Railways, Atacama: English


History of the railroad in Atacama Region, Chile

Introduction (1)

Museo Virtual, Chile

W. Griem, 2006 - 2021

Map of thehistorical railroads in the Atacama Region

Map of the historic railway lines in Atacama Region, Chile

Locomotora La Copiapo, Region de Atacama - Chile

Photo: First Chilean locomotive: La Copiapó.
see more of the first "La Copiapó" locomotive"
Large Photo

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

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Historic Railroad Network in the Atacama Region, Chile

In the past decades, railways have played a very important role in the Atacama region. One of the first lines in South America (not the first!)1 was built during 1851 between Copiapó and Caldera. The total route was 81 km long to Copiapó. In June 1851 the first locomotive arrived, in July of the same year the line ran to Monte Amargo station in the middle of the Atacama desert. In December 1851 the whole route was passable. Then (around 1914) the original gauge was changed from 1435 mm (European Standard or Stephenson) to 1000 mm.  The great mining boom led to a rapid expansion of the railway network at that time. After the section Caldera - Copiapó, the route was extended to Potrero Seco (1855) and Chañarcillo (1858). The Copiapó Valley connection to Los Loros and San Antonio (70 km) was made in 1867.  The train arrived in Puquios (60 km from Copiapó) in 1871. (see: 2)  A large number of lines follow: Chañaral - El Salado, Carrizal Bajo - Carrizal Alto, Caldera - Algarrobal, Huasco - Vallenar among others. They even started with the planning of a connection to Argentina in extension of the Puquios section. This project was never carried out, due to technical and financial difficulties, since in 1910 mining had serious economic problems - not only in Atacama, but also worldwide.   From the 1950s onwards, the railway lost its importance. In 1978, regular public transport of people was completed. Today, only a few lines are maintained with little cargo traffic. Other lines are about to be permanently abandoned, many of them have already risen forever.

Photo on the left:  
First railroad that circulated in Chile (December 25,1851) with a baggage car and three passenger cars of first, second and third class, the three equal, the difference lies in the quality of seats and interior decoration.  

1) One of the first lines of South America "means not the first one! The first lines of South America are located in British Guyana (Georgetown) and Peru (Lima - Callao). But the "mistake" of naming the Copiapó - Caldera first line of South America has a very long tradition. Even in 1882, the report of the Company of Ferro-Carril de Copiapó published it.    

2) All construction or inauguration dates must be taken with caution. Sources do not always give a well-defined date. The difference between planning, construction, inauguration and a possible sale to another company was not always clear. In addition, some lines began as horsepower tracks  (“blood railways”) or "wooden rails" - with wooden rails.

Informative Chart:
First railway line in Chile: Caldera - Copiapo
Third South American line
Gauge: European 1435mm

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Literature and Links (more literature)
THOMSON, I. & ANGERSTEIN, D. (2000): Historia del Ferrocarril en Chile.- Colección Sociedad y Cultura; 312 páginas.
ANDREES, RICHARD (1887): Allgemeiner Handatlas  (Andree´s Handatlas).- Velhagen & Klasig 1887.
ORIEL ALVAREZ GÓMEZ (1979): Atacama de Plata.- 270 páginas.
ALLIENDE, M.P. (1993): Historia del Ferrocarril en Chile.- 111 páginas; Editorial Pehuen.
Compañía de Ferro Carril de Copiapó (1882): INFORME DE LAS OPERACIONES DEL AÑO 1881 Y MEMORIA de los 30 AÑOS 1852-1881 (Museo Regional de Atacama)
Compañía de Ferro Carril de Copiapó (1895): INFORME DE LAS OPERACIONES DEL AÑO 1894 (Museo Regional de Atacama

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Railroad history of the Atacama desert - Chile
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Published: 11.2.2009, updated: 1.10.2017, 4.8.2018, 30.01.2021
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