Featured in the book 'The Old Patagonian Express' (1978), this railway was the last leg of Paul Theroux's journey from Boston, USA to Esquel, Argentina by train. The survival of the railway, locally called 'La Trochita' (translated roughly to 'The Little Gauge') is a miracle. The railway operates on 750 mm gauge track and at 402 kilometers in length, it extends from Esquel, Chubut Province to Ingeniero Jacobacci, Rio Negro Province running through remote areas and tough terrain in the foothills of the Argentine Andes. Today most journeys operate as a tourist service between Esquel and Nahuel Pan.
Locomotive No.105 waiting to depart Nahuel Pan
What's the history of the Line?
The proposed original project ground to halt at the start of World War I due Argentine's economy taking a hit, however at the end of the war, narrow gauge track and locomotives were plentiful and the decision was made to use this cheaper option for the section between Esquel and Ingeniero Jacobacci (the junction with the mainline). The first train reached Esquel on May 25th 1945, however the network was freight only for the first few years of operation. In 1950 the first passenger service was introduced and with only one or two changes, passengers could reach Buenos Aires by rail.
The remoteness of the area along with with decreased rail freight traffic (due to improved road conditions) meant that financially the railway was a black hole and a decision was made to close the network. In 1992, the railway was averted of full closure by local opposition and an international campaign that began because of Paul Theroux's book which described the journey from Ingeniero Jacobacci to Esquel. A few years later (1999), the railway was declared a National Historic Monument.
Where to find more information?
Visit Patagonia Express for up-to-date timetables and prices
My journey to Esquel began on a bus from Puerto Madryn. The town of Esquel dates back to the arrival of Welsh immigrants in Chubut in 1865, and was founded in 1906. The town is clean, neatly laid out and with only around 30,000 inhabitants there is plenty of space. Esquel station is on the edge of town up a small slope. Having arrived early in the morning, I was able to watch locomotive 105, a Henschel 2-8-2 Germany built locomotive, assemble the carriages for the journey. There were four wooden paneled carriages and a goods wagon.
As the train departed Esquel, it gradually climbed, hugging the side of the mountain, winding though rocky cuttings and leaving the main road far below. The remoteness of the region and the barren, deserted, uninhabited views were magnificent with snow caped mountains in the distance. Although occasionally the train continues to El Maitén, today the terminus of the service was Nahuel Pan, 20 kilometers from Esquel. At Nahuel Pan there was some time to wander around before the train returned to Esquel.