean, raising veritable mountains of water, making clear the consequences that these mouths of fire would convey in deadly defence of the homeland soil.

At Fort 7 the Executive Ministers saw the shield of the homeland sculptured in granite crowning the fort and after visiting the rest of it, which extended the length of the coast and which they saw was very advanced. The group returned to the assembly at the port of Bahía Blanca, where the three trains were remarshalled, leaving for Buenos Aires at one-hour intervals and reaching the Capital the following day, 3 June.

 

BANQUET IN HONOUR OF THE BOARD OF THE SOUTHERN RAILWAY

The banquet organised by the excursionists, who had attended the opening of the railway to the Neuquén, was held in Prince George‘s Hall on 21 June, in honour of the Local Board of the Undertaking.

The vast hall had been decorated with flowers and was lit by a profusion of incandescent lights.

A big table in the shape of a horseshoe had been placed in the centre of the hall, prepared with true luxury.

In front of the seat of honour, and in the midst of the side tables, the plans of the Neuquén Railway were displayed. A little before eight in the evening, some 150 invited guests took their places at the table. In the centre were:

The English Minister, Mr. W. A. C. Barrington; H. C. Allen, Secretary of the London Board of the Southern Railway; Ingeniero Guillermo White, Chairman of the Local Board; C. H. Krabbé and C. F. Crane, local directors of the Southern Railway; Frank Henderson, General Manager of the Enterprise; D. J. Dickey, secretary of the Local Board; C. W. Mills, Engineer-in-Chief; R. Gould, Mechanical Engineer-in-Chief; F. Gregory, Superintendent of Traffic and Carlos Malmén, Engineer-in-charge of Construction of the line to the Neuquén in whose honour the meal was given.

The celebration started with the Argentine national anthem, played by a large orchestra, which the diners listened to on their feet and applauded with enthusiasm.

Then the meal was served. The liveliness appropriate to this type of occasion ruled.

During the whole of the meal, the conversation was general, nearly all revolving around the benefits which would be evident on the opening of the Neuquén Railway and the importance which, in a short time, this territory would achieve. On the arrival of the pudding, and at the same time, a waltz of Doctor Ernesto Frías, brilliantly played by the orchestra, was applauded. The said gentleman, as chairman of the committee organising the function, offered the evidence in a sober expressive speech which stressed the importance of the work which was being celebrated. [end of page 210] Here are some words of Doctor Frías:

"Mr Chairman and members of the Local Board:

During the journey in comfort and convenience, I assume we enjoyed ourselves with everything agreeable. We were not flattered with words of courtesan hospitality, but with words of encouragement for the present and the future, demonstrating the importance which these regions will have after changing the arrow of the indian for the plough of the peasant, the smoke of the country set alight by the savage, for the pit-coal burnt to produce steam and the heavy cart, which despite its immense wheels, appears never to move forward, by the train which, glides along swiftly, announcing that the time has arrived for work imposed by civilization and progress.

After the first conquest of the wilderness, brought about by the Argentine army, the second is due to English capital and, with eloquent silence, we must understand that these capitalists, like water which seeks the decline, have to answer the call of this Nation, provided it continues directing its constitutional and political life to the conquest by means of the consolidation of peace, which is the principle of wisdom of these countries of America and the primordial occupation of all the world‘s nations.

It is not possible to mention English capital without bringing to mind that England has always been the one to lend its assembly to these countries and that the English capitalists have always been liberal with their debtors and have taken account of their misfortunes, and I say intentionally misfortunes, because thus must qualify our same errors, children of inexperience, contributions of new countries.

Further ahead, in a happier time, Doctor Frías added:

“I am certain, Gentlemen, that when we thought here that the line, which is about to be opened, would be used for war, the London Board voted the funds with quiet conviction that this was not to be its destiny, but that of carrying the fruits gathered from the shade of peace. The Board had not studied the international question, but with its practical sense overcame, with its predictions, astute and finicky diplomacy.”

. . . .

The Argentine Republic has an ample and liberal Constitution, beneath which all inhabitants enjoy protection; it may be said, of a true extraterritoriality, obtaining here the same guarantees as in their respective countries, for their religious beliefs, for their work, and for the broadcast of spoken or written thought.

Its rivers have been opened to all flags, all materials for the construction of railways, telegraphs and ports are free of customs duties; capital has been guaranteed with high rates of interest in order to compensate for the uncertainties and difficulties. It has brought at its own expense immigration, as the increase in production and consumption would have been slow without those people. Given these circumstances, the Argentine Republic has entered fully into participation in the universal market, establishing with its stock-rearing and agricultural industries an unexpected competition which justifiably has alarmed the leading producing powers of the world.

Right away I talk about the influence of English capital [end of page 211] in our country: an idea which crowned with a paragraph which said:

“Due to English capital, and having the support of the Nation, there are no dry fields, nor rivers which overflow their banks, because the future inhabitants of these territories, which will be transported by the same trains which have carried us, I add, will make the fields fertile with the sweat of their brow and will canalise the rivers allowing them to overtop their banks only where the owner of the land wishes, by the opening and closing the sluice gates of the irrigation canals.”

He finished his speech by toasting the Local Board of the Southern Railway, Minister Barrington, Mr Allen, the prosperity of our country and Queen Victoria.

Dr Frías was interrupted several times during his speech by applause and finally received a standing ovation.

The orchestra continued with God save the King.

When Dr Frías finished, Ingeniero White spoke on behalf of the Board of the Southern Railway Company, of his Secretary, Mr H.C. Allen, of the Local Board, of the Manager, Mr. Henderson and all the operating personnel and of Ingeniero Malmén, engineer-in-charge of construction of the Neuquén Railway, giving thanks for and accepting the festival, as a stimulus which would strengthen in the future, encouraging them to continue to observe the behaviour always followed which consisted in the faithful and strict compliance of the laws and rules which govern transport companies.

“Around this table,” he said, “I see ministers, senators, deputies, industrialists, merchants, bankers, representing all society which brings me to toast the fraternity and the trades union which is the aspiration of my life for, by this means, the Argentine Republic will grow, since unity leads to liberty.”

As might be expected this, too, was much applauded. The toasts having been concluded, the orchestra played God save the King which was listened to on foot by the whole gathering. [end of page 212]

The Café de París was responsible for the menu, the quality of the wines, the service and the arrangement of the tables, and all this was therefore irreproachable, given the prestige which it enjoys.

After various orchestral items, Doctor Frías spoke again, reading a National Government decree of 20 June, by which the name of Puerto de Bahía Blanca station was changed to Guillermo White.

The reading of this decree brought prolonged applause.

Moments later, with the festivities over, a meeting took place lasting until eleven at night.

---

CAUSES OF THE RISE OF THE RÍO NEGRO

At the start of June 1899, the Undertaking of the Southern Railway published the following report anent the enormous rises in the Río Negro:

The rises which have taken place in the Río Negro between 30 May, the date on which it reached its highest level at the confluence of the rivers Limay and Neuquén (the affluents which form the Río Negro) and 3 June, when it was at its highest opposite Choel-Choel, resulted from two distinct causes. First, the extraordinary incessant rains, which had fallen in the Southern Cordillera from further north than the sources of the Río Neuquén – the oldest inhabitants of the region had no recollection of a year with so much rain; and second by the abnormally high temperature at this time of year, which has prevented some of these rains from falling as snow, as is usual, and then melting with the warmth of spring reach the Río Negro.

[Northern Hemisphere readers should remember that the month of June is not in summer, but is in winter in Argentina.]

There are reliable data on this particular event, which three members of the Boundary Commission, who spent the whole summer in that region, and recently returned to Buenos Aires, have supplied.

They affirmed that, during the month of April, it rained on 27 days and a similar amount fell during the part of May which they spent there. These data were confirmed by the aged inhabitant of Lake Nahuel-Huapí, Señor Juan Jones, recently arrived from there, who added that the said lake, which is the source of the Río Limay, was extraordinarily full, being only 30 centimetres short of the highest level ever known.

The circumstances noted, although they were significantly adverse, were, nevertheless, not enough to produce an extraordinary flood such as the one which was experienced.

While the river was in this state, there were torrential rains in the region of the Neuquén, causing it to overflow and, right away others, with a similar effect on the Limay. These covered part of the valley of the Río Negro and to crown it all, a second flood supervened on the Neuquén, higher even than the earlier one, which swamped the valley from escarpment to escarpment, which in front of Choele-Choel is some 20 kilometres wide, and produced a complete flooding of the valley and of the line in its lowest points and its consequent washing-out.

---

The effect produced by this flooding caused the suspension of the journey to Roca and the holding of the inaugural banquet there.

That this rise was much bigger than the greatest known to date, was proved by the irrefutable evidence of various distinguished army chiefs, who saw the flood of 1879, considered by many as the greatest. Among them may be quoted commanders Oliveros, Escola and Gras and Coronel Rodríguez.

Another fact gives even more strength to this assertion, and it is that the site would not have been used for the village of General Roca had the river ever flooded the village as noted later.

The same applies to the relatively valuable establishments of General Díaz and Coronel Belisle, both chiefs who reached the Río Negro with the army in 1879, despite which they made their own establishments almost on the same bank of the river, the first between Chimpay and Chelforó and the second between Choele-Choel and Chimpay where they had lived up to the present day.

This puts beyond doubt that the flood of [end of page 213] this year greatly exceeded the greatest ones known, and thus it was difficult to estimate its true magnitude.

---

As a memento of the opening of the line from Bahía Blanca to the confluence of the rivers Neuquén and Limay, the London Board resolved to present to the President of the Republic an elegant silver chalice (illustrated in the text) exchanging the following letters:

14 June 1899

 

To the Most Excellent, the President of the Republic, Lieutenant General Julio A. Roca.

The Undertaking has solemnized an occasion of national importance in the opening of the line to the Neuquén, destined, without a doubt, to invigorate, with a true suppression of distance, economic development on a par with the political union of an extensive area of territory.

Thus, in such a circumstance, as Your Excellency has lent a patriotic presence to this beautiful festival of our civilization, of our culture and of our progress, the Board of the Southern Railway has charged me to present, with its respectful

Main pages

Construction

Along the route

Operations

Locomotives

Rolling stock

Over the Andes?

Diversification

The potash line

Appendices

1 Itinerary of route

2 Loco list

3 Irrigation map

4 Rögind chapter 25

5 Rögind chapter 30

6 Rögind chapter 49

7 Rögind chapter 55

8 Rögind chapter 56A

9 Rögind chapter 56B

10 Coleman chapter 2

11 Coleman chapter 3

12 Coleman chapter 5

13 Map of FCS system

14 1955 public timetable

15 Modern photos

16 FCS rulebook extracts

17 Wagon diagrams

18 Press articles

19 Potash line decrees

20 Fruit train timetable

21 Trasandino decree

22 Automatic couplings

23 Railmotor specification

Chapter 3

The BAGSR's route to Neuquén

Glossary

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RAILWAYS OF THE FAR
RAILWAYS OF THE FAR
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