of the Many Races There Were
(in colloquial railway language)
By Ing. L.D.Porta
Notes: What follows is a translation of an article written by L.D.Porta for issue 21 of the Argentine magazine Ferroclub.
The article has been added to following translation to assist those unfamiliar with the railways in question. Such additions are contained within [ ]. All the action happened on the 5'6" gauge Ferrocarril General Roca suburban rail network (formerly the Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway.)
Many thanks to Shaun McMahon for putting me on to this article in the first place, Christine Fox for the translation and additional information complemented by Alexis Boichetta, now retired General Manager of RFIRT, who supplied the very useful map shown below.
It was 1955. One day we left Lanus heading for Plaza [the railway terminal at Plaza de la Constitución in downtown Buenos Aires] with a train of six coaches that had come from La Plata [about 60km from Buenos Aires] via Temperley [the main yard in Buenos Aires on the FCGR], when driver Ferrari (of depot Km.1) passed us doing at least 80km/h (50mph) with a fast train from Tandil [a couple of hundred kms south east of Buenos Aires.] His locomotive was a "Pájaro" [a "bird"] (also known as the "39-er girls") [Class 39xx] with seven or eight coaches, I think.
Ferrari nonchalantly greeted us with an air of superiority as he passed. I suggested to driver Raúl Minini (of Tolosa depot) "Shall we race him?" It was well known that those from Tolosa and those from Km.1 always goaded each other. So we raced him. We gave it all we had, which for 3477 with her 1400 drawbar horsepower, was like pulling not six coaches but rather six matchboxes. Little by little we were gaining on them. By Gerli [6.5km from Plaza de la Constitución] Ferrari had realised that we were racing him, leaning out and looking back over the profile of the Pájaro (I think it was 3957) whenever he remembered, with a column of smoke at least 3 metres tall, of course. Little by little we got closer, and finally we passed him as if he were a lamp post on Avellaneda [station]. Rodríguez, the inspector, checked the time. A little less than six minutes from Lanus to Plaza de la Constitución, including pulling away and slowing down [9km section.] I reckon we were doing over 120km/h (74.5mph) when we passed Avellaneda [3.8km from Plaza de la Constitución.]
Class 8C 3477 at Tolosa 1969 waiting for the scrap man. Note the circular vessel above the cylinder fitted where the snifting valve would have been to augment the volume of the steam chest. Initially several 8Cs were given a light rebuilding. 3477 was the only 8C to be given more extensive modifications. © Richard Campbell
In 1952, 3485 was the first of 11 Class 8C locomotives to receive a basic modernisation consisting of:
After one of the first trips to Río Santiago [about 8 km from La Plata], it was decided to put her in service to Plaza de la Constitución. Coincidentally, the train was the one known as the "Pipinas" because it was formed of the combined load from Las Pipinas and La Plata. I think it left La Plata at getting on for 7p.m. To the regular formation of eight coaches three from Las Pipinas had been added, making a total of eleven coaches. The "Pipinas" was always considered one heck of a train due to that excessive tonnage over and above the normal.
When the blond engine-driver Lorenzón came along, he said nothing but I saw that he shook his head; his regular engine was a good 35-er, 3552, which "if you took a stick to her she would get going." We left, and at City Bell [9.6km out of La Plata] we were stopped by the advanced home signal. A nasty spot, because there's a tricky cutting there. But the engine came through well, with Lorenzón's approval. "A good sign!" he said, since that would mean we were catching up with the "tin train" (the Drewry coaches) that ran from La Plata to Berazategui. Our train was stopped again at the advanced starting signal at Pereyra, an unmistakable sign that we were "going well". It must be noted that the sounds of a 34 were different from those of a 35 and consequently it was harder to tell the speeds being achieved.
We stopped for water at Quilmes, which added an extra two minutes. And so we continued. Now for the good bit: coming out of Avellaneda we were alongside 3557 that was running on the east line with eight coaches. "Don't ease up!" I said to Lorenzón. And we went for it.
Driver Zillicken, on 3557, realised that we were racing him. And he gave his engine all he had too. And so there we were, the two engines neck and neck, until Hipólito Yrigoyen [2.8km from Plaza de la Constitución], where we had to stop. Lorenzón and I looked at each other: those from Escalada always had good engines, better kept than those of Tolosa. 3557 was one of the "high numbers", with an additional row of superheater elements. They had eight coaches and we had eleven. They had an engine with a boiler pressure of 200psi against ours of (nominally) 160psi. They had THREE CYLINDERS against our two!! And 3557 still had fresh paint which indicated that it wasn't so long since she had left the workshop, whereas 3485 was "clapped out", badly in need of a general overhaul; but she had been modified.
Livio Dante Porta beside one of the modified Class 35s. © La Vie du Rail.
Readers may draw their own conclusions. We were producing 34.5% more power with less boiler pressure, two instead of three cylinders, and a worn out engine against a "new" one.
Once we had arrived at Plaza, Zillicken asked me to take his engine for modernisation as soon as possible. When we did it two months later, he went around as happy as a kid with new shoes.
3477 could quite possibly have performed the services of the electric trains from Glew to Ezeiza with five instead of six coaches. Although the power:weight ratio would have been less, the faster braking speed with the vacuum brakes would have been three or four seconds less, except for the possibility of using sand in the case of dubious adhesion (as in Germany). Moreover the closing of the doors added one second more delay to leaving. What's more, on long hauls the average and maximum speeds would have been faster.
If you don't believe me write to me and you can come and tell me why.
Ing. Livio Dante Porta
e-mail: translations at traduzcaike dot com
Additional reference: "Steam Locomotive Development in Argentina - Its Contribution to the Future of Railway Technology in the Under-Developed Counties" by L.D.Porta - I.MECH.E Paper No.721, 7th March 1969.