National Flag of Argentina
Argentina & Chile
Bi-Oceanic, Trans-Patagonic,
Río Turbio – Puerto Natales Railway Project
National Flag of Chile

Railway Extension Across the Andes
Reactivation and Modernisation of Existing fleet of
75cm gauge 2-10-2 steam locomotives

Official Press Release – August 2006

Summary:

Formal agreement, at Argentine and Chilean National Government level, has now been reached following a series of official meetings between both countries on the extension of the former Ramal Ferro Industriàl de Río Turbio (RFIRT) 75cm gauge system across the southern Andes from Argentina into Chile. A special Bi–National Railway Transport Commission was set up during August 2005 so as to deal with all political, legal, technical and financial aspects of the project. The extension will run from the Argentine Patagonian mining town of Río Turbio to the Chilean port of Puerto Bories and will be linked to the provincial capital town of Puerto Natales by a 5 km metre gauge steam operated rail passenger system. When complete the line will link the South Atlantic to the South Pacific forming a Bi-Oceanic, Trans-Patagonic and Trans-Continental rail transport corridor for passenger and freight services.

One of the route options considered. The nature of the terrain can be easily judged! Courtesy Municipality of Puerto Natales

One of the route options considered. The nature of the terrain can be easily judged! Courtesy Municipality of Puerto Natales

Motive power for this transport corridor will be reciprocating steam locomotives modernised to 21st century mechanical and thermodynamic standards under the direction of Ing. Shaun McMahon. He is applying and further developing the theories, practices and philosophy of the late Ing. L.D. Porta who previously modified the same Mitsubishi built 2-10-2 locomotives in the late 1950s. When completed these locomotives will be the most modern reciprocating steam locomotives in the world. The prototype ‘Advanced Santa Fe’ type is due to appear in 2007.

Locomotive 107 (masquerading as 116) at Río Turbio depot. This type of machine will form the basis of the 'Advanced Santa Fe' type.

Locomotive 107 (masquerading as 116) at Río Turbio depot. This type of machine will form the basis of the 'Advanced Santa Fe' type.


Details:

Background:

Since mid 2003 efforts have been concentrated on the regeneration of the Argentine coal mining town of Río Turbio and surrounding area. In addition to the regeneration of the coal mines and the supporting railway, RFIRT, from Río Turbio to Punta Loyola (Río Gallegos until 1997 when a new port was opened to the south) there is a strong emphasis on promoting tourism in this beautiful part of the world.

A full description of the work being carried out and planned for the future can be found in ‘Locomotives International’ magazine issue 73, pages 28 to 30 and issue 74, pages 2 to 8. The editor, Mr Paul Catchpole, can be contacted at: or on 01208 851 907 for copies of these articles.

Location Map

The town of Río Turbio is in the southern Argentine province of Santa Cruz. Río Turbio is approximately 1350 miles (2170 kilometres) south west of the capital city of Buenos Aires.

The towns of Puerto Bories and Puerto Natales are in the southern Chilean province of the Ùltima Esperanza (12th Region of Chile). Puerto Natales is 1265 miles (2035 kilometres) south of the capital city Santiago de Chile.

The railway gauge is 75cm. The locomotives are 20 Mitsubishi built 2-10-2s manufactured by the Japanese company in two batches of 10 in 1956 and 1963 (delivered in 1964). Whilst two of the first batch of locomotives were modified on site at Rio Gallegos, the second batch incorporated modifications above and beyond those incorporated into the two modified machines. Ing. L.D. Porta was responsible for designing and incorporating such work into the first and second batches of locomotives. Despite the relatively narrow gauge these machines were able to maintain over 1300 dbhp (969kW) and regularly hauled 2000 ton trains following Porta’s improvement work.

Regular use of steam ended in 1995 with the arrival of 5 East European diesels. Steam was finally withdrawn in 1997. 11 engines remain stored at Río Turbio awaiting further use whilst the remaining 9 are dumped at Río Gallegos and are generally considered to be life expired.

Further information and background can be found at:
http://www.martynbane.co.uk/modernsteam/ldp/rfirt/santafes.htm
http://www.trainweb.org/tusp/index.html
http://railwaysofthefarsouth.co.uk/

The old station at Rio Turbio has seen better days but will soon be serving trains again.
The old station at Rio Turbio has seen better days but will soon be serving trains again.

Railway Extension Details:

The Argentine part of the Bi–National Railway Transport Commission setup to oversee the extension planning includes the National Secretary of Transport (Railways) - Ing. Julio Tito Montaña, Director of National Rail Projects - Ing. Anibal Angostineli, the Río Turbio / Puerto Natales Railway Project Director - Ing. Shaun McMahon, the Financial Coordinator & Controller of the National Ministry of Federal Public Planning and Infrastructure - Dr. Rafael Llorens, Mayor of Rio Turbio - Don. Horacio Matias Mazu, Sub Secretary of Provincial Planning Santa Cruz - Ing. Gustavo Martinez, Municipality of Rio Turbio - Ing. Jose Luis Perez whilst the Chilean part of the Commission includes the Director of National Railways (EFE) - Ing. Danilo Nuñez Izquierdo and the Governor of the Province of the Ùltima Esperanza (12th Region of Chile) - Doňa Maria Isabel Sanchez Lòpez, Municipality of Puerto Natales - Lic. Pablo Vidal Leal, Director of National Rail Projects - Ing. Sonia Claudet Urbina. In addition the Mayor of Puerto Natales Don Mario Margoni Gadler has played a very important role in securing the future of the project.

Chilean and  Argentine members of the Bi-National Railway Transport Commission in Santiago de Chile. 21 April 2006. Courtesy of Pablo Vidal Leal
Chilean and Argentine members of the Bi-National Railway Transport Commission in Santiago de Chile. 21 April 2006. Courtesy of Pablo Vidal Leal

The 50-65km RFIRT extension from Río Turbio across the Andes to the Chilean port of Puerto Bories (and onward by connection to Puerto Natales) is agreed in principle at national government level of both neighbouring countries.

One of the several routes possible for the extension is highlighted in red. Courtesy Municipality of Río Turbio.

Presidencia de la nacion Argentina

Presidencia de la Republica de Chile

This is a very serious bi-national project with national government funding in place for final engineering, operating, financial, institutional and legal studies along with precise route choice. Initial agreement was reached on 24/11/05 with final agreement and acceptance on 21/04/06, following a short hiatus during the Chilean general elections of March 2006. A meeting between Argentine President Dr. Nestor Kirchner and Chilean President Doña Michelle Bachelet, on 21/03/06, confirmed at the highest possible level the project to be extremely important to both countries.

Chilean President Doña Michelle Bachelet and Argentine President Dr. Nestor Kirchner, with others, celebrate agreement inside the famous Casa Rosada, Buenos Aires. 21 March 2006
Chilean President Doña Michelle Bachelet and Argentine President Dr. Nestor Kirchner, with others, celebrate agreement inside the famous Casa Rosada, Buenos Aires. 21 March 2006

The Chilean (left) and Argentine (right) members of the Bi-National Railway Transport Commission in Santiago de Chile. 21 April 2006. Courtesy of Municipality of Puerto Natales
The Chilean (left) and Argentine (right) members of the Bi-National Railway Transport Commission in Santiago de Chile. 21 April 2006. Courtesy of Municipality of Puerto Natales
Members of the Bi-National Commission at work. This meeting dealt with issues surrounding the terms of reference for the public tender. May 2006
Members of the Bi-National Commission at work. This meeting dealt with issues surrounding the terms of reference for the public tender. May 2006

On 21/04/06 in Santiago de Chile (Chilean capital) a meeting was held of the Bi-National Commission dealing with this work. Chile formally accepted the Argentine offer to contract out and pay for final, detailed, studies on the route extension. 45 days were given to complete the technical terms of reference.  This meeting at national level was followed by other regional meetings in the province of Santa Cruz (Argentina) and the Ùltima Esperanza (12th Region of Chile) in May 2006. On 29/05/06 in the Chilean town of Puerto Natales the regions signed a ‘Declaration of Acceptance’ later confirmed at national ministerial level in Río Turbio on 15/06/06. These meetings effectively ‘sealed’ the agreement to build the extension. Work on these final studies is to go to public tender during August 2006, with a planned completion date of December 2006. Construction work is due to commence in March 2007.

Puerto Natales - 29 May 2006. The Governor of the Ùltima Esperanza (left) and Mayor of Rio Turbio (right) sign the historic Declaration of Acceptance. Courtesy of Municipality of Puerto Natales.
Puerto Natales - 29 May 2006. The Governor of the Ùltima Esperanza (left) and Mayor of Rio Turbio (right) sign the historic Declaration of Acceptance. Courtesy of Municipality of Puerto Natales

Due to the fact that Puerto Bories is registered as a Chilean National Monument, an industrial port terminal is being planned to the south of Puerto Natales in order to handle general freight and coal rail/sea transportation needs. Rail/sea passenger transportation (cruise liners) requirements will be dealt with by an upgrade of the present Puerto Bories sea terminal along with a slightly widening/deepening of the fiord coastline so as to allow easy access for large ocean going liners such as the Queen Mary II.

It is important to remember this extension is not only aimed at improving regional transport links but it is also intended to boost tourism in the area. Tourism is already a major industry in southern Patagonia on both sides of the border. Skiing is one thing on offer at Rio Turbio.
It is important to remember this extension is not only aimed at improving regional transport links but it is also intended to boost tourism in the area. Tourism is already a major industry in southern Patagonia on both sides of the border. Skiing is one thing on offer at Rio Turbio.

Some idea of the terrain to be crossed can be gained from the following selection of photographs:

The Andes

The Andes

Lago Dorotea

To celebrate the sealing of the agreement a journey along the approximate route of the extension was undertaken in May 2006. Border formalities were undertaken at the border point 'in the middle of nowhere'. The whole day was very important symbolically and at many other levels.
To celebrate the sealing of the agreement a journey along the approximate route of the extension was undertaken in May 2006. Border formalities were undertaken at the border point 'in the middle of nowhere'. The whole day was very important symbolically and at many other levels.

Motive Power Details:

In the face of the current energy crisis (fuel oil rationing is already a reality in the Argentine province of Santa Cruz) it has been decided future policy will be directed towards the rational use of energy. Río Turbio is a town with vast reserves of coal but no oil, thus it is seen that the use of coal for all types of transport, power generation, building material manufacture, domestic heating in isolated parts of the region etc. is the sensible option in this early part of the 21st century. In connection with this work, there is a plan in place to return to service up to 11 stored, Mitsubishi built, 75cm gauge 2-10-2s. These machines, already famous for the modernisation undertaken by Ing. L.D.Porta between 1957-1960, are to be brought up to 21st century levels of efficiency, reliability and environmental friendliness. This work is under the direction of Ing. Shaun McMahon who, for many years, worked directly with Ing. Porta on numerous projects.

Locos 116 and, err, 116 back to back at Rio Turbio. As part of the project it is seen as very important to give everyone involved a feel for every aspect of the project. Here we see a prospective trainee fireman checking out the tender! In reality this young lady is the National Secretary for Tourism - Chile.
Locos 116 and, err, 116 back to back at Rio Turbio. As part of the project it is seen as very important to give everyone involved a feel for every aspect of the project. Here we see a prospective trainee fireman checking out the tender! In reality this young lady is the National Secretary for Tourism - Chile.

The locomotive reactivation plan is thus:

By late 2006/early 2007 it is planned that all currently available passenger carrying vehicles will have had full mechanical and body overhauls.

Carriages under refurbishment and overhaul in 2005
Carriages under refurbishment and overhaul in 2005 (above) and 2006 (below).
Carriages under refurbishment and overhaul in 2006
The Mayor of Peurto Natales is a very strong supporter of the project. Here Shaun McMahon (right) talks to the Mayor Don Mario Margoni Gadler about the requirements for the carriages. April 2006
The Mayor of Peurto Natales is a very strong supporter of the project. Here Shaun McMahon (right) talks to the Mayor Don Mario Margoni Gadler about the requirements for the carriages. April 2006

All uncredited images courtesy of Shaun McMahon, 2006. © Remains with the photographers and artists.

The text on this webpage can be reproduced in full or part free of charge provided credit is given to Martyn Bane and Shaun McMahon. Please contact for use of photographs.

Martyn Bane, on behalf of Shaun McMahon, Project Director (Engineering, Operating, Planning, Financial, Diplomatic & Legal Affairs) Bi-Oceanic Trans-Patagonic Río Turbio – Puerto Natales Railway. August 15th  2006

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