In March 2012 we ran a tour to Patagonia which turned out to be successful beyond expectation, although the four years long negotiations were exhausting and the circumstances were really against us. That’s why we want to visit the fantastic little line again, this time in spring when the mountains are still snow-capped and the meadows in the valleys already green.
La Trochita tiny gauge as the locals call their 250 miles long narrow gauge railway in southern Argentina. Compared to the broad gauge line to San Carlos de Bariloche the 750 mm gauge appears to be really small but La Trochita is the longest narrow gauge line in the world which allows the charter of steam trains over its full length.
The line is sandwiched between the endless planes of Patagonia and the high mountains of the Andes, South America’s predominating mountain range. Combining the rapid weather changes between dark skies, looking like the end of the world, and hail showers and crystal clear, deep blue skies, you’ll find an enormous range of impressive situations and photographic opportunities which cannot be found on any other steam railway in the world. This railway is unique in many respects, nothing compares to it. This doesn’t apply to the line alone, but also the enormous task of arranging authentic looking trains here. Sure, we have to admit that our target was tough and no-one before has asked for what we asked for. That’s why we are not just selling tickets for another operator’s tour, but are offering our own programme for dedicated and demanding railway photographers and video film makers. All this means, for instance, that we’ll try again to remove tourist decorations from the train and includes the repainting of tenders to change them from “The Old Patagonian Express“ or “La Trochita“ to “Ferrocarriles Argentinos“ again.
Apart from our railway activities which are almost entirely focussed on taking the perfect shot, we’ll also visit national parks near the railway and have a break to inhale the countryside.
Although it’s unlikely that the line will be usable on its full length we’re sure that we can offer a wide range of opportunities of the some 250 serviceable kilometres. From all we’ve seen it’s hard to believe that the tourist traffic will recover the costs for maintaining such a long line and the rolling stock. That’s why the big question mark is still there: how long will the line survive? Is it possible to repeat such or a similar tour in the future. It’s doubtful. We had these concerns already last time as we published the itinerary. The concerns arte still there when we’ll do it another time in 2014. For sure it was not helpful that in the peak season in 2013 the railway men went on strike and the governor said he’s thinking about closing the whole line.
|Date||Itinerary (please accept changes)|
|18.10.||Individual Flight to Argentina, flights can be booked by FarRail Tours|
|19.10.||Individual domestic flight to Esquel. Charter bus from the airport to Esquel. Hotel Tehuelche in Esquel|
|20.10.||We start with full steam ahead: Charter train from Esquel to El Maitén (ca. 06.30 20.00 hrs). Many different accommodations in El Maitén, spread all over the place.|
|21.10.||Late morning visit to the workshop of El Maitén, where our loco for the next charter train will be fired. Afternoon (ca. 15.30 20.45 hrs) charter freight train El Maitén northbound, approximately half of the way to Norquinco, various motels/hostels in El Maitén|
|22.10.||Today we’re going all the way back from El Maitén to Esquel (ca. 06.30 20.00 hrs). Hotel Tehuelche in Esquel.|
|23.10.||Between the long and exhausting intense railway program we put a relaxed day in for the railway men as well as for us. Late morning visit to the small depot with probably two engines in the shed. Afternoon visit to the national park Los Alerces between Esquel and El Maitén, various motels/hostels in El Maitén|
|24.10.||Charter train from El Maitén up to the summit between Fitalancao and Cerro Mesa (ca. 7.00 19.45 hrs), we’ll return to Maitén by chartered buses, various Motels/Hostels in El Maitén|
|25.10.||05.30 hrs charter buses to Río Chico, charter train from Cerro Mesa in the direction of Aguada Troncoso as far as the track condition will allow us to go. Late morning we’ll return to Cerro Mesa, where we’ll have a long lunch break. Ca. 16.00 hrs charter train from Cerro Mesa west-bound up to the cutting behind the tunnel and return, return to Cerro Mesa ca. 19.45 hrs, charter bus to Ingeniero Jacobacci, arrival there ca. 23.00 hrs, various hotels in Ing. Jacobacci|
|26.10.||About 10.00 hrs brunch in Ing. Jacobacci, visit to the workshop and depot. In the afternoon we’ll take pictures of an arriving passenger train. We’ve chartered several extras who will leave the train. Afterwards we’ll turn the locomotive and make false departures until the train reaches the dual gauge track. Our extras will be aboard as well. Various hotels in Ing. Jacobacci.|
|27.10.||Charter train from Ing. Jacobacci to Ojos de Agua, departure ca. 07.15 hrs. If the track allows we’ll continue beyond Ojos de Agua to the summit in the direction of Futa Ruin. After we returned to Ojos de Agua we’ll turn the locomotive on the triangle and return to Ing. Jacobacci, arrival ca. 20.30 hrs, various hotels in Ing. Jacobacci|
|28.10.||In the morning we’ll go by charter bus to San Carlos de Bariloche, afternoon visit to the National park Nahuel Huapi, hotel Edelweiss in San Carlos de Bariloche|
|29.10.||Transfer to the airport and return flight or taking part in our extension to the Andean mountains|
|30.10.||Arriving at home|
|29.10.||Optional extension. By boat and bus combined we’ll go through the Andeans to Chile. In the evening we’ll arrive in Puerto Vares, hotel there.|
|30.10.||Not far from Pt. Varas is Puerto Montt. There are two plinthed steam locomotives. If you like to see and photograph them you can take either a public bus or a taxi. In the afternoon we’ll go to the airport which lays between Puerto Vares and Puerto Montt. Flight to Punta Arenas. Here we’ll take over our hired cars. Hotel in Punta Arenas|
|31.10.||With our hired cars we’re very flexible. We’ll drive through the beautiful mountains of the Andes to our Hosteríia Las Torres. On the way we’ll make a small detour and visit the penguin colony Seno Otway. Some 10,000 Magellan-Penguins can be find here. Only a small park of the area is open for visitors but the big advantage is that you can get very close to the penguins here. Evening arrival in the Hostería Las Torres.|
|01.11.||From our accommodation you’ll find several walking paths through the fantastic mountain world of the Andes. The famous towers (Torres) can be seen from a walkway which starts from the Hostería. After some four hours you’ll stay opposite the glacier of the Torres. Hostería Las Torres.|
|02.11.||In the amazing countryside around the Lago (lake) Nordenskjörd are several walk ways which are worth to be explored. But you can also cruise with your hired car through the national park along the few paved roads. Hostería Las Torres.|
|03.11.||In the morning we’ll continue by our cars to the lake Lago Grey. Besides numerous opportunities to walk through the scenic countryside around the Lago Grey and the Lago Pehoe exists a boat service over the lake to the glacier Gray. The boat will take about three hours. If you hire a local guide you can also do a glacier walk. Both, boat cruising to the glacier and glacier walk depending from the weather condition and need to be booked and paid on the spot. Hostería Lago Grey|
|04.11.||There are plenty of opportunities and places to see, so we’ll stay another day at the Lago Grey. With our cars you can also drive to the water falls Salto Grande and Salto Chico. Accommodation in the Hostería Lago Grey|
|05.11.||Today we’ll cruise to Puerto Natales. On our way well pass the shores of the beautiful lakes Lago del Toro and Lago Porteño. In Puerto Natales we’ll find another plinthed steam locomotive. If you want you can also make a detour to Argentina and visit the dumped 2-10-2 locomotives (750 mm) and the Sentinel truck in Río Turbio. Hotel in Puerto Natales|
|06.11.||In the morning we’re driving to the airport of Punta Arenas where we’ll return our rented cars. Flight to Santiago de Chile. Hotel in Santiago de Chile.|
|07.11.||Approximately four hours guided city tour through Santiago, in the afternoon we’ll go to the airport and fly back home.|
|08.11.||Afternoon arrival in Europe|
In short: the line is phenomenal and can’t be compared with any other narrow gauge line due to its unique character. There is no other 250 miles long narrow gauge line which can offer steam trains!
In March 2012 these locomotives were serviceable: in Esquel Baldwin no. 4, in El Maitén Henschel no. 101 and in Ing. Jacobacci Henschel no. 104. At two other locos heavy overhauls were undergoing. That’s why we expect some movement in the number of available locomotives for October 2014.
The railway was built to give the remote parts of Argentina access to the economically developed north. Before World War I there were plans to connect Patagonia to the growing railway network. However, like many other things in southern America, it took longer than estimated. The first locomotives were purchased 1922, a huge number for a then non-existent railway. They ordered 25 2-8-2-locomotives from Baldwin, USA, and 56 from Henschel, Germany. The latter manufacturer delivered 50 2-8-2 locomotives, four 0-6-0 tank engines (saturated steam locomotives for shunting purposes) and two crane locomotives. The railway track was then laid over 20 years between 1925 and 1945. The long 750 mm gauge line was probably never economical. But its route runs through grandiose sections of untouched countryside. From the railway, you have spectacular views of the Andes mountains, up to 2,500 metres (more than 8,000 feet) high, plus wide valleys and endless grasslands.
The railway can be divided into the northern section, from Ingeniero Jacobacci to El Maitén, which lays almost entirely in the province of Río Negros, and the southern section from El Maitén to Esquel, in the province of Chubut. El Maitén is just south of the middle of the railway and hosts the workshop of the line.
From the 1970s, the always sparse freight traffic was taken over by road competition, although at that time most of the roads in that region were still unpaved gravel. Nowadays they have asphalt roads to Esquel but not along the northern section of the railway and not to Ingeniero Jacobacci from Bariloche. The weekly pair of passenger trains, however, became more and more frequented by tourists coming to see this superb railway in this very remote part of the world. The state railway wanted to rid itself of this loss making line. By the mid 1990s, the state railway finally handed over the complete line and rolling stock to the provincial governments of Río Negros and Chubut. Shortly afterwards, the regular passenger service was suspended. The provincial governments realised the tourist potential but didn’t initially have any idea how to develop or promote the line. For many years it lacked the necessary money for investment. The northern section between El Maitén and Ing. Jacobacci was in such a bad state that trains were temporarily stopped altogether.
From Ing. Jacobacci the line heads first south-west and turns towards El Maitén to the south. West of Río Chico you’ll find the one and only tunnel on the line. To the north-eastern end is a deep cutting and close by is the longest steel bridge on the line (105 m long). In other parts, the line offers exceptional long distance views across typical Patagonian countryside towards the mountain range of the Andes. Along the way, you’ll find almost abandoned stations, water stations, small and medium sized bridges, many, sometimes challenging gradients and beautifully shaped S-curves. By the way, the FarRail logo was modelled on a picture from one of these S-curves on La Trochita!
The weather in Patagonia may prevent some of our ideas for photos, but on the other hand it can be a key factor in getting superb shots of dramatic lighting situations, when dark clouds fly over the Andes while the sun sends intense rays below the clouds and gives our train a glint in front of a black background. It’s very windy in this part of the world and the weather can change within minutes. You should never call it a day because of the weather until the very last light has gone. The most impressive pictures may just be waiting for you shortly after sunrise or shortly before sunset.
While there was a continuous tourist service between Esquel and Nahuel Pan on the southern end of the line (Esquel is a small town which has seen tourists for decades) the northern part saw only sporadic charter trains. The marketing for charter trains was (and you may say is still) bad on both sections however. To organise this tour several local travel agencies were contacted and failed miserably. It took around four years to arrange the tour in 2012. For a long time it seemed to be impossible to reach an agreement to run authentic trains, and we were really happy to see the ordered freight wagons and locos with “Ferrocarriles Argentinos” logos as we arrived. Actually I went to a general store in Esquel, bought colour spray, and with the help of a matrix I sprayed the “Ferrocarriles Argentinos” logo on the freight wagons. Arranging such an event didn’t get easier since then. Please be prepared that not everything will run smoothly like a Swiss clock. Expecting the worst and hoping for the best is the approach to make this tour an enjoyable one for you.
We completely depend on the good work of third parties and have arranged the tour in trust. Hence we cannot guarantee anything other than we’ll always try to make things happen the way we want. There is no reason to contact a lawyer if something doesn’t work out as planned/hoped/wished/paid or if trains don’t look as we ordered them or if locomotives fail or derailments occur, etc. From our Argentinean partners we expect no refund or compensation in such cases, hence you need to accept that there won’t be any refunds possible in any case. You need to live with the risks if you want to take part in this event, and by registering you accept this as given. From our experience with many other not-so-easy-to-arrange-countries, such as Brazil, Paraguay, Cuba, the Philippines and North Korea we know that it’s very likely we’ll get what we want in Argentina again: excellent pictures, intimate views of the local life and many great impressions. Just as it turned out in 2012.
The reason why this tour is no cheapy were explained in the 2012 program, and it has not changed at all. The only things which could change without notice in advance is the closure of at least the northern part of the line. When they realise in the offices of the province Río Negros that despite investments in the line and the rolling stock the expected and needed paying tourists will not come to the dusty site of Ing. Jacobacci it might happen that this section will be closed before we arrive. The survival of the long line is rather uncertain, also in the southern province of Chubut. In the peak season of 2013 the railwaymen went on strike and the governor of Chubut played in public with the idea to shut down the line and dismiss the workers. On the other hand: they repaired the broad gauge railway line which was closed after a derailment and destroyed after severe weather the same which affected the narrow gauge line. There are also announcements from politicians to keep the line alive. But who believes an Argentinean politician if you don’t trust your own politicians at home (for good reason, I guess)? In Ing. Jacobacci they would need to invest a huge amount of money not only to repair the flood damages from 2012 but also to catch up with the not done but necessary track maintenance. The city can be reached only over dusty or muddy gravel roads so far (and by broad gauge train). It’s likely that they invest in their road system first.
We will as usual consider the trains and daylight hours rather than fixed dining times or four and five star accommodation. We’re not talking about a shot here and there, we’re going to Argentina to take stunning railway pictures of an extraordinary line. We want to run authentic looking trains, remove tourist stuff from the locos and wagons and make them look like in the 1980ies. We’ll offer different train compositions and hope to be able to offer a real freight train as well which is only possible when we can get them to rebuild the brakes at several freight wagons.
This all requires some long and exhausting photo days, uncertain times for food and sparse if any comfort when travelling on a freight train (which we’ll do only once). That’s why we planned some time for recreation and experience the superb countryside in the nearby national parks. Such a break is essential for the railway crews as well. We need them to work together with us and hence it’s essential that we allow them some rest between the hard days 8and for them also nights to prepare everything).
Our hotels in Esquel and San Carlos de Bariloche are good middle class hotels. Not so in El Maitén and Ing. Jacobacci. The accommodations there (we need to take several because there is no room in one hotel for a group like ours) are of different quality and in Ing. Jacobacci it can be a very simple standard. Some accommodations I would rate with half a star only. However, a hot shower is available everywhere we’ll book in.
Between El Maitén and Ing. Jacobacci we’ll go over dusty gravel roads. You can’t travel fast here if you want to reach your destination with a still working bus.
Mobile phone coverage in the places we’re staying overnight is good, but in between there are big gabs. Internet is available in most of the places we’re going to, but not in all and for sure not as fast as you’re used to. Electricity is available in all our accommodations.
Argentina is a safe country to travel to in. However, you should always use common sense when crossing roads and railway tracks and consider the risks while taking part in any kind of travel, especially near or on trains. You’re travelling and taking part at your own risk. No risk is covered by any insurance, the hotels do not pass an EU-safety check, the quality of the water is not regularly checked as we’re used to it in Europe, Australia or North America. The railway in Argentina is in many respects dangerous compared to west-European standards. Do not book this tour if you expect to find a perfectly operated railway using European safety standards! FarRail Tours cannot be held responsible, and will not accept any liability whatsoever in the case of any accident or damage or delay. We suggest you take out a comprehensive overseas accident and health insurance policy.
Travellers from most west European countries do not need a visa to travel to Argentina. Please check with your local embassy. A valid passport is required, however.
If you want to drive one of the hired cars on the extension you need an international driving licence.
|Patagonia-Express||45 to 55 participants||£3,290|
|18.10.2014 30.10.2014||37 to 44 participants||£3,600|
|Single room surcharge||£480|
|Registration Deadline: 01.06.2014|
|Penguins and Torres del Paine||8 to 20 participants||£2,340|
|29.10.2014 08.11.2014||Single room surcharge||£420|
|Registration Deadline: 01.06.2014|
The price includes:
Not included are:
Prices can change more than 5% if exchange rates moving seriously.
Prices for flights UK Argentina including the domestic flights are currently (April 2012) available for some 1.040 to 1.550 Pounds (Air France, Aerolineas Argentinas, Iberia, Lufthansa). Once we reached the minimum number of participants we’ll send an information to everyone who is booked on the tour. We can book appropriate flights for you, but not before the minimum number of participants has been reached. The cheaper the tickets the higher the cancellation fee so please do not book any flights before you received our tour confirmation. You may consider a travel cancellation insurance to avoid high costs in case of getting sick short before the tour starts.
The terms of payments are different from the general terms and conditions. There is no deposit for this tour required when booking. It’s only due after we announced that the tour is on. The deposit then is 400 Pounds (instead of the usual 250 Pounds) and can’t be refunded under any circumstances.
DISCLAIMER: As a service to our UK-based clients FarRail Tours accepts and will continue to accept payments made out in Pound Sterling until further notice. However, please note that all prices quoted in Pound Sterling are indicative only and are subject to change without prior notice. This measure was taken by FarRail Tours due to the unprecedented volatility in the international foreign exchange markets and its impact on the valuation of the Pound Sterling versus other major currencies.