Railcar number 1024, built by General Motors in 1926 & known locally as "The Gondala", stands in Rio Blanco station on the stub of the Transandine line that was still being used after through freight services ceased in 1984 following the withdrawal of the passenger service in 1979 on 5/12/1993. Photo Richard Pelham
The opening of the Transandine Railway throughout in 1910 made it possible to travel by
train all the way from Buenos Aires on the Atlantic Ocean to Valparaiso on the Pacific.
Whereas Buenos Aires to Mendoza and Los Andes to Valparaiso were 5ft 6in gauge lines, the
Transandino was metre gauge which was cheaper to build over the extremely difficult terrain
that it had to traverse in crossing the Andes. With gradients as steep as 1 in 12 there were
Abt rack sections on both sides of the border which combined with severe weather conditions
made the line difficult and expensive to operate. The line crossed the border in the summit
tunnel, so in operational terms the changeover from FCTC to FCTA operation was at Las Cuevas
on the Argentine side of the tunnel, 73.5km from Los Andes and 170km west of Mendoza.
On the Chilean sections there were six separate Abt rack sections totalling some 13.2 miles (21.3km) in length and the gradients were steeper on this side with a drop of 2347 metres (7702ft) in the 65km between the summit and Los Andes. Weather conditions are more severe with temperatures ranging from 37 C in summer to -29 C in winter and depth of snow on the tracks reaching as much as 21ft. As a result of these severe operating conditions the FCTC was progressively electrified with the section from Rio Blanco to Las Cuevas completed in 1927 and the remainder down to Los Andes by 1942. By the 1970s the railways, particularly on the Argentinian side of the border were running with very large deficits and with declining traffic, so the Transandine was closed to through passenger trains in 1979. At this time a person could travel by air from Mendoza to Santiago in 45 minutes at a cost of $74.8, by bus between the same points in 8 hours at a cost of $26; and by train from Mendoza to Los Andes in 7.5 hours at a cost of $40. Through freight traffic ceased in 1984 following a landslip in Chile near Portillo.
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