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The Transandine Railway (Spanish: Ferrocarril Trasandino) was a 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) metre gauge combined rack (Abt system) and adhesion railway which operated from Mendoza in Argentina, across the Andes mountain range via the Uspallata Pass, to Santa Rosa de Los Andes in Chile, a distance of 248 km. The railway has been out of service since 1984, and has been partly dismantled. There has been talk about restoring the railway, but there is currently no indication of any restorative work underway.
Uspallata station, c. 1900.
|Other name(s)||A16 Branch|
|Native name||Ferrocarril Trasandino|
Los Andes, Chile
|Owner||Government of Argentina
Government of Chile
|Line length||248 km (154 mi)|
|Number of tracks||Single track with passing loops|
|Track gauge||1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) metre gauge|
|Minimum radius||100 m (328.1 ft)|
|Electrification||3000 V DC Overhead line|
|Highest elevation||3,176 m (10,420 ft)|
Transandine Railway Route Diagram
The Transandine Railway was first projected in 1854, but the construction of the line came many years later. It was initiated by Juan and Mateo Clark, Chilean brothers of British descent, successful entrepreneurs in Valparaiso who in 1871 built the first telegraph service across the Andes, between Mendoza in Argentina and Santiago in Chile.
In 1874 the Chilean government granted them the concession for the construction of the rail link. Because of financial problems, their company, Ferrocarril Trasandino Clark, did not begin work on the construction in Los Andes until 1887. The section between Mendoza and Uspallata was opened on 22 February 1891 and extended to Rio Blanco on 1 May 1892, to Punta de Vacas on 17 November 1893, to Las Cuevas on 22 April 1903. On the Chilean side the section from Santa Rosa de Los Andes to Hermanos Clark was opened in 1906, and extended to Portillo in February 1908. The entire line was first opened to traffic in 1910. By then the company had been taken over by the British-owned Argentine Transandine Railway Company.
The line followed roughly the ancient route taken by travellers and mule-trains crossing the Andes between Chile and Argentina and connected the broad gauge, 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm), railway networks of the two countries, rising to a height of almost 3,200 metres at Las Cuevas where the track entered the Cumbre tunnel, about 3.2 km long, on the international border. Nine sections of rack were laid in the last 40 km of track on the Argentine approach to the tunnel, ranging from 1.2 km to 4.8 km in length, with a maximum gradient of 1 in 17 (5.88%). On the Chilean side there were seven sections of rack in just 24 km, of which one section was 16 km long with an average gradient of 1 in 13 (7.69%). Sections of the line were protected by snowsheds and tunnels.
The Transandine completed a 1,408 km (875 mi) rail link between the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires and the Chilean port of Valparaiso, and provided the first rail route linking the southern Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. This journey involved the use of services operated by the following five railway companies:
- Buenos Aires and Pacific Railway: Buenos Aires (Retiro terminus) to Villa Mercedes (1,676 mm or 5 ft 6 in gauge, 689 km or 428 mi).
- Argentine Great Western Railway: Villa Mercedes to Mendoza (1,676 mm gauge, 354 km or 220 mi).
- Argentine Transandine Railway: Mendoza to the international border Las Cuevas, Argentina (1,000 mm or 3 ft 3 3⁄8 in gauge, 159 km or 99 mi).
- Chilean Transandine: International border (Las Cuevas, Arg) to Santa Rosa de Los Andes (1,000 mm gauge, 73 km or 45 mi).
- Chilean State Railway: Santa Rosa de Los Andes to Valparaíso (1,676 mm gauge, 134 km or 83 mi).
Passenger service between Buenos Aires and Valparaiso took about 36 hours, including changes of train in Mendoza and Los Andes, required because of the break-of-gauge at these points. In comparison, the 5,630 km (3,500 mi) journey by sea between the same two points, around Cape Horn, took eleven days.
The Chilean Transandine railway was originally worked by Kitson-Meyer 0-8-6-0s rack and adhesion locomotives, two examples of which survive in Chile. The line was electrified in 1927 with Swiss-built electric locomotives.
A glacial flood in 1934 destroyed 124 km (77 mi) of the Argentine section, which was later rebuilt. When the entire Argentine railway network was nationalised in 1948, the Transandine Railway became part of the Belgrano Railway. The Mendoza-Paso de los Andes section was named "A12 branch" and the Paso de los Andes-Las Cuevas "A16".
The Transandean railway could transport only limited amounts of cargo. The original passenger wagons were made of lightweight construction to keep the dead weight to a minimum. Accidents due to derailing of the trains were not uncommon. Trains would get stuck in snowbanks and passengers would be stranded, sometimes for days. Due to the limitations on freight and passenger-carrying capacity, and later due to competition from motor vehicle transport, along with the dangers and relative discomfort as well as slow movement of the trains, the Transandine railway was never a commercial success.
During tensions between Chile and Argentina in 1977–78, all international railway use of the Transandine Railway was suspended. Fearing an invasion from Argentina that could take advantage of the railway, the Chilean military prepared to destroy key sections of the Transandine. However, road traffic including buses, automobiles, and similar vehicles was conducted through the railway's "Cumbre" tunnel: since the railway tunnel was not wide enough for two-way vehicle transit, groups of vehicles were controlled and ran alternately from the Chilean and Argentine sides of the tunnel. With the relative normalization of relations between the two countries, railway passenger service through the tunnel was resumed for a short period ending in 1979. The last freight train using the tunnel was in 1984.
In 2006, both the Argentine and Chilean governments agreed to refurbish the railway and make it functional by the year 2010, at an estimated total cost of US$460 million.
On the Chilean side, the section between the town of Los Andes and a point above the old station of Río Blanco continues to be used for transport of copper mining materials (acids, copper, copper concentrates). At Río Blanco there is a rail connection to the Codelco mine at Saladillo. Modern diesel-electric locomotives are used.
Recently, momentum has been growing with a project to build a low level rail tunnel through the Andes between Argentina and Chile. It is estimated that the construction will cost some US$3 billion, and when built that the railway will carry some 80% of the freight between Argentina, Brazil and Chile. An eight-member consortium of international companies has been formed to carry out the project and both governments have agreed to support it. However, such plans and agreements have taken place periodically during much of the time since the 1984 closure of the rail line, and have "never gotten off the drawing board." With the exception of maintenance of the short rail section from Mendoza to Saladillo, the traces of the old Transandine railroad continue to decay and disappear.
- H. R.Stones, British Railways in Argentina 1860-1948, P.E.Waters & Associates, Bromley, Kent, England (1993).
- W. S. Barclay, The First Transandine Railway, Geographical Journal, Vol.36, No.5, 553-562 (1910).
- H. R. Stones, International Rail Routes Over the Andes, Railway Magazine, Vol.105, No.699, July 1959, pp. 460–466.
- Santiago Marín Vicuña, Los hermanos Clark, Balcells & Co., Santiago de Chile (1929), 76-260.
- Cole, Beverly (2011). Trains. Potsdam, Germany: H.F.Ullmann. ISBN 978-3-8480-0516-1.
- Cole, p.116
- Wade-Matthews, Max (1999). The World's Great Railway Journeys. Anness Publishing Inc. ISBN 1-84038-480-8.
- * Furlong, Charles Wellington (October 1910). "South America's First Transcontinental: A Journal Over The Line Of The First Railroad To Pierce The Andes". The World's Work: A History of Our Time. XX: 13535–13554. Retrieved 2009-07-10. Includes many c. 1910 photos of the route.
- "TRANS-ANDINE RAILWAY". The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 - 1950). Perth, WA: National Library of Australia. 30 November 1909. p. 6. Retrieved 23 March 2013.
- En julio se licitará tren Los Andes - Mendoza accessdate=2008-01-16 (in Spanish)