NEWS

From the April 2002 issue of the "Narrow Gauge News Magazine,"
published by the Narrow Gauge Railway Society,
a book review by Keith Taylorson:

"A JOURNEY THROUGH TIME AND DISTANCE ON THE OLD PATAGONIAN EXPRESS" by Sergio Sepiurka and Jorge Miglioli

Format: 255mm x 255 mm, 172 Pages, 205 photos, 3 maps

"This new book, written and published in Argentina, is a definitive history of the celebrated 75cm gauge railway serving Esquel, in Patagonia. The book summarises the grandiose plans for a broad gauge railway development to open up this remote area, and explains how these were scaled down to encompass a network of narrow gauge lines, when it became obvious that broad gauge lines could never be afforded. The revised plans envisaged over 1,000km of 75cm gauge lines linking Esquel not only with the north, but also with the coast at Puerto Madryn -a link between the Andes and the Atlantic. However even these plans became too ambitious and only the 402km from Ing. Jacobacci to Esquel was eventually built.
"The authors describe the construction of the line, its many revisions of route, and opening in 1945. The fortunes of the line through to the 1990s (when closure was narrowly avoided) and the present day are also summarised.
"The main strength of the narrative however lies in its use of 'oral history.' The authors are local to Esquel and have been able to gather the reminiscences of many local people who worked on and used the railway. There are fascinating detailed accounts of journeys on the railway in the 1950s and 1960s, including the incident when a whole train was blown off the track (this is illustrated) and another when a train was marooned in a snowdrift for 4 days -the train's passengers were fed and sheltered by local inhabitants, but the train eventually made it through to Esquel. A former railway worker reminisces about the days when the line had three return passenger trains a week, and daily freights in both directions, hauling wool and livestock, telegraph poles and colihue cane, coal and groceries for the villagers. But, as he ruefully points out, local traders resented 'waiting three or four months for delivery of their goods by rail' so the loss of traffic to road was inevitable. The authors have also unearthed some superb historical photographs, including one of opening day in 1945, and a mouth watering picture of four Henschel 2-8-2s (destined for Esquel) being hauled on a flat car by a Beyer Peacock 2-6-0 on the then metre gauge Puerto Madryn line. Photos from the 1960s onwards are in full colour, and all photos have reproduced well on the heavy-duty art paper used. The text is bilingual (Spanish and English) with, helpfully, a different colour ink being used for the appropriate texts. The English text 'reads' well, being fluent and idiomatic, not just a literal translation of the Spanish.
"The book stands as a magnificent tribute to one of the most distinctive narrow gauge railways the world has seen, and is unreservedly recommended. Hopefully, by the time this review appears copies will be available from specialist bookshops in the UK."

Keith Taylorson