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The Transandine Railway was a metre gauge combined rack (Abt system ) and adhesion railway which operated between 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. It is now being reconstructed. Due to the lack of concrete actions to restore this link, the most recent estimations are that the line could be restored around October, 2009. However, as of October 2007, there is no indication of any restorative work underway.
The Transandine Railway was first projected in 1854. However, the construction of the line was rather later: it was the work of Juan and Mateo Clark, Chilean brothers of British descent, who were successful entrepreneurs in Valparaiso and in 1871 had 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 Transandino 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. By 1910, when the entire line was first opened to traffic, 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, , 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 1408 km rail link between the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires with 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 .
Argentine Great Western Railway: Villa Mercedes to Mendoza .
Argentine Transandine Railway: Mendoza to the international border .
Chilean Transandine: International border to Santa Rosa de Los Andes .
Chilean State Railway: Santa Rosa de Los Andes to Valparaiso 134 km).
Passenger services from Buenos Aires to Valparaiso took about 36 hours in total, including changes of train in Mendoza and Los Andes, required because of the break-of-gauge at these points. Previously the 5630 km journey by sea from Buenos Aires to Valparaiso, around Cape Horn, had taken 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 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 state-owned company Ferrocarril General San Martin.
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, however much of an "adventure" it may have been.
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. However, progress has been limited, although travellers in April 2008 saw some activity on the Chilean side, including ballast renewal at the Aconcagua power station and labourers in action at Santa Rosa de Los Andes.
In October 2008, a road trip from Mendoza to the Chilean border at Las Cuevas showed that the line is in a very neglected state but is by no means beyond repair. The rails are still in place, at least wherever the track can be seen from the road, but in many cases there are rocks and other debris on the track. In some places there is significant avalanche debris covering the track completely. In other places recent improvements to the main road have left behind construction debris on the track. In most cases the bridges are in excellent condition, some even showing signs of a recent coat of paint, in stark contrast to the state of the track itself. At Puente de Los Incas hundreds of tourists walk across the tracks every day to view the natural bridge. If it ever reopens, this line could easily be listed as one of the most spectacular railway journeys on earth. It must be noted that the rails and associated features on the Chilean side (from the tunnel at Los Libertadores to near the Saladillo junction (above the Rio Blanco station), are in much worse condition than the infrastructure on the Argentine side of the frontier. In many places the rails have been removed, or covered by landslides. Some of the sheds to protect the trains and rails from snow and rocks are now virtually buried or otherwise unusable. In some places erosion has undermined significant sections of track.
On the Chilean side, the section between the city of Los Andes and a point above the old station of Rio Blanco continues to be used for transport of copper mining materials . At Rio Blanco there is a rail connection to the Codelco mine at Saladillo. Modern diesel-electric locomotives are used.
Over the last two to three years 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 8 member consortium of international companies has been formed to carry out the project and both governments have agreed to support it.
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. 460466.
Santiago Marin Vicuna, Los hermanos Clark, Balcells & Co., Santiago de Chile (1929), 76-260.
Central Trans-Andean Railway
List of road-rail bridges
Ficha de Proyecto
El Ferrocarril Trasandino Los Andes - Mendoza
Museo Ferrocarril Transandino
Revisiting the Transandine Railway
Se construye el tren Los Andes - Mendoza
Los Andes-Mendoza: tren trasandino se licitara en julio proximo
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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Transandine Railway