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From San Antonio (Oeste) intermittently to Bariloche

An interrupted start
Although Carmen de Patagones was being approached from the north in the first years of the 20th century, there were no railways south of that point apart from the FCCC and FCPV way down in Chubut. However the plans for a network of 'Ferrocarriles de Fomentos' led to surveys in 1908 for a line west from San Antonio (Oeste) towards Lago Nahuel Huapi in the Argentinean Lake District.

 

Obverse and reverse of the medal presumably struck to commemorate the start of works in 1910.

 

The plans were approved in August 1909, under law 5559, see Appendix 1 for the text, and work began on the first 110 km. to Valcheta. Construction of all three Patagonian lines was under the overall direction of Ingeniero D. Guido Jacobacci who took personal command of this particular route. A photo of a narrow gauge 0-4-0T arriving on a lorry for use in the construction is displayed in Chapter 13. Most materials arrived by sea at San Antonio where a new muelle was built - soon to be surrounded by railway stores and workshops and the first temporary station. A railway hospital was built and houses for the engineers and administrators. In 1910 President Figueroa Alcorta paid a visit to inaugurate the new line. See Appendix 20 for his speech.

The state railways bought rails for their existing lines and new construction by open tendering. The awarding of contracts was by presidential decree. For the year 1909 the contract was placed with Ramsay, Bellamy y Cía, representing the United States Steel Products Export Company, to supply rails in various amounts to various places including 6262 tons delivered to San Antonio for $32.30 sealed gold per ton. The section of rail was not specified. See Appendix 22 for the text.

A pair of Maffeis bring a train into the loop at the railhead early in the life of the line. The front loco is number 337.

SAPacificsontrain1

In December 1909 the second section had been approved, at a similar cost of around 19,000 gold pesos per km. Km. 217 (west of Ministro Ramos Mexía) seems to have been reached by September 1911. By 1915 the line had been opened another 151km. to Maquinchao, but war conditions slowed work thereafter and although rails stretched as far as Ing. Jacobacci in early 1917 no further progress was made. From March 1916 the line became the responsibility of the FC del Estado, up to that time having been constructed directly by the Ministry of Public Works.

Aguada Cecilia station, during the construction of the route. The locos would appear to be a Maffei Pacific and one of the five Baldwin 4-4-0s.

SAAguadaCecilia1

Work began again in 1922 and by the end of 1923 the operating line was 281 miles long. Construction was then started eastwards, back towards Viedma, with a view to linking up with the main Argentine network via a 200m bridge across the Río Negro to Patagones. Viedma was reached by 1925 but even then the line remained isolated from most of the Argentinian system, for it was only in 1936 that the river was bridged to join the FCE line to the Buenos Aires Great Southern network and create a through route to the Federal Capital.

Progress westward was slower, and Pilcaniyeu was not reached until not until1926. After further delay a bigger effort was then made to finish the line; opening finally to San Carlos de Bariloche in 1934.

Pilcaniheupasstrainin1920s

A passenger train at the Pilcaniyeu railhead in the 1920s, as shown in the FCE 1930 timetable book. The locos are both Maffei pacifics, built new for the line around 1911.

It is worth noting that there had been plans to extend the broad gauge further, to Llao-Llao, south to El Bolsón, and even across the Andes to Osorno in Chile. Work on the first of these, and on a grand hotel at Llao-Llao, was summarily halted by Dr. Pérez, the new Administrator-General, on the occasion of his visit in 1925 (4). However, the public park at Llao-Llao, near Puerto Pañuelo, contains a path looking very much like a railway alignment, over masonry bridges and through rock cuttings (7). This may be part of the incomplete FCE route.

San Antonio and its works
San Antonio was very much a railway town, with a high proportion of its workforce employed by the FCE and with the railway playing a big role in the social structure and sporting activities of the community.

However, when construction work started, there were no workshop facilities available here, nor at Comodoro Rivadavia and Puerto Deseado. New material was generally supplied in knocked-down form in units that could be unloaded onto a beach and assembled on site in the open with minimal plant. However, the 55 new steel wagons supplied by the Leeds Forge Company appear to have arrived in kit form, which could only be assembled at the Tolosa (near La Plata) workshops of the FC Sud, asis evident from a presidential decree (see Appendix 22)

Second hand material came from the FC Andino (Government owned) on its disposal to the private sector and required overhaul, repair and re-branding. As this was beyond what could be done on site, the work was undertaken at the workshops of the Bahía Blanca Noroeste railway.

Surprisingly these poor quality views taken in the works have been found by the enthusiastic local railway historian Héctor Guerreiro.

The first two views are taken in the locomotive erecting shops while the third is taken in the joiners' shop.

ExAndinolocosbeingrebuilt

ExAndino440beingrebuilt

Interestingly the coach has been re-branded 'PATAGONICOS', while there is a view of the sole short coach at Comodoro Rivadavia showing it still carrying its 'ANDINO' branding.

ExAndinocoachesbeingrebuilt

Reports from the south indicated that some of the patagonicos tank wagons could not be completed and the tanks had as a consequence been mounted on plataforma wagons.

This group of four such assemblies was taken in 1915 on a Valcheta water train.

PatagonicostankersonplataformasatSA

A Maffei pacific is seen dismantled for overhaul at San Antonio works. Also of interest is the SA logo on the van in the background. Each of the Patagonian broad gauge lines had its own symbol made up from the letters SA, CR or PD in a circle as here.

SAlocoinworks

The railway's starting point and port facilities were on the west side of the bay and given the vast tidal range at this location (approx. 9 m at springs) they obviously dried out at low tide. It is interesting to note that Ing. Jacobacci was talking in the 1920s of a proposed 47km branch around the east side of the bay to a proposed new deep water facility (1). This was never built. When the line to Viedma was commenced it branched off the original line to the west of the town before rounding the north of the bay. This left San Antonio on a short branch.

The railway initially built muelles for the unloading of materials. Offices for the management, a hospital, houses for the senior staff, and a 'barrio' of workers' accommodation all grew up.

The works were first established to erect the new locos, but grew to maintain all the stock on the line, which for its first twenty or more years was isolated from the rest of Argentina's broad gauge network. Most tasks could be dealt with, in a wagon shop, paintshop, boilermakers' shop, and having even a wheel lathe for loco driving wheels. There was also a large 'vías y obras' area for the permanent way and civil engineering teams. Power for the workshops came initially from a 30hp Blackstone engine though in 2000 the site still had a Ruston steam portable engine lying derelict. Later of course electric power was increasingly used, from the town's own generating plant.

A catastrophe came in November 1943 when a large part of the works burnt down. However the new manager, Don Bernardo Aimar, shifted machines to local warehouses and soon managed to resume work on an improvised basis. However, from 1950 onwards the role of the works began to decline (). The narrow gauge Esquel line established its own facilities at El Maitén. Then the broad gauge steam locos were replaced by diesels, maintained in Bahía Blanca. Wooden wagons and coaches were succeeded by steel and aluminium-bodied vehicles.

In 1961 the government proposed to shut the workshops, together with a number of other national railway facilities. Eventually a solution was found in the transfer of the works to a separate cooperative, COMSAL, which would subcontract work on wagons from the FC General Roca. Additional jobs were taken on in the repair of equipment from the fishing fleet and for the YPF state petroleum business. Activity since then has been erratic though there is still a little work to be undertaken for the new owners of the railway, SEFEPA, later known at Tren Patagónico.

Main features of the route
The railway was laid through the usual Patagonian semi-desert but with a view to reaching the more productive Andean forests and cattle-grazing lands. The track was largely laid with 31kg. per m. rail on quebracho wood sleepers and mostly just with earth ballast. The ruling grade was 1.6% with a minimum radius of 380 m. Steel bridges on masonry piers cross a number of rivers including the 40m. span of the Nahuel Niyeu at Km. 153.

A comprehensive list of locations on the line with their facilities is in an appendix page. Click here to move to that page.

Tracing the route using Google Earth
Readers who have the Google Earth program can right click (control-click on a Mac) on the following link:

FCE Patagones a Bariloche on Google Earth.zip

Save the file to your desktop and double-click to decompress it. Open the folder and drag the KMZ file onto Google Earth's Places palette. You will now find that you have placemarks for each of the main locations along the route, and three paths to enable you to 'fly through' the route as if in a helicopter. Select one of these and click on the start button to commence the flight.

FCE San Antonio Oeste a Patagones A flight along the trackbed eastward from San Antonio Oeste, ending in the station of Carmen de Patagones where the FCS route from Bahía Blanca also terminated.

FCE San Antonio a Ing. Jacobacci A flight westward along the first half of the trackbed of the 'Lago Nahuel Huapi' line..

FCE Ing. Jacobacci a Bariloche The second half of the route to the Andes.

Generally the route is clearer without the overlying vector path being checked and visible, but with the appropriate station placemarks checked. Flights or 'tours' in this website are best done with the Google Earth touring preferences set to a camera tilt angle of about 60 degrees, and a camera range of about 300m.

"Fly-throughs' on such long routes as this one can be extremely tedious unless the Google Earth preferences are set to a fairly high speed. If looking for a particular location you might be better advised to click on a named placemark. However, the monotony of following the trackbed across the bare pampa for hundreds of miles does at least give a clear impression of the problems of making such a railway pay its way.
.

 

Rögind in his history of the FCS covers the development of tourism in the area thanks to the joint efforts of the FCS and the FCE. The relevant part of his chapter is available in an appendix page.

Water supply for locomotives was always a problem at the San Antonio end of the line, being brought down in tanks from the reliable stream at Valcheta. This problem must have contributed to the early decision to go diesel in 1953.

An inspection car on rails in the Neneo Ruca gorge possibly in the 1920s.

SAcaronrails

Empalme Km 648 (from Viedma) where the economic gauge La Trochita peels away towards Esquel. The very British style junction signal was taken out of use in the mid 1990s but nevertheless the remaining arm still sports its out of use cross.

SAempalme468a

A view of the derelict station building at Km. 648. A 75cm gauge van stands in the left background.

SAempalme468c

One of the smaller wayside stations on the approach to Bariloche.

 

 

 

SAPichileufubridgeplan

 

The Pichileufü bridge about 30 miles before Bariloche. The coach over the right hand pier is an FC Sud type R7 sleeping car, one of 18 built in 1922/23 on six-wheel bogies (6)

 

 

A postcard of the station at San Carlos de Bariloche probably shortly after the opening of the line in 1934 (6).

 

 

One of the TB class three-car Ganz diesel units sits in Bariloche station in about 1938.

 

 

The booking hall as seen in June 2011.

 

 

Barilochemainhall2011

 

A view (2000) of Bariloche engine shed, just west of the station and the true end of the line.

 

Bariloche2000dieselonshed

 

Barilochetrainpullsin2011

 

Barilochetraininplatform2011

 

Barilochegoodsshed

There had been long-standing proposals for the railway to be extended beyond Bariloche. The American geologist Bayley Willis had been engaged in 1912 to consider not only the railway's route west but also the prospects for industrial development in the area. Whilst many of his proposals, including a new induxtrial city at the east end of Lago Nahuel Huapi, did not come to fruition, after the first world war the renewed work on the railway included some excavations further west with a view to opening the railway as far as the big hotel at Llao-llao. This was cut short after a change of railway management in 1924, as can be followed in Señor Perez' report in an appendix page to Chapter 7.

This 1912 map shows alternative routes for the approach from the east to Bariloche, and then a proposed route north-westward towards Valdivia, as well as a branch up to San Martín de los Andes. and another southward to Trevelin.

SABaileyWillisTrasandinomap

The intended short extension beyond Bariloche to the hotel on the peninsula at Llau-Llau is shown as a thick black line on this map. Bariloche station is the black rectangle towards the right side. It will be noted that a siding down to a muelle on the lake is shown just east of the station. It is not yet known whether this was ever constructed.

MapofroutetoLlaullau

Operating

Bariloche2000leverframe


 

Like most railways in Argentina the FCE used British style semaphore signals. In the smaller stations these would be worked from an open ground frame. The latter were definitely not of British style. The picture far left illustrates a four lever frame and the extreme movement of the levers - almost down to ground level - can be seen. The weights part-way down the levers allow for wire length compensation in varying temperatures and also make it easier to pull a stiff wire. The first movement of the lever initially raises the weight a little rather than jerking the whole length of wire; by the time the wire actually gives, the lever is moving well; and the weight's movement back down the lever puts extra tension on the wire.

 

For many years the line was worked using miniature electric train staff instruments, assembled under licence in Argentina. This one is on display in the main booking hall at Bariloche.

 

BarilocheMTSmachine2011

Traffic
Whilst the 1916 and 1923 freight tonnages are shown below, it should be remembered that the line was still incomplete, and was a long way from the more productive Andean foothills.

Articles

1916
Metric tons

1923
Metric tons

General merchandise

7,834

16,306

Wool and hair

3,243

8,434

Hay

1,326

1,093

Drinking water

74

7,661

Corn

87

244

Flour

18

448

Firewood & charcoal

70

423

Wines and liquors

29

278

Stone

---

812

Crossties and posts

2,185

52

Hides and skins

1,429

1,188

Livestock

96

248

Various products

23

2,094

Total public traffic

16.414

39,281

Total service traffic

9,785

116,344

The most interesting figure in the above table is the last one. Clearly at this stage the railway's biggest task was the transport of new material to the railhead in preparation for its extension further west.

Overall tonnages for the line including its narrow gauge branches from 1916 to 1941 are in the following table:

San Antonio - Lago Nahuel Huapi Traffic figures 1910-1947
NB including the Rio Negro and Esquel narrow gauge lines

Years

Length
Kms.

Passengers

Cargo
Tonnes

1910

1698

1972

1911

2997

4273

1912

3496

11947

1913

5686

15025

1914

1915

1916

452

4181

26199

1917

452

6465

43093

1918

452

5699

40083

1919

452

4882

33270

1920

452

7300

57379

1921

452

4129

40999

1922

452

4964

112819

1923

452

7537

155625

1924

688

8969

134440

1925

742

17378

99039

1926

742

20391

80737

1927

742

23442

80180

1928

742

26245

90241

1929

773

24542

77900

1930

773

20286

79196

1931

773

20478

89757

1932

780

18148

112968

1933

780

18741

120205

1934

810

23609

155885

1935

840

33970

165687

1936

840

?

136213

1936-7

840

37274

114000

1937-8

840

46952

142760

1938-9

840

49002

96470

1939-40

1150

46302

131347

1940-1

1150

52561

142131

1941-2

1186

56248

173788

1942-3

68735

176296

1943-4

79594

173202

1944-5

84398

164065

1945-6

183445

1946-7

185032

More detailed figures for passenger and cargo in the early 1940s were published in the FCEs's history of Argentinean railways (3). They are reproduced below: Whilst the passenger figures are not far from those in the table above, the commercial traffic figures for 1941 and 1942 are now not far below the totals in the above table, showing that the railway's own materials were now far less important as one would expect.

1940

1941

1942

1943

1944

Passengers

67802

76908

91432

103978

Commercial traffic
(Carga productiva)

130,375

116,931

154,131

144,779

149,272

Timetables
The itinerario for 1934 gives a good idea of the early patterns of working along the newly-completed route. There appears to have been a twice-weekly passenger train all the way from Patagones to Bariloche, taking around 22hrs. for the journey. This was supplemented by a weekly 'mixto' which was rather slower, taking 26hrs. There was also a daily 'carga condicional' as far as Maquinchao. Only twice a week did it run further to Bariloche. The only other train shown was a goods three times a week from Puerto San Antonio to Valcheta and return. Although at this date its use as a water carrier is not specifically shown, it is clear that this must have carried the fresh water supply for the town of San Antonio, which has no fresh water of its own.

The working timetable (el itinerario) for 1946 has been studied, and also the late 1955 public passenger timetable which is available on an appendix page. In 1946 there was a through passenger train all the way from Patagones to Bariloche three times a week, one more than in 1934, with an additional through mixed train once a week. There were paths in the timetable for a goods train three times a week and for a goods, parcels and personnel train also three times a week. There was also a goods and water train five times a week as far as Valcheta. Given that the Ganz diesel 'Trenes Bariloche' would have been running at that time, it seems surprising that the shortest journey times were still 22hrs.

The 1955 document gives a good deal less information of course, but there appears to be only the 'Tronador' through train twice a week and an additional passenger train once a week.

Héctor Guerreiro has very kindly provided a diagram of the lines radiating from Bahía Blanca on which was indicated the line limits as far as Bariloche. These have been extracted and are shown below.

Bahía Blanca
to 75 km / hr
Pedro Luro
to 50
Stroeder
to 45
Km 905
to 60
Carmen de Patagones
to ?
Viedma
to 60
General Vintter
to 60
Km 192
to 75
San Antonio
to 50
Percy Scott
to 75
Km 385.5
to 50
Km 557.1
to 75
Km 557.7
to 60
Ing Jacobacci
to 60
San Carlos de Bariloche

FC General Roca
The 1948 reorganisation of all Argentinean railways saw the line become part of the General Roca system.

Only two tickets from the FCGR era are known about. The first is an unusual one, dating from the occasion of a national election. The second is for the member of a group travelling from Buenos Aires all the way to Bariloche.

SEFEPA, later to become Tren Patagonico
On the break up of the FCC Argentinos in the early 1990s the line was not taken on by any of the private operators. Clearly, like the other Patagonian lines much freight traffic had been lost to road transport and passengers to car, coach or air. Eventually the railway was offered to the province of Río Negro through which it runs. It currently survives, operated by the SEFEPA (SErvicios FErroviarios PAtagónicos SA) organisation under the trading name of 'Tren Patagónico'. There are passenger trains from Viedma to Bariloche twice a week. However, the situation still appears fairly fragile and it is quite obvious that the fifty year maintainance backlog is very far from being caught up with.

A pause at an intermediate station, Pilcaniyeu. There are two car transporters between the luggage van and the engine. The parcels barrow is of typical Argentine design and is called a siriaca.

 

Recent news
From March 2001 steam trains were to run out from Bariloche as far as Perito Moreno as a new tourist attraction. North British 2-8-0 no. 121 from the Buenos Aires and Pacific Railway had been overhauled and would be hauling a set of wooden bodied coaches. A photo of one of her sister locos is displayed on the San Antonio line locos page.

References:
1 Article in newspaper La Nueva Era of 12 July 1930 quoted in San Antonio Oeste y el Mar... Origen y Destino. 1996 Héctor Juan Izco. Publisher unknown.
1A Huemul, web page , author not known, <http://todotrenesarg.com.ar/huemul.htm>.
2 Much information about San Antonio Works is taken from San Antonio Oeste y el Mar... Origen y Destino. As above.
3 Historia de los Ferrocarriles Argentinos. 1947. Ferrocarriles del Estado, Buenos Aires.
4 The State Railways Patagonic Lines, a report by the Administrator General of the State Railways, Dr Enrique S. Perez, May 1925.
5 Discovered in the collection of the North British Locomotive Company in the Mitchell Library, Glasgow, Scotland.
6 Postcards kindly provided by Señor Diego de Bunder of Puerto Madryn from his grandfather's collection.
7 Visit by Señor David Sinclair in 2010.

16-11-16

RAILWAYS OF THE FAR
RAILWAYS OF THE FAR

Glossary

Site map

Chapter 4

The FCE broad gauge network

Main pages

Ambitious plans

Towards Bariloche

And back to Viedma

Bariloche line locos

Bariloche line rolling stock

Bariloche line extra photos

From Com. Rivadavia

Com. Riv. line locos

Com. Rivadavia line extra photos

From Pto. Deseado

Pto. Des. line locos

Pto. Deseado line extra photos

Pto. Deseado line extra photos 2

Appendices

1 Text of law 5559

2 Chronology of Patagonian railway proposals

3 Bariloche line route itinerary

4 Com. Rivadavia route itinerary

5 Pto. Deseado route itinerary

6 Bariloche line loco list

7 Com. Rivadavia line loco list

8 Pto. Deseado line loco list

9 FCE wagon diagrams

10 Map of Com. Rivadavia

11 Pto. Deseado lines plans

12 Examples of tickets

13 FCP 1957 report 1

14 FCP 1957 report 2

15 FCP working timetable instructions 1960

16 Report on construction 1912 A

17 Report on construction 1912 B

18 Two reports from 1912

19 Telegram about labourers •

20 Account of a journey

21 President Alcorta address

22 Purchase of rails decree

23 Purchase of wagons decree

 

 

 

 

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