just found a nice report under http://mikes.railhistory.railfan.net/r022.htm
The Railways of the Andes
Climbing Though the Clouds in South America
No railway journey in the world could present more astonishing contrasts than that which takes the traveler across the South American continent from Buenos Aires to Valparaiso. For hundreds of miles over the rolling pampas of Argentina not a single hill is seen - nothing but waving grain and luxuriant pasture as far as the eye can reach. So little difficulty has railway building given to the engineers that for 175 miles - from Vedia to Mackenna - the rails of the Buenos Aires and Pacific main line run dead straight and practically dead level.
Gradually, however, the line is rising, although at Mackenna, 236 miles out of the Argentine capital, the level attained is only 774 ft. above the sea. The great plain, green and brown in colour, stretches away to the horizon. Clusters of trees round the estancias, or farms, and herds of cattle, driven by swarthy gauchos, are the only relief to the monotony of the scenery.
The rise of the line begins slowly to grow more perceptible, but as yet giving no hint as to what lies ahead. On reaching Villa Mercedes, 428 miles from the capital, the train has risen to 1,683 ft. above the sea. In the province of San Luis, immediately beyond, hills begin to appear. But not until we approaching Mendoza do we notice that far off to the west there is rising, as it seems, sheer out of the plain the vast mountain barrier that runs the whole length of the South American continent, the great chain of the Andes.
Well may so immense an obstacle as to have held up the railway builders who desired to link up the railway systems of Argentina and Chile. For many years there had existed a rough trail, following the bends of the Mendoza River though winding valleys and rocky gorges, fording turbulent glacier fed streams, over the wind-swept pas of Cumbre, and down the gorge of the Aconcagua River, along the brink of dizzy precipices, under overhanging cliffs, zigzagging sharply downwards, until at length the Pacific coast was reached. This trail led over a summit of more than 13,000 ft. above sea level. How could a railway ever hope to achieve the same feat?
But better communication became imperative. The fertile country round Mendoza - one huge vineyard which annually makes 4,000,000 barrels of wine - needed an out let to the Pacific coast, but little over 200 miles away, as compared with 650 miles to the Atlantic. The track over the Andes was improved, and post services were organized which by the 1880's had brought Mendoza within four days of Valparaiso, But they were still four days of hard travel, part of the way in coaches, and the remainder, over the 13,000 ft. summit on the back of a mule, with primitive and inadequate rest-houses at the end of each stage where the nights had to be spent.
As far back as 1854 railway communication had been proposed by a man named Wheelwright, who had been responsible for building the first railway in South America, between the towns of Caldera and Copiapo, in Chile. But he was regarded as a visionary, and no interest was taken in his idea. In 1869 the brothers Clark, who had conducted a survey for an international telegraph line between Argentina and Chile, also became convinced that their route by way of Juncal and Uspallata could be made to serve railway purposes. So they decided, in 1872, to submit a scheme to the two Governments, and were successful. Argentina granted the necessary concession in 1873 and Chile in 1874
Owing to financial difficulties - construction through such country was bound to be extremely costly - it was a long time before work began. Not until 1887 did the engineers get to work on the Argentine side, and two years later on the Chilian; the first 17 miles on the Chilian side were opened for traffic in 1893. Then followed a complete suspension of work The total length of line to be built, to connect the Buenos Aires and Pacific Railway at Mendoza with the Chilian State Railways at Los Andes, was 154 miles.
At last, in 1896, a new company was formed in London, called the Transandine Construction Company, and a concession was obtained from the Chilian Government to purchase the section of line already built, and to carry the remainder through to completion. The rail head advanced rapidly; the section from Los Andes up to Juncal was opened for traffic in 1906, the next stretch up to Portillo in 1908. A tunnel was bored through the crest of the Cumbre ridge, 2,600 ft. below the pass, but 10,450 ft. above sea level and just under two miles long. Then the Chilian and Argentine sections were linked, and the Transandine Railway, a triumph of railway engineering, was opened throughout, its length.
The international train leaving Antofagaster
It is not so much the height attained on the journey that makes the Transandine Railway remarkable; ten thousand feet up is remarkable enough, but, further to the north, in Peru and Bolivia, railways pursue their lengthy courses at well above that figure, and at least five railway summits exceed the 15,000 ft. mark. The outstanding feature of the engineering of the Transandine line is the extreme rapidity with which the summit level is attained.
At Mendoza it is necessary to change trains. The Buenos Aires and Pacific Railway has brought us across Argentina in the spacious rolling-stock possible on the wide Argentine gauge of 5 ft. 6 in. For the transit of the Andes the gauge has been reduced to three-fifths of that figure - a gauge of one metre. Notwithstanding this limitation, and the arduous grades to be surmounted, the Transandine Railway authorities provide a wonderfully comfortable deluxe train of six coaches - three of them saloon cars with long observation windows, and furnished with armchairs, a restaurant car, a kitchen car, and a baggage car.
A powerful tank locomotive is at the head of the train. It is equipped for rack-and-pinion working, as well as ordinary propulsion by adhesion - a sign of the severity of the inclinations over which the train is to pass before the summit level has been surmounted.
Leaving Mendoza, the train makes directly for the foothills of the Andes, and passes for twelve miles through the fertile Mendoza valley. This fertility seems strange at first, because the country on this side of the Andes is practically rainless. But the melted waters of glaciers come pouring down the Mendoza river, and careful irrigation on an extensive scale is responsible for this verdure.
A Glacier Bursts
This garden at the foot of the Andes is itself 2,470 ft. above sea-level. The leaves and fruit of the vineyards are a delight to the eye which will be remembered when the train has climbed to the barren heights.
Directly the railway finds the gorge in the mountain wall by which it is to penetrate deep into the heart of the range, the verdure is left behind. Little except bare rock will be seen for many miles, save where it is overlaid, at the higher altitudes, with snow and ice, and the occasional appearance of scrub and stunted trees on the lower mountain slopes Yet the scenery is one of constantly increasing magnificence, in which distance and the dignity of the great peaks play their part equally.
At Cacheuta, twenty-three miles from Mendoza, the line has already climbed 1,600 ft. Here are thermal and sulphur springs, and a fine hotel which, in common with the railway, suffered from some most unwelcome attentions by Nature in the early part of 1934. High up in an inaccessible and almost unknown valley of the Andes - the facts were verified by a reconnaissance from the air afterwards - a great glacier burst, and made a huge dam across the valley, behind which there accumulated an immense lake. At length the pressure of the water on the wall of ice became greater than this natural dam could hold back. Bursting, it let loose a terrific wall of water which rushed into the gorge of the Mendoza river, where the torrent carried all before it.
Volcano and Earthquake
Miles of the railway were wiped out. Massive steel bridges were wrenched from their bed-plates and carried away like corks, in some cases to be deposited a mile or more from their original locations. The hotel and baths of Cacheuta were similarly overwhelmed. Months elapsed before the railway could once again carry the trains; over certain sections complete reconstruction was necessary. There are times, too, when earthquake and fire as well as flood trouble the railway in this part of the world. Active volcanoes are found in the main chain of the Andes not far away from the route; and the liability to disastrous earthquakes down the whole length of the narrow strip of country between the Andes and the Pacific coast is well known.
The journey arouses all the sensations associated with the conquering of an untamed world. Upwards and onwards the train travels, crossing and recrossing the Mendoza so as to negotiate the turns and twists of the valley among the mountains.
Thirty-three miles from Cacheuta we come out into the broad plain of Uspallata, set in the heart of the mountains 5,630 ft. above the sea. To the west rises the mountain barrier, ever increasing in height, snow-capped and cloud-wreathed. Nature's disintegrating work is seen in the vast slopes of detritus at the foot of every mountain slope; there is no vegetation to affect this constant process of erosion, or to cover up its results.
Still the railway climbs steadily. The maximum gradient on the adhesion section is limited to 1 in 40, but that is quite steep enough for our panting locomotive. The line twists and turns, arduously, cautiously. Suddenly there appears ahead a rock strewn ridge, apparently barring the way; but the engineers have found a path. Crossing the abyss, high above the rushing waters of the river, and utilizing a ledge blasted out on the side of the gorge, they have laid their track under the very nose of the obstacle. The ledge widens and the climb to Las Vacas has been achieved.
At length the greatest giants of the Andes come into view. It is from Las Vacas, up a lateral valley, that we catch sight of Tupungato, rearing its snowy head to a height of 21,55 ft.; and just beyond Puente del Inca there comes into view the greatest of all the mountains in the Western Hemisphere, Aconcagua, whose proud summit, 23,080 ft. above the level of the sea, falls short of Everest by only a little over six thousand feet.
At Puente del Inca Nature also has some engineering work of note to display. This is the bridge, or puente, from which the railway station takes its name. A natural and not an artificial wonder, this arch of stone clears the gorge of the Cuevas with a span of 70 ft. and a width of 90 ft., 65 ft. in height above the water. The level of the railway, at exactly one hundred miles from Mendoza, has now risen to 8,915 ft. above the sea.
Steeper climbing lies ahead, and the steel track now appears intermittently between the ordinary running rails, for the making of the steeper ascents. Leaving Puente del Inca, the train mounts the Paramillo de los Horcones, the Paramillo itself being the moraine of an immense glacier that existed in prehistoric times. Swinging across the Horcones river by a fine steel bridge, the track enters the narrow gorge of the Cuevas, where rack-and-pinion working is more continuous. At its steepest the gradient increases to 1 in 16. So we are brought up to Las Cuevas, 108 miles from Mendoza, and 10,338 ft. in altitude. The arduous labours of the locomotive are at an end. In this distance of just over a hundred miles it has lifted our train through a difference in level of just under 8,000 ft.
The mountains now close in ahead of the line, higher than ever. Steeply up from Las Cuevas rises the old post track, now a motor road, finding the lowest possible level for crossing the crest of the ridge at the Cumbre Pass, 12,796 ft. above the sea. Here is found the boundary between Argentina and Chile, with the great bronze figure of Christ and below it the inscription: "Sooner shall these mountains crumble into dust than the people of Argentina and Chile break the peace which they have sworn to maintain at the feet of Christ the Redeemer."
But the railway traveler sees nothing of this unique boundary post, except a distant peep, right on the skyline, from the western end of the tunnel. For his train is thousands of feet below, in the heart of the rock, being carried through from one watershed to the other by the Cumbre Tunnel, which is but 90 yards short of two miles long. The crossing of the frontier is, however, made audible by the clanging of the bell which the train passes in the middle of the tunnel.
Zigzagging to gain height, the Central
Railway of Puru - Rimac Gorge
It was Koebel, in his book, "Modern Argentina," who was so impressed with the wonder of this journey that be wrote, on reaching the summit level, " All this while - shades of the Conquistadors! - one has watched this stupendous scene, the greater part of which has never known the foot of man, from the depths of an easy chair! One has gazed on the tormented river, over five or six courses of a meal, and has peered downwards into the yawning gorges through the comfortable vapour of coffee steam and cigar smoke."
We emerge from the tunnel on the Chilian side at Caracoles. Ahead of us the valley drops profoundly, and we see wide sweeps of the line far below, over which presently we shall be traveling. The greatest difficulties were experienced in the engineering of the next section of the line westwards, owing to the fact that the Pacific slope of the Andes is so much steeper than the eastern slope. In no more than forty-four miles, from Caracoles to Los Andes, the line must descend 7,615 ft., down the gorge of the Aconcagua river. Between Caracoles and Portillo is some of the grandest rock scenery in the world, and on this side of the Andes diversified by vegetation, growing more and more luxuriant as we descend.
Among the snow-capped peaks, the
Central Railway of Puru
The railway line curves and twists on itself, by means of some remarkable spiral location work. Rack-and-pinion is freely used, and at as steep an inclination as 1 in 12ï¿½, one stretch of which is nearly a mile in length; 1 in 40 is again the ruling gradient, but in much longer continuous sections; while the tunnels on the Chilian side add up to a total length of 4,600 metres, which is nearly twice the length of tunneling on the Argentinian side. In 1922, to provide better protection against avalanches, many massive masonry shelters, were put in hand, and these have added 3,000 metres to the total amount of tunneling on the line.
To speed up the working over these steep inclinations between Caracoles and Los Andes, steam has now given place to electricity a powerful articulated electric locomotive of the 1-C-C-1 type - with two groups of six-coupled driving wheels and a pair of carrying wheels at each of the two outer ends - takes charge of the train. Considering the steepness of the descent the traveling is remarkably fast, with a train of 150 tons weight the electric locomotives, using the rack, are able ever is to mount the 1 in l2ï¿½ gradient at 9ï¿½ miles an hour. The six coaches of our luxury train from Mendoza to is Los Andes fall comfortably within the 150-ton limit. On the rack section the electric locomotives exert a tractive effort of 22,500 kilogrammes and on the adhesion sections a maximum of 10,500 kilogrammes. Current is supplied from large hydroelectric plants near Santiago, and is at a pressure of 44,000 volts, 3-phase, 50 cycles.
Just before Portillo the train skirts the Inca Lake, set among the mountains at a level of over 9,000 ft. - a mysterious sheet of water the contents of which never increase nor decrease in quantity. The valley below Portillo is framed with mountains of almost indescribable beauty and majesty, rising sheer from the floor of the valley to the sky, one behind the other, from fertility at the lower levels to snow-draped summits of vast height. And so, ever downwards, we travel through Juncal and across the extraordinary chasm of the Aconcagua River at Salto del Soldado - the "Soldier's Leap" - until Los Andes is reached. Here the narrow-gauge journey is at an end, and we change into one of the trains of the Chilian State Railways, on a gauge of 5 ft. 6 in., like that of Argentina. Our metre-gauge train, which started its journey at Mendoza, 2,518 ft. above sea-level, has carried us up to a maximum height of 10,452 ft. in the Cumbre Tunnel, and has then dropped us to 2,669 ft. at Los Andes.
The Metre Gauge
From Los Andes the journey is swiftly made down to Valparaiso, no more than eighty-two miles distant; electric haulage is again provided. Our first introduction to the Pacific is at the popular seaside resort of Vina del Mar - the Brighton of Valparaiso - and a few miles farther the city of Valparaiso is reached. The total length of the journey from Buenos Aires has been 888 miles; it has occupied a day and a night as far as Mendoza, and another whole day for the 238 miles threading the Andes from Mendoza to Valparaiso.
By changing at Llai-Llai, we may turn southwards for Santiago. Santiago and Llai-Llai are both stations on the remarkable longitudinal main line of the Chilian State Railways, which, starting at Puerto Montt in the south, travels the whole length of this curiously shaped country, on the slope between the Andes and the Pacific, for a distance of no less than 2,750 miles, to Pintados in the north. Between Puerto Montt and Calera, the junction for Valparaiso, the gauge of 5 ft. 6 in. is in use, but north of that point the gauge contracts to one metre. No country, with the possible exception of Norway, could have so strange a configuration as Chile, nearly 3,000 miles long, yet nowhere wider than 180 miles, and in places dwindling to a width of sixty miles only - and full of railway problems.