Report by Dr. Enrique Perez, the new Administrator General of the FFCC del Estado, in 1925
Provided by Señor Sylvester Damus, translated into English by David Sinclair
Presented to the Executive Power by the Administrator General of the State Railways, Dr ENRIQUE S PÉREZ
PRINTING WORKS OF THE STATE RAILWAYS
Most Excellent Minister of Public Works of the Nation,
Doctor Roberto M. Ortiz:
I consider it appropriate to convey succinctly to Your Excellency the most important observations made by me in my journey to the South through the territories of Río Negro and Chubut. You accompanied me and senior technical staff of the State Railways on the first stage from Viedma to Bariloche and on the last. On this last part of my journey, I retraced my steps from Bariloche eastwards to Pilcaniyeu station. I have passed along the Andean foothills across the great livestock establishments, including those of El Maitén, to the Epuyén mine, and from there by the Chollila and Leleque establishments to the village of Esquel and to Colonia 16 de Octubre [Trevelin]. I have gone eastwards by Arroyo Pescado, Teka and Paso de Indio, following the proposed route of the 75cm line as far as its present terminus at Alto de las Plumas. I continued along the part already constructed to Trelew. I have inspected the great stockpile of State Railway materials at this point. I went on to Madryn and San Antonio which have similar stockpiles, thus completing the circuit.
(Rio Negro bridge)
The first question which I have to consider is that of the bridge between Viedma and Patagones over the Río Negro. A present, the San Antonio to Viedma railway reaches the right bank, but its proposed terminus is on the left bank next to the terminus of the Southern Railway from Bahía Blanca to Patagones.
The embankments and levelling on the left bank of the Río Negro are two thirds complete, the cost to date being $587,311.53 [$ = peso], including the acquisition of the land, management, inspection, etc. The bridge and road over the Río Negro will cost approximately $3,000,000 according to the Acting Principal Engineer.
The Ministry of Marine have an observation concerning this bridge, maintaining that it constitutes a serious obstacle to navigation due to its moveable section of 28 metres span, which they consider to be insufficient. The manoeuvre of passing through it will be dangerous, especially in times of floods, when the current reaches a speed of 5 or 6 knots. The Administration, [ie the senior management of the State Railways] preparing a report as required by the Minister of Public Works, showed that the span of the opening section had been established taking into account the report of the Navigation and Ports General Management but that, notwithstanding this, the Administration prepared a new scheme based on the span now specified for the opening section. This would be a lifting span rather than a swinging section. It will be necessary to establish what clearance above the water to the underside of the lifting span will be necessary to allow vessels to pass underneath. At this time there is still no answer to this.
The Ministry of Marine also commented, as did some of the inhabitants of Patagones, on the location of the bridge. They sought its construction a few kilometres upstream of the proposed site, so the landing stage would be down river of the bridge and thus avoid the need to use tugs by vessels passing between the piers of the bridge. The Administration replied to this that it was not possible due to the condition imposed on the construction of these railways by the Superior Government. The railway should pass though the city of Carmen de Patagones, cross the river and enter Viedma directly. This was the fundamental and determinant reason for the proposed location of the bridge. This location results in the approaches on both banks of the river converging on the river. Their location was the result of a thorough and protracted study by the Technical Department to determine the most appropriate route for the railway between the two locations of Carmen de Patagones and Viedma.
To add to these considerations, the effect of a change would have to be considered in relation to the economics of the State Railways. The present embankments and levelling, whose cost I have already noted, would have to be replaced, together with a major extension of the line. The probable cost would be in excess of a million pesos. It would be necessary to construct a double bridge to cross a low island together with high and costly embankments, all involving larger sums to be invested, amounting to between four and six million pesos in addition to wasting the six hundred thousand already invested. In my opinion, no change in the location of the bridge is justified. Trying to achieve the ideal outcome could result in eliminating the possible. The practical result of all these considerations has been the delay for the moment of an urgently needed work. It is feared that if Your Excellency cannot reconcile the public practical needs with the theoretical, Viedma and Patagones will be left without a bridge and road for many years. This work is as important for their own development as it is for the efficacy of the railway towards the Cordillera.
The Technical Assessor [of the Ministry of Public Works] for these railways indicated that, as a temporary solution, an aerial cableway could be used both for passengers and goods. It would avoid the present double handling in crossing the river on a ferry and of transportation from the ferry to Patagones station of the Southern Railway and vice versa. But allow me to say before making a decision on this, that it would be advisable to compare the expense of the first option, which this would involve, with the economy of waiting, continuing with the present method of trans-shipment. If the bridge has to be built without more delay, there is no doubt that it will be better to wait, maintaining the present state of things, but if the view is not this, I will have to study at length the idea of the Technical Assessor in order to submit it to Your Excellency.
On the right bank of the Río Negro the construction of a reinforced concrete quay has been completed, making use of the channel, which in this part of the river, lies next to this bank. It serves for the loading of wool and hides transported from the interior and for goods into the zone of influence of the river. The cost of this construction is $176,403.10 without taking into account the access viaduct.
I am convinced that the departure point for the South of the State Railways, in order to develop the population and progress and to take effective possession by rail of the vast table-land between the Atlantic and the Andes, should not have been Patagones on a river, which notwithstanding all dredging of the bar, [at the river’s mouth] will never have a safe entry for vessels of deep draft, but Bahía Blanca, with it large deep-water docks, and its railway lines from there, which, on the generous 1.67 m gauge, open up and distribute to the whole of the centre of the country. In a similar way, I think that the national lines of the north must have sprung from the City of Buenos Aires or later reached there. It is not this statement of the site indicated for the development of this concept which I wish to formulate, affirming my confidence in of one or other solution. It will be the work of the near future. Meanwhile, since the Southern Railway has its own terminus in Patagones, the projected route from there across the Río Negro to the terminus of the State Railways is the appropriate solution at the present time.
(San Antonio – Viedma line)
The laying of the rails for the 1.67 m gauge line from Viedma to San Antonio has been completed during the previous months of October  to January , but the lining and ballasting has not been completed. The engineering works are still all temporary; bridges and culverts are made up of cribs of 9 foot sleepers. Neither is the telegraph complete, but it will be shortly as the material is to hand, and they are installing it as quickly as possible. The ground is solid, and for a length of 70 kilometres it is almost horizontal. Thus, traversing the line as I have described, one nevertheless gets the impression that it is an old well-consolidated line. The country through which it passes is well-suited for livestock and is populated with sheep, but I not think that it will be difficult to bring it into cultivation. I have traversed the region between the [river] Colorado and the Río Negro for more than twenty years. It presented exactly the same appearance then as it does today. Already the nature of the pastures north of Patagones has fundamentally changed, and there are many agricultural colonies being worked; it is logical, then, to assume that, with some rain and similar soil, this new region incorporated into the rhythm of progress by the railway line will follow the same process of advancement.
San Antonio Oeste, on the bay of the same name is located at the junction of this line and the one which crosses Patagonia, passing through Valcheta in the direction of Bariloche. Like all other towns on the South Coast, it has no potable water underground, and it is not located next to a natural water course, so lacks water. Meanwhile the Superior Government does not provide it by means of a canal or a pipeline. Up to now, railway staff, and the general population, receive water brought in by the railway from Valcheta, 111 kilometres away, and more recently, for drinking from Viedma, 198 kilometres away. This resulted from the fear that the waters at Valcheta had become contaminated and this is done until this is known for certain.
The provision of water for private parties involves a loss on receipts of about ? cents per ton-kilometre, since the Administrative Council have studied this long and hard, and consider that 1? cents is the extreme minimum to cover the costs. It is not possible to continue this traffic for this tariff as the Administration is not authorised to give private parties this concession. If the Supreme Government wishes this to continue, it will be necessary for them to so resolve, and naturally, without this, it means that it will affect these railways.
Of course, what attracts attention is the surprising location of the starting point of the line. It leaves a port on a haven which daily becomes absolutely dry at low tide, while on the same bay, opposite the landing stage, storage facilities, workshops and station of the present town, there is a natural port with deep water of 40 feet at low tide, and there is already a landing stage there, but no access to the railways, which must now construct twenty four kilometres of line to reach it. Some 92,429 tons of materials were unloaded at the port of San Antonio for these works with unloading [into lighters] at the entrance to the haven at a cost of $4.25 the ton or a total of $392,823.25. A large part of the cost of a branch line to Punta Villarino could have been paid for by this amount avoiding trans-shipment.
The lack of a deep-water port obliges the Viedma to San Antonio and San Antonio to Bariloche lines to burn coal in their engines, as the government fuel tankers cannot enter this original port, in which vessels rest on the beach completely out of the water to load and unload. With the use of oil, the operating expenses would be greatly reduced, a point which I have made verbally to Your Excellency is that I will negotiate with a private company, which owns a small petrol tanker, the delivery to San Antonio and to Viedma of the two or three thousand tons a year which are needed by these railways when the cost is nearer the State prices. The Administration already possesses in the stores at San Antonio and Trelew the necessary tanks which will be installed in San Antonio and Viedma, or in just one of these places, in the event that it is not possible achieve the access necessary at both places for the tankers.
In the stores at San Antonio is a great part of the 75cm track to which I will refer later.
(San Antonio – Bariloche)
The San Antonio to Bariloche line, of 1.67m gauge, formed part of the railway plan stipulated by Law 5999, for development in the national territories. It was constructed by the Administration under the superintendence of the General Directorate of Railways [of the Public Works Department] as far as Kilometre 448 and passed to the State Railways on 1 April 1916. On this part of the line all the engineering works, with the exception of one bridge of 5m span at Kilometre 180.451, a bridge of 20m at Kilometre 414.120 and another of 20m at Kilometre 422.451 are complete. From Kilometre 448 onwards all the engineering works are temporary. For these temporary bridges, made of sleeper cribs on the Viedma to San Antonio line to Kilometre 552, more or less, 107,500 9 foot sleepers are used; calculating that this material costs, placed in the works, on average $10.81, the consequence is that there is a capital of $1,162,075 un-utilized, with the added factor that the elements, above all the strong summer sunshine, dry the sleepers up and crack them, reducing their quality and worth. While the sleepers are thus employed, outwith their normal use, deteriorating so much, there are in the stores of San Antonio 13,000 barrels of Portland cement and 500 more at Kilometre 448. This cement, for engineering works, has being lying in the stores for two years deteriorating enormously. All this material was assembled on the premise of the economic benefit of rapid construction, even though only forming embankments and taking rails forward was undertaken, a concept which I think of as strange, and with which I do not agree. The stations are temporary, all being small zinc sheds.
From the small oasis of Valcheta to Kilometre 552, where the line presently built ends, the railway crosses lands without more of a future than their present precarious state has just now. These semi-arid fields, by the quality of their soil and the lack of rain, will only with difficulty be able to have another use other than the rearing of sheep, on average of 300 to 500 animals per league. From here on to the start the foothills of the Andes, the construction of the line will be more difficult and expensive, but in compensation the quality of the land and the meteorology improve, until following the route the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapí are reached, where nature is bountiful, with land good for stock rearing and cultivation, and where the great woods of mainly cypresses ayas and larches can be seen.
I consider that this line should end, as was originally intended, in Bariloche, then besides for political and development reasons, which determined its construction, I can today be assured that its industrial exploitation will produce satisfactory results. In effect, in 1924 its income was $1,678,975 and its expenditure, with approximate expenditure for the month of December, $980,453, which resulted in a net yield of $698,521. If we discount from this sum the benefit derived from traffic, the sum of $347,217.50 is due to the hire of rolling stock for use in the construction, there remains a significant sum of $351,304.0. It has to be borne in mind that the operation of this line has been reduced towards the present day to take wool and hides towards the coast and to carry general merchandise to the interior. Since the arrival of the rails at Viedma, going on for a year ago now, the transport of livestock from the valleys of the Cordillera towards the Province of Buenos Aires has started with such good results. It has already carried 55,769 sheep and 1,030 cattle, for $54.414.95. From 20 April to 12 June, there are trains arranged for the transport of 79,400 sheep and 660 cattle, whose carriage will bring in $81,746 national money. In passing I will advise Your Excellency that among the 1.67m gauge rolling stock there is not a single livestock vehicle, despite the fact that the line had been built through what is solely in a stock rearing area. It is then seen that the Administration has had to improvise them by modifying open wagons into single storey livestock vehicles for cattle, and two storey ones for sheep, using the wood from the packing cases in which the 75cm material had arrived. The present difficulty has been resolved completely successfully, but it will be necessary to greatly increase this form of transport, perhaps to triplicate it for next year, to provide this railway with sufficient livestock vehicles for the probable needs of the traffic.
Once this line reaches Bariloche, there will be another productive source of traffic. I refer to machined wood for fencing posts and rails, beams and planks for house-building and shearing sheds. Of the trees of the region, the cypress is preferred, as it is the most abundant, and the wood most durable when used as posts in the ground with an average life of twelve years; as rails it replaces in both duration and resistance the usual woods from the North of the Argentine. For beams and planks it is a good substitute for common pine. Today this material is transported from Bariloche to the centre of Patagonia by cart.
I must note, emphasising the concept of the terminus of this line, that, despite there are no studies for bridges over the Pichileufu and Nurubriay rivers, which must be crossed before reaching Bariloche, the embankments are completed from Kilometre 552 to this village. The rails and sleepers necessary for the railway are also distributed along the site. There are also a number of metal bridge girders in the store at San Antonio, which, I am assured by the present Acting Principal Engineer, could be used for constructing the engineering works on this line. There is also part of the cement required for its completion, thus reducing the cash investment required for completion to almost only that for labour.
(Intended extension to Llao-Llao)
It appears that the previous Administration had planned the continuation of this line to the Llao-Llao peninsula, because I have found the proposal for a great hotel at this point, and expenditure for procedures involved in land acquisition along the probably route. I have not been able to find any resolution of the Administrative Council, even less approval by the Executive Power, for this work. As a consequence, I was obliged to order the immediate suspension of work on these procedures. On the other hand, I do not consider that this extension is necessary for the development of the region, or the better working or better performance of this line, neither is it appropriate that this Administration undertake the functions involved in carrying out these works to which I have referred.
(River steamer 'Patagonia')
Within the same proposition of developing the directive action of the Administration towards tourism of that area, the previous Administration had acquired the hull of a vessel called “Patagonia” to sail on Lago Nahuel Huapí. This second-hand hull cost $10,000, and is floating on the lake. The machinery, also second hand, was acquired for $22,993.30. I found its boiler on a broken-down lorry some eight leagues from Pilcaniyeu, and the engine and accessories on a cart at Kilometre 552. A contract for repairs to the hull was entered into for $4,000, and for the installation of the machinery for $1,500. Adding the cost of transport, the total expenditure amounts to $41,993.30 for the “Patagonia” in a state ready to sail, naturally without counting the cost of its refurbishment internally and unforeseen repairs.
Considering that it is not the function of this Administration to acquire vessels which are not the directly needed for the essential operation of the existing lines — the acquisition of a small oil tanker for example — I have left things the way they were, and offered the “Patagonia” to the National Parks Commission, who, in my judgement, are the appropriate body to take charge of it. I am awaiting their response to this in order to submit it for Your Excellency’s consideration. Nevertheless, it my duty to study the affairs of the Administration in all its diverse facets. I have asked the reliable and experienced inhabitants of Bariloche to produce a plan for the development of Bariloche by the State Railways. These reports have reached me, and from them have concluded that its operation could only be at a loss.
(75cm gauge network)
The law for the development of the national territories, Nº5559, of 11 September 1908, authorised the Executive Power to study, construct and operate the following railways, among others, in Patagonia: from San Antonio, Río Negro territory to Lago Nahuel Huapí; from Puerto Deseado to form a junction with the previously noted line, which goes to Nahuel Huapí passing through Colonia San Martín, with a branch to Comodoro Rivadavia, passing through Colonia Sarmiento, with an other branch to Lago Buenos Aires and another to Colonia 16 de Octubre. The law left the decision as to gauge to the Executive Power, and it was fixed as 1.67m for the lines from San Antonio to Lago Nahuel Huapí and from Comodoro Rivadavia to Valle Hermoso, the same as for those starting at Puerto Deseado and Comodoro Rivadavia towards the West. The General Directorate for Railways built the lines, which were then passed to the General Administration of the State Railways as follows: San Antonio to Kilometre 448; from Comodoro Rivadavia to Colonia Sarmiento and from Puerto Deseado to Colonia Las Heras.
By a decree of 7 October 1922, which I have mentioned, approval was given to modify this in part, and to expand the previous plan by a new one of economical 75cm lines. Their routes would be according to that recorded in their deliberations ,totalling 1,225 kilometres with the following sections:
Later, the Executive Power sent a message, dated 21 September 1923, to the Honourable Congress, with a general plan for railway construction in which they sought authorisation to extend the construction from Huanu Luán (Kilometre 465 San Antonio to Bariloche line) to Fofocahuel and Arroyo Pescado; from Puerto Madryn to Colonia 16 de Octubre; from San Antonio to Carmen de Patagones and from Kilometre 448 to Lago Nahuel Huapí.
Without entering into a critical discussion, nor a comparison of these proposals, I had expressed to Your Excellency the idea of giving priority, at this time, to all the construction work in Patagonia, to the completion of the line to Bariloche, and the construction of a feeder to that line, which would reach a point in the Andean valleys where there would be easy access for their agricultural and livestock produce from further south than the 44th parallel and whose principal centres are Colonia 16 de Octubre and San Martín. Of the diverse reports and studies on this rich area which have been prepared, special importance was given to the factually precise one presented to the Banco de la Nación Argentina which has convinced that institution to establish a branch in Esquel. It is awaiting the arrival of the safe, furniture and books, which are currently en route for its opening. That report expresses respect for agriculture which, despite intense cultivation having been started only within the last five years, currently produces 3,500,000 kilograms of wheat. Each year, the amount cultivated increases. It has a specific weight of 83%, and reaches up to 84?% with a yield per hectare incomparable, it is said, with other well-known districts. In effect, the average yield in the country is from a thousand to eleven hundred kilos per hectare, despite the progress which has been made in respect of the selection of seeds and improvements in the methods of cultivation. Both the agriculturalists and the millers have informed me that their average yield is frequently more than double the norm indicated. They produce barley and oats equally well; the alfalfa is of unsurpassable quality, and despite the shortness of the season, yields three cuts a year. There are beautiful plantations of fruit trees. The soil is particularly suited for the production of apples and cherries, and other orchard products are equally abundant and good.
I have visited various mills. Some have modern machinery driven by direct hydraulic power. There are also important saw mills operating.
The number of animals pastured in the area of influence of the branch from Huanu Luán to Arroyo Pescado is estimated as 2,100,00 sheep, 200,000 cattle and 250, 000 horses. Above all, the livestock of the area is noteworthy. The refinement of the sheep, mostly Rambouillet merinos crossed with Australian ones, whose wool yield in some establishments is up to 5.1 kilograms, as a happy average of 60,000 sheep sheared, and equally the extensive crossbreeding of the cattle, especially Herefords. Above all their development surprises.
Notwithstanding the reliability of the reports which I have, I wanted to carry out a personal inspection to confirm the judgement which I made based on these reports. What I have seen and investigated during my journey has confirmed this notion. I confirm especially the advantage for the State Railways in giving priority to the branch leaving Kilometre 464 (San Antonio to Bariloche line) and heading south west. The reason is obvious. The livestock reared in this region, as much cattle as sheep, is bound for the frigorificos on the one hand and for consumption outwith the region on the other. Up till now they have been taken to the Province of Buenos Aires for both purposes, driven to the Zapala to Bahía Blanca line of the Southern Railway. While there is no frigorifico in Rawson or Madryn, in which part of these herds may be slaughtered, and they are not needed for food there for the foreseeable future, due to the sparce population of the lower valley of the Chubut, they will have to leave by the north as now. Unanimously all the inhabitants, as much the farmers as the owners of estancias, believe that the future of this region lies in the construction of the branch which will allow them to take their animals towards the Province of Buenos Aires, and not in direct access by railway from their valleys to the Atlantic coast in an easterly direction.
Considering the question in economic terms for the State Railways, this preference is justified even more. The branch from Kilometre 464 (San Antonio to Bariloche line) to Arroyo Pescado, is the terminus for the moment, which I will propose to Your Excellency. Since I have been in post, the State Railways has not been able to count on amply resources. It will have its whole length laid through fertile well-populated lands, in such a way that traffic will be generated along its whole length. It will at once have a positive effect on an existing operating line which has its own traffic, rather than on the line from Dolavon to Las Plumas, passing through a landscape without people or water. In its extension to the Andean foothills, except for a few small uncultivated valleys of Central Chubut, it would pass through poor fields, where the only possible traffic would be that of wool and hides for a short part of the year. This I have learnt from the journey towards the coast by Esquel, Arroyo Pescado and Teka, following the proposed route by Paso de Indio to Las Plumas and from there to Dolavon. There are then 600 kilometres of travel in which the only possible traffic is merchandise from one terminal, and stock rearing products from the other. It will not in any way cover, even approximately, the costs of its operation. On the other hand, I consider that the Viedma to San Antonio to Arroyo Pescado line would not only cover its costs, but in a short time produce an appreciable return on the capital invested.
I consider that the branch, whose immediate construction is advantageous ought to be of 75cm gauge, notwithstanding the inferiority of economic railways for transport, above all for certain goods. Their cost over difficult terrain is much cheaper, and in this case, moreover, the decisive factor is the accumulation at Kilometre 464 (San Antonio to Bariloche line) of rails and sleepers for its construction.
I believe that it is relevant to record that, at the present time, there is real need for support in the southern territories. I do not assert that the other parts of the projected lines should not be executed when the necessary resources are available. Neither does the acceptance of the 75cm gauge for the branch require a decision on the purchase of material and plant, which I will address further on. I leave the existing actions as they are at the present, and seek to reconcile practical solutions with them.
(Epuyen coal mine)
A little below the 42nd parallel, a short distance from the frontier with Chile, and in the depths of a deep valley, one finds a coal mine called Epuyén. Knowing that the State Railways had an interest in it, I thought it appropriate to visit it, as it is certain that, in June 1919, the then Administrator General, Mr Muñoz, decided to stop all works being undertaken at the mine, and the Principal Engineer confirmed that “the coal mined there had produced an excessive amount of ash as well as being of poor calorific value. This resulted in all interest in its use being lost”. At the start of 1924, the engineer-in-charge of the studies for the Huanu Luán to Arroyo Pescado branch received a verbal instruction from the Administrator to start works again at the mine leading to draining it and the extraction of some tons of the mineral. By way of a communication dated 24 October 1924, I learnt about these works, and I ordered that coal should be not extracted and that no further expense should be incurred. According to the Accountant’s Department $233,522.03 had previously been invested with a further $7,691.75 in 1924, without including in these sums a big engine, a tractor, pumps, pipework etc which theoretically should be returned to the Railways’ stores, but which are very difficult and expensive to remove from the deep shaft and require an ongoing expense for their care.
It is difficult to explain how this error of thinking that the State Railways are fitted to undertake mineral working, which requires a very specialised technical competency and the availability of a large amount of capital, had come about, and how it has happened again. Moreover, it is considered that the surface coal was very poor, and even supposing the presence of rich deep veins worth extracting, there would still be a great need for specialised competence and capital.
As a fact noted in passing, the following is instructive: The representative of a major foreign company referred me to their going to set up there more than twenty years ago. They had extracted and sent coal samples from Epuyén to Europe for analysis with a view to seeking to mine there if they were satisfactory. “What was the reply?” I asked. “That we would be better looking after sheep and not bothering about this”. If the State Railways had known about this, and had taken advantage of this advice, the sums indicated would not have been wasted, and the $696,053.30 of State Railways’ money, also wasted by the Administration in drilling such unproductive, at least up to the present time, bores for oil in El Quemado.
(The extension of the FCCC, and the purchase of 75cm gauge equipment)
At a height of more than 200 metres above the level of the valley of the Río Chubut, opposite the village of Las Plumas, is the present day terminus of the economic railway under construction to the valley of Colonia 16 de Octubre. The operation from Las Plumas to Dolavon — the terminus of the Chubut Railway — is self-evidently precarious, given that the line runs for 137 kilometres across a semi-arid plateau, which is marked on all the old maps with the impressionable name of “crossing”, indicating to the traveller the lack of the primordial element of life, water. It is thus uninhabited, and the goods consigned up till now amount to a maximum of $5,000 national money a month in income arising solely from the terminus. I did not see a single village, nor any livestock, while passing along the line.
The descent into the valley has been studied and planned on a number of occasions by the Technical Department of the Administration. The first study made adopted a ruling gradient of 15‰ [1 in 67]. The Head of New Works, reporting on this study says “in respect to the maximum gradient, I believe that 15‰ without compensation should be accepted while reducing it to 10‰ [1 in 100] would result in an unduly expensive work and an increase in curvature which would not help the alignment. My opinion is that up to 20‰ [1 in 50] with compensation should be used, partly shortening this section along with establishing in Las Plumas a special traction service.”
As a consequence of the studies carried out, and with the object of making the route more economical, I listened to the Technical Department who ordered that the New Works Office at Puerto Madryn undertake a study in the same area, increasing the ruling grade to 18‰ [1 in 56] or about 15‰ without compensation. Complying with the quoted note the New Works Office sent the plan relative to the alterations noted, applying a gradient of 15‰ on curves of 200 metres radius and 18‰ on straights as per the note of 21 March 1924. No estimate was prepared from the first study, and in the latter, including management inspection and contingencies, the estimate amounted to $1,640,000. Considering the high costs of this section, new instructions were given on 18 February 1925 to study a new alignment using a ruling gradient of 25‰ [1 in 40] to allow the line to follow the natural ground surface, reducing greatly the expenses of construction. This study is currently being undertaken, but without wanting to intrude on purely technical matters, two observations occur to me from a point of view of capital expenditure.
The first is that according to earlier studies, among those one made by the Chubut Railway and in the opinion of people knowledgeable of the area, it is very possible that it was not necessary to locate the line on the summit of the plateau. To plan a descent from there would always be very costly in the works themselves, or in the expenses of traction. I will shortly have available a new study seeking the best site for the descent from the plain to the valley.
The second consideration is that, as it is planned today, on the basis of a descent following the natural ground, that is routing it down via a deep canyon draining the land of scarce, but at times torrential rainfall. If the side slopes are stone pitched, it will always be a very expensive work and, if it goes down the middle of the canyon, it is not difficult to anticipate that the water will wash away the line and severe damage will result. As an old inhabitant of the Río Colorado, I have relevant experience in having constructed a village, mill, tank and corrals in a similar canyon, and then having them all swept away by a violent current of water following a torrential downpour.
From Dolavon to Trelew the 75cm line has been constructed inside the metre gauge line of the Chubut Railway. At the latter point is found the first great store of 75cm material. I am going to discuss that later.
According to the records which I have obtained in the Administration, the purchase of material for the economic railways of 75cm gauge started with a note dated 14 November 1921 issued by the Inspector General of Materials’ Office which started thus: “In accordance with the verbal instructions of the Administrator General, of the Principal Engineer and the copy note accompanying this, 28 copies of the documents containing the conditions etc are sent.” This note dated 9 November 1921 starts in its turn thus: “In accordance with the telephonic communication which I had with you of today’s date I have the pleasure to send you 30 heliographic copies [blue prints?] of plan 9950, in accordance with which will be opened private negotiations for the acquisition of the materials mentioned in the heading.” The private negotiations having been carried out, the Administrative Council intervened, and annulled the negotiations for not seeking offers in the established manner and authorized the following direct purchase of light railway material.
To the Compañía Industrial & Mercantil Thyssen Lda.:
To the Sociedad Anónima D’Ougrée Marihayes:
The total value of the purchase from Thyssen Lda reached $4,376,874.03 national money and the final account according to the figures in the Accountant General’s Office to $4,370,258.71 national money.
The total of the purchase from Sociedad D‘Ougrée Marihaye for this light railway material was according to figures from the same source $1,312,170.44 national money.
The purchase of passenger, livestock and goods vehicles for these same light railways started with a note from the Inspector General of Materials’ Office to the Superintendent General of Stores in the following terms: “In accordance with the instructions received from the Administrator General, I have the pleasure to send you fifteen copies of the document containing the conditions for the provision of material as per the heading. According to the Administrator’s requirements, the negotiations must be public, etc.” The negotiations having been completed, the Administrative Council intervened, cancelling the negotiations concluded, as the proposals were not the most economic, not having been formulated in accordance with the [established] basis for bidding and by the same resolution confirmed an award of the Administrator General to the Sociedad Anónima Atelliers de Construction et a Familleureux for the following material:
80 flat wagons in. Belgian Fr 10.960,00 ea.
By the same resolution the manufacturers Nicaise et Delcube, S. A., Atelliers de Construction et a Familleureux, Talleres Metalúrgicos and Middletown Car Co., were all called to a private meeting with a view to getting better prices, earlier deadlines and more satisfactory payment arrangements for their respective offers. In place of this meeting a private negotiation was carried out among these firms whose offers were opened on 20 June 1922. On 22 July 1922 the Administrator General sent a communication to Messrs Cano and Roth, representing S. A. Atelliers de Construction et a Familleureux, advising them of the outcome of the tendering for the purchase by virtue of their bid being the lowest in response to the request for improvement. By resolution dated 2 February 1923 of the Administrative Council the notification for the fabrication and delivery of the following vehicles by S. A. Atelliers de Construction et a Familleureux, was confirmed:
150 flat wagons Fs. Belgas 8.470,00 ea.
Additionally, the sum of 28,900 Belgian francs was accepted for the provision of ten axles with wheels, forty suspension springs, fifty axle boxes, six brake hoses, ten security chains and two complete bogies as spares for the 106 vehicles previously bought. Both purchases were to be paid for in promissory notes to the order of the selling house, payable in instalments over 180 days renewable in five equal periods at 5?% annual interest for the first purchase and at 7% annually for the second, having to use the Banco de la Nación Argentina’s type of exchange for money orders payable on demand in Belgium on the day of issue of the payment documents.
The final account in national money for these purchases according to figures from the Accountant General’s Office amounts to $2,248,186.86.
The processing of the purchase of the first 50 75cm gauge locomotives bought was started as the previous purchases. By the instruction received from the Administrator General given to the Inspector General of Materials’ Office and by this to the Superintendent General of Stores’ Office on 20 December 1921. According to these instructions the negotiations had to be public. This was given effect by the resolution of 17 April 1922 which authorised the purchase of the locomotives negotiated in favour of the nominated Henschel [und] Sohn at a price of $15,990.00 sealed gold each and spares for them at $153,750.00 sealed gold, altogether, a total amount of $953,250.00 sealed gold for engines and spares.
On 7 April 1922, the same house presented a proposal which was accepted, and by resolution of the [Administrative] Council dated 17 April 1922 authorised the purchase of 4 tank engines burning oil fuel at a price of $5,770.00 sealed gold each, and two crane engines for $12,240.00 sealed gold each., giving a total of $47,560.00 sealed gold.
On 10 May 1922, the Baldwin Locomotive Works presented a new offer for 25 engines referring to a verbal instruction by the Administrator. On 11 May 1922 the Administrator sent a note to the proposer in which it says: “you can consider that the offer is accepted…” etc. On 21 August 1922 the Council made a resolution confirming the purchase at a price of $16,050.00 US gold [dollars] dollars each plus $70,000.00 US gold [dollars] dollars for spares for them. The total cost was $471,450.00 US gold [dollars] dollars for engines and spares, in other words $1,110,479.05 national money.
The final account according to the Accountant General’s Office amounted to $2,274,568.18 for the 79 engines and two cranes.
The total amount of material purchased for the 75cm economic railways altogether is:
These purchases were undertaken without their being recorded in Administration, which would have knowledge of them by a communication written by the Ministry of Public Works, nor was there any resolution for them, given that recently on 4 October 1922, the Administrator spoke with the Minister of Public Works recording that “in various interviews the reasons for the extensive order and all equally important things which it was advisable to authorise, and the necessity of proceeding immediately within the plan for extending of the railway network in Patagonia, by the construction of the 75cm economic railway system”. And dated 7 October of the same year the Executive Power passed a decree approving the procedure followed by the Administration of the State Railways for having started the construction of the network of economic railways in Patagonia.
Moreover in the note quoted, it was clear to the Administrator that the Administration had been authorised to start the works, and that it had the effective authorization mentioned.
It is beyond doubt that the 75cm gauge is convenient for secondary lines, especially ones feeding the broad gauges, above all because of its low cost of construction, an advantage which is accentuated in rough territories because it allows a great reduction in the radius of the curves. It could be considered appropriate for application in Patagonia. But it is also apparent to me that the purchase without previous authorisation, and in a single lot, before a single section of line had been completed, of all the material which would be needed eventually, if all the lines were to be constructed and brought into use, and moreover, the purchase of 79 locomotives, which would be enough, not only for the traffic on these lines when they were fully operational, but so exaggerated a number, that one cannot doubt that they will remain in the stores for many years before entering service, constitutes a grave error administratively.
This material, which is almost all erected, and in storage at Madryn, Trelew, San Antonio and Kilometre 448, is largely, particularly in respect of the wagons, deteriorating, since the Administration ignores the provision of the necessary sheds so that they may be kept clear of the weather. I have transferred three dismantled sheds at Puerto de Arroyo Pareja in Bahía Blanca for this purpose. But without a doubt, they will not be sufficient, and it will be necessary to divert other resources to construct more.
These covered spaces are full of engines, these hundreds of metres of sidings are full of wagons, these extensive yards are stacked with PW materials. They give more of a shock when the lines of the Argentine North Central are lacking essential items for their renovation, above all for wagons for the normal traffic, as well as engines which are mostly antiquated and have been on hire since 20 June 1920, and at the end of five years 500 wagons to compensate is insufficient. The hire cost of covered wagons is $2.20 sealed gold per day, and for the open ones $2.00 sealed gold per day, so that the leasing costs $383,250 sealed gold a year.
Overall, the 75cm material is good, but there are faults visible to a casual eye which the advisability of a detailed study of it shows. I cite, for example, the length of the continuous vacuum brake hoses, which are too short to couple up and it is necessary to use a supplementary length. In general the wood has been placed with so much lack of fastening at the time of assembly of the wagons that the gaps in the floors are more than 3 centimetres wide. In the passenger coaches the material used has been so green that, on being hauled, there is movement in the woodwork clearly visible to the eye.
In the case of the engines, 50 German, and 25 from the United States, I don’t have the technical expertise to give my own opinion, nor consider it proper to anticipate, in this exposition, the State Railways’ engineers’ verbal opinions which I have gathered during my journey until there is proper documentation on these. The opinion I will anticipate is that the two groups will not be thought of as similar, neither in the quality of the materials used, nor in their construction, nor even in their mechanics.
(The purchase of the FCCC and its gauge conversion)
The Chubut Railway, owned by a foreign private company, was acquired by the State Railways on 19 June 1922. The contract was ratified by a shareholders’ meeting according to a communication of 6 July, and approved by the Executive Power by a decree dated 16 August of the same year.
As the Honourable Congress, to whom this business deal had been submitted, did not deal with it in one of their ordinary sessions of that legislative period, the Administration entered into a contract to lease the railway for a year from the undertaking selling it, postponing the sale and transfer until September of this year. By virtue off this arrangement, the State Railways received the Chubut Railway with an inventory and took possession of it on 1 November 1922.
The gauge of this railway built and operated as far as Kilometre 105 [Dolavon] is 1.0 metres. It appears that the Administration did not at first consider applying the 75cm gauge to its whole length, but would leave the line as solely 1.0 m gauge from Trelew to Madryn, as indicated in their letter of October 1922 that the lines to be constructed did not include those between Trelew and Madryn.
Later, they must have had second thoughts, for when the bill presented to the Honourable Congress by the Executive Power on 21 September 1923, it indicated that the line should start from Puerto Madryn and be constructed to Colonia 16 de Octubre.
The best thing owned by this line is a beautiful steel pier whose cost was £40,000 and which is without a doubt located in a great port.
For the most part the line is constructed with steel sleepers, there is little rolling stock and that is elderly.
The total value of this purchase is $1,945,454 sealed gold, and the lease is calculated as a sum equal to 5?% of the purchase price resulting in $53,625 sealed gold per half year payable in advance. Taking into account that, in the last ten years, the net yield of working the line was, on average, $95,858.65 per year, it is evident that there is little relationship between the capital purchase price and the effective return on capital of the railway.
It is not for me to question the wisdom of this purchase, given that the Superior Government has sought the approval of the Honourable Congress, but it is indubitable that the operation of lines of 1.0m and 75cm in part of the railway, with only metre gauge between Trelew and Madryn and only 75cm from Trelew to Rawson as is done today cannot continue, and it will be necessary, if the Honourable Congress ratify the purchase, to take the 75cm line to Madryn, thus avoiding the running of trains of two gauges on superimposed tracks and the trans-shipment of goods from one gauge to another which is nowadays objected to by local businesses.
Before passing to another realted theme it should be remembered that I have hinted to Your Excellency as an interesting point for consideration: I refer to the application to the Argentine North Central Railway of some of the material which will not be needed according to the plan remitted by the Executive Power to the Honourable Congress of the Nation on 21 September 1923. In effect, the 75cm material acquired, as I have said, amounts to 1,390 kilometres of track. According to this plan, what is to be constructed from Huanu Luán to Arroyo Escudo (Kilometre 465 San Antonio to Bariloche) will be 330 kilometres, plus that from Dolavon to 16 de Octubre, making 1,080 kilometres, and adding 90 kilometres of loops and sidings, gives a total of 1,170 kilometres, which results in a surplus with no intended use of 220 kilometres.
Perhaps it would be convenient to take these rails and the corresponding locomotives and rolling stock to the National Chaco Railway which is in the middle of the cotton and maize growing area. This area is developing with an astonishing rhythm of progress. Constructed on fiscal [Government owned] lands and in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture responsible for the division and sale of these lands, feeder branches to the trunk line from Barranqueras to Avia Terai from where it continues to Quail, where it splits towards Metan should be built. It would be possible to select a point on this line from which all the branches could radiate from a single starting point. Two essential factors come together: the extreme cheapness of construction in a flat plain, without any engineering works, and with sleepers available alongside the line, and operation simplified by having only one single point of trans-shipment, with a single store and workshop and a common management.
On the last stage of my journey, from Madryn to San Antonio, I could appreciate that the fields of the Atlantic coast in the quality of the soil and the abundance and development of the pastures are indubitably superior to those of the central plateau of Patagonia which I have crossed at two distinct locations. The day will come without a doubt when they will be crossed by a railway line.
Since I came into office, I proposed to traverse the lines in operation, and the areas where new ones were proposed, in order to present to the Executive Power my personal assessment of their state, characteristics and needs. The intensive task which the organic law of the State Railways imposes directly on the Administrator, worsened by the financial situation, and the acting nature of two of the three members of the Administrative Council have prevented me until now carrying out this plan, but if your Excellency finds that this exposition is of some use to the Executive Power for your Government’s functions, I will do everything possible to complete it, giving priority in my inspection visits to those lines or areas indicated to me by Your Excellency, or those which I consider to be of most benefit from my knowing about.
May God protect Your Excellency
ENRIQUE S. PÉREZ,
The 1922 75cm gauge empire