Railways, Atacama: English

History of the railroad in Atacama Region, Chile

Introduction (2): Gauges ands lines

Museo Virtual, Atacama
W. Griem, 2017
1943 State Railroad: Commercial - Chile
From: Guía Veraneante 1943 (FFCC del Estado Chile)

Gauges of the railway lines in Atacama
gauges description
760 mm
1000 mm
1067 mm
1270 mm
1435 mm
List of gauges used in Atacama
Linea ferrocarril entre Copiapó y Vallenar en el año 1999 (Región Atacama, Chile)

History of railways,  Atacama: p.1 І p.2 І p.3 І p.4

  español - deutsch - english

Historic Railroad Network in the Atacama Region, Chile

There are still some railway lines in the Atacama Desert. In the beginning, the 1435 mm gauge was installed, although later the gauge was changed to 1000 mm. In straight lines of many kilometers the rails get lost on the horizon. It is a unique contrast: The desert with its smooth, round morphology - generally curved, not even the horizon is a horizontal line - in this scene a straight line of the railway translates as the only support for the human eye to approach the horizon 1.

The routes are not the result of centralised planning, and the individual lines in particular have served a specific purpose. The main objectives were, of course, to satisfy the mining companies: the transport of minerals from the worksite to the port and vice versa the transport of products (tools, machines, foodstuffs) from the port to the worksite. Only the longitudinal path makes a difference - here it was a project to include not only industrial requirements, also the need to develop the country's infrastructure as well.

Interesting is the use of different gauges on different routes. In the beginning, the Stephenson standard (1435 mm) was implemented according to the predominance of English companies in the construction of the lines. But the Stephenson standard (unhappily) was not without competition. In Chañaral won the 1067mm gauge and Carrizal's railway line was left with the 1270mm gauge. Not to mention the internal railroads in the mines, for example in the Dulcinea mine which had a 760 mm gauge. In order to achieve a better compatibility, the majority of the trajectories were changed to a single 1000mm gauge. 

Another major technical problem was the lack, or poor water quality. Steam locomotives needed relatively pure water to respect salts, especially calcium. Solar energy purifiers were installed in parts.
The desert climate also did not help the railway companies' operations: torrential rains often cut traffic. The planning of the journeys depended very much on the morphological situation. Large differences in level, especially the deep ravines, made it difficult to perform. On the other side there are large plains that allowed the construction of straight roads without major difficulties.

Carro en Atacama

1) The Santiago-Copiapó stretch took three days to complete in the fifties.

2) The "gauge" is the distance between the two rails of the railway line. The different trails were the result of strategic thinking in Europe. On the one hand, military and strategic commercial strategies with the objective of producing an incompatibility between the different particular systems.

Railways in Atacama
Atacama virtual
Tourist interest

Picto FFCC Atacama

Content railroad Atacama
Intro 1: General information
Intro 2: Lines and gauges
Intro 3: Map amd tracks
Intro 4: Map and lines
Listado de todas las líneas

Railways of the north of Chile
Longitudinal Atacama
Longitudinal Coquimbo
Línea Mina Tofo
Línea Carrizal - Yerbas Buenas
Línea Chañarcillo
Línea Chañaral - Animas
Líneas Salitreras (Taltal)

Registros históricos
Trayectos planificados
Pictures of railroad
Planos históricos, trayectos

next page in geovirtual, Atacama

More railways
Ferrocarriles Coquimbo
Longitudinal La Calera
Longitudinal Atacama
Línea Mina Tofo
Línea Carrizal - Yerbas Buenas
Línea Chañarcillo
Línea Chañaral - Animas
Líneas Salitreras (Taltal)
Estación Copiapó
Locomotora  La Copiapó
Viaje en Tren
Planificaciones Trasandinos

The sector: tourism
Región de Atacama
Lugares turísticos
Historia de la Región
La Panamericana en Atacama

Further information
Mining history of Atacama
History of Atacama
Flora Atacama
Animals of the Atacama Desert
Geology Atacama
Climate of the Atacama Region
The Andes mountains
Atacama desert
Virtual viewpoint Atacama
Aeródromos en Atacama

Photo: Appearance of the longitudinal line in the vicinity of Copiapó in the nineties.

Line between Vallenar and Copiapó near Travesía station. The section was built between 1913 and 1914 and is part of the longitudinal line between La Calera and Pintadas. (Foto: Wolfgang Griem; 1999)

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Railroad history of the Atacama desert - Chile
© Dr. Wolfgang Griem, Chile - all rights reserved  (Mail to Wolfgang Griem Uso de las páginas de geovirtual.cl y geovirtual2.cl)
Published: 11.2.2009, updated: 1.10.2017, 4.8.2018, 2.12.2018
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