The Southern Transandine; part of Chapter 55 in William Rögind's book.
THE SOUTHERN TRANSANDINE RAILWAY VIA LONQUIMAY
In 1902 the National Government arranged for the construction of a railway which was to link the town of Neuquen with the encampment of Las Lajas. This proposal was abandoned because the Undertaking of the Southern Railway declared that it was disposed to extend its line to the Chilean frontier passing through Las Lajas. On the presentation of a request by Messrs Sigifredo Nathan Co, seeking a concession for the same line to Chile, the proposal of the Southern Railway was preferentially submitted to the Senate in August 1906. This concession was granted along with other concessions in the Province of Buenos Aires.
This presentation lead to Law Nº 5535 of 25 June 1908, whose article 3 established a priority for the construction of the line to Chile, which was to form part of the first 900 kilometres to be completed within three years of the start of work.
In this law it indicated the the crossing of the Cordillera was to be via the Pino Hachado or Lonquimay passes, after having passed through the vicinity of Las Lajas and Codigüé.
Later on, the same undertaking petitioned Congress for an alteration in the points specified for the crossing of the Cordillera. This was authorised by Law Nô 6378, which left the crossing point unspecified other than it was to be between the 38th and 40th parallels.
Based on this new concession, the undertaking undertook studies for the new line, presenting a line some 340 kilometres long between Neuquen and the international frontier for government approval. According to the proposal, which had been very thoroughly investigated, the line leaving Zapala was to pass through Las Lajas, then following the valley of the Haicol river to reach the line of the high peaks, crossing the Cordillera by the Mallín Chileno pass.
A short time afterwards the Southern Railway started construction at Neuquen, the then railhead. The impossibility of raising further capital which would allow them to continue to carry out the works obliged them to suspend the work at Zapala, that is when they were only 115 kilometres from reaching the international frontier. As the works were not being progressed, this part of the concession was revoked.
The length which Chile had to construct from Curacautín to the frontier to join the new International Railway was some 110 kilometres long.
Now the Argentine governmental railway administration took responsibility for this line. It was decided to investigate a new route in an attempt to improve on the one selected by the Southern Railway, above all in respect of the ruling gradient and to reduce the height of the summit.
The commission designated for this task, stated their work in the autumn of 1922.
This same year the Argentine minister in Chile undertook a journey to Buenos Aires and drew up the terms of the proposed agreement with Chile.
Dr Noel dealt with it personally with the successful result which we will see in a moment. Then the Government of Chile, inspired with a worthy sentiment of cofraternity and international reciprocity, in perfect harmony with Argentine thinking, signed the agreement with minor modifications which clarified and complemented some of the terms.
Here is the text of the first clause of the signed agreement:
"The Governments of the Argentine Republic and the Republic of Chile have reciprocally resolved on the construction of two railway lines joining the two countries without trans-shipment: first, in the north, the Argentine city of Salta with the Chilean port of Antofagasta# and second, in the South, the Argentine port of Bahia Blanca, by the extension of the Southern Railway at Zapala (Argentina) to a junction with the southern Chilean network. The two lines could come into service within three years of the date of this agreement. They believe that the time has come to define norms which define and orientate inter-ocean policies."
# Note for non-Argentine readers: This line is the well-known Ramal C14 which still functions as the world's third highest summit. Passengers can enjoy the delights of part of it travelling from Salta on the Tren a las Nubes. This line is operated by adhesion with a ruling gradient of 1 in 40 (2.5%) and a minimum radius of curve of about 6 chains (120 metres).
The agreement is known as the Noel-Barros Jarpa agreement.
This Southern Transandean line will cost no more than 10% according to the estimates of the cost of the railway to Huaytiquina and less than half of the expense required for the line from Tucuman to Catamarca. It is then a work of moderate cost, brought about by the low height of its summit, 1,200 metres above sea level, while that at Mendoza reaches 3,200 and that at Huaytiquina 4,000. It will also avoid the disruption caused by snow.
On the Chilean side this railway will pass through a wood and coal producing area, as well as one of the richest agricultural regions of Chile. On the Argentine side, there is the exportation of livestock on foot (which today is an important trade). The Territories of Neuquen and Rio Negro, which are showing signs of their enormous agricultural richness, will be opened up.
And other great benefits will accrue from the construction of this line, such as tourism to the beautiful regions of the Cordillera near Pino Hachado. Access to the famous hot springs of Copahues will be made more easy.
The Noel-Barros Jarra protocol appeared to be destined for a swift and happy outcome, but what is certain is that many years have passed, and despite the diligence with which Chile has sought to have it ratified, our country¢s parliament, continues to delay its formal sanctioning.
According to the preliminary studies made on the section between Zapala and Curacautn, the present-day terminus on each side of the Cordillera, the lack of appreciable engineering difficulties has been established in respect of the complementary works. The largest work will be a tunnel some 1,000 metres long. The summit will be 1,100 metres above sea level and, as a consequence, it will be open to traffic throughout all the seasons of the year. The gauge specified is the same as that of the Southern Railway in Argentina and that of the Chilean State Railway.
Bearing in mind the continuity of gauge and the absence of a rack, there will not be the inconveniences to international trade with the neighbouring republic as is the case with the Transandine Railway at Juncal, quite apart from the great inconveniences caused by snow. The protagonists affirm that the journey from Santiago de Chile to Buenos Aires via Zapala and Bahia Blanca will take 44 hours and that the cost will be the same as that for the present-day journey with all its inconveniences.
The BAGSR's route to Neuquén