The Old Patagonian Express, Broad Gauge Steam, the Strongest Ever 750 mm-Gauge Steam Locos and a Glacier

La Trochita - The Old Patagonia Express: Ing. Jacobacci

Steam in Argentina:

All good things come in threes? Two sunny tours to Patagonia so far, who would have guessed that this is possible? So we’re aiming for another sunny tour to Patagonia!

The recent elections caused a regime change in Argentina. All those who had jobs depending on the state now fear they may be replaced by someone with the right membership book. Hence planning this third tour is as difficult as the first one. No-one wants to promise or guarantee anything, no-one wants to make a mistake which might cost him or her their job, no-one wants to make the first move. But one thing for sure: La Trochita will survive for at least one more year.

After two Patagonia tours which turned out to be successful beyond expectation, we want to visit the fantastic little line again, this time in spring again when the mountains are still snow-capped and the meadows in the valleys already green. In a newsletter, I asked for the preferred time for travelling to Patagonia, and surprisingly October (which is the spring season in the southern hemisphere) was the favourite.

La Trochita - The Old Patagonia Express

La Trochita – tiny gauge – as the locals call their 250 mile long narrow gauge railway in southern Argentina, compared to the broad gauge line to San Carlos de Bariloche, this 750 mm gauge appears to be really small. But La Trochita is the longest narrow gauge line in the world allowing the charter of steam trains over its full length.

The line is sandwiched between the endless plains of Patagonia and the high mountains of the Andes, South America’s predominating mountain range. Combining 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 only, 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 include the repainting of tenders to change them from “The Old Patagonian Express“ or “La Trochita“ to “Ferrocarriles Argentinos“ again. As we expect new people in office it’s for sure that we’ll need to work hard on this issue as we did before: starting again and again from scratch, explaining why, funding them, pushing them.

La Trochita - The Old Patagonia Express

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.

Due to the sharp decline of the Euro we had to adjust the programme slightly to make it affordable. Don’t even think that the hefty drop of the local Peso had any influence on the train prices: they’re calculated in US-Dollars. Although we’ll not cover the full length of the line we’ll offer a wide range of opportunities. From what we’ve seen it’s hard to believe that any tourist traffic is likely to cover the costs of maintaining such a long line and its rolling stock. That’s why the big question mark is still there: how long will this line survive? Is it going to be possible to repeat a similar tour in the future? With the new government in office it’s very doubtful. We have had these concerns already the last two times we’ve published the itinerary. The concerns are still there as we do it another time in 2016.

So come now, it might be your last chance, you never know.

La Trochita - The Old Patagonia Express: Esquel



Itinerary “The Old Patagonia Express”




Individual flight to Buenos Aires, flight can be booked by FarRail Tours


Morning arrival in Buenos Aires, pick up and transfer to the domestic airport, connecting flight to Esquel, hotel in Esquel


We start with full steam ahead! Charter train from Esquel to La Cancha, train stays overnight in La Cancha while we return by charter bus to our hotel in Esquel


In the morning we go by charter bus to La Cancha and change there to our train which will bring us from La Cancha to Leleque. Our train stays overnight in Leleque and we’ll return by charter bus to Esquel (90 km), hotel in Esquel


In the early morning (how early depends on the weather forecast) we’ll return by charter bus to Leleque. By train we’ll go from Leleque to Esquel, hotel in Esquel


Late morning visit to the depot of Esquel, we’ll skip lunch and continue to El Maitén where we’ll check into different accommodations, scattered all over the place (time consuming) and then visit the workshop of El Maitén. Mid to late afternoon charter steam train from El Maitén in the direction of Norquinco (northbound), several hotels/guest houses in El Maitén


In the morning, charter steam train from El Maitén to Ñorquinco and a few kilometres beyond, our train returns tender first while we’ll continue by bus to Ing. Jacobacci, different hotels in Ing. Jacobacci


From Ing. Jacobacci we’ll go by charter train to Mamuel Choique and return by charter bus to our hotels in Ing. Jacobacci.


Bus transfer from Ing. Jacobacci to Mamuel Choique, our charter train continues from Mamuel Choique to Cerro Mesa, in the afternoon we’ll focus on one of the most scenic parts of the line beyond Cerro Mesa westbound (gorge, bridge, tunnel). Today’s accommodation does not offer any single rooms, instead we’ll stay overnight in the school of Cerro Mesa.


Charter train Cerro Mesa – Ojos de Agua, our loco will be turned on the triangle and prepared for an early morning start the next day. We’ll continue by charter bus to our hotels in Ing. Jacobacci


Bus transfer Ing. Jacobacci – Ojos de Agua in the early morning, our train will roll back in the direction of Bomba, morning shots Bomba – Ojos de Agua plus a few more kilometres in the direction of Futa Ruin, at noon the train rolls back to Ojos de Agua, in the afternoon the loco will be turned and we’ll return to Ing. Jacobacci


Visit to the workshop of Ing. Jacobacci and for those who are leaving us transfer to San Carlos de Bariloche, hotel in SC de Bariloche – or you stay in Ing. Jacobacci for the broad gauge event


Transfer to the airport and return flight


Arrival at home

La Trochita - The Old Patagonia Express: El Maiten


Itinerary “Broad Gauge Steam in Patagonia




Individual flight to Buenos Aires, flight can be booked by FarRail Tours


Morning arrival in Buenos Aires, pick up and transfer to the domestic airport, connecting flight to San Carlos de Bariloche, charter bus transfer to Ing. Jacobacci and meet the other group there. Hotels in Ing. Jacobacci

25.10. Visit to the workshop of Ing. Jacobacci, Hotel in Ing. Jacobacci


By charter bus we’ll go to Pilcaniyeu where our steam charter train is waiting for us. By charter steam train we'll travel over one of the most scenic broad gauge railways of Patagonia from Pilcaniyeu to Perito Moreno. We’ll turn the loco in Perito Moreno and leave the train there while we travel by charter bus to a hotel in San Carlos de Bariloche (the first place where they can offer really good steaks).


In the morning we return by charter bus to Perito Moreno and board our charter train there. From Perito Moreno our train has to climb over a very steep gradient on its way to Pilcaniyeu, where we’ll leave the train for the night and return to our hotel in Bariloche.


In the morning we’ll return by charter bus to Pilcaniyeu and will go by our charter train the long way to Ing Jacobacci. Because the bus ride would take us some six hours we will stay overnight in Ing. Jacobacci.


Bus transfer from Ing. Jacobacci to San Carlos de Bariloche airport and return flight – or take part in our southern Patagonia extension


Arriving at home


Itinerary “South Patagonia and a Glimpse of Steam”




Hotel in Bariloche


Late morning flight to El Calafate and bus transfer to a hotel in Río Turbio


Visit to the majestic 750 mm 2-10-2 locomotives in Río Turbio. Charter steam train with either no. 107 or 119, hotel in Río Turbio


We’ll return by charter bus to El Calafate and visit the famous glacier at Perito Moreno, hotel in El Calafate


By charter bus we’ll continue to a hotel in El Chaltén, hiking around El Chaltén, Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy


Hiking day, accommodation in El Chaltén


Morning hiking day, late afternoon return to El Calafate by charter bus, hotel in El Calafate


Return flight via Buenos Aries to home


Arrival at home


Line description

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 mile long narrow gauge line offering steam trains!

La Trochita - The Old Patagonia Express: Volcano

In early 2015 the following locomotives were serviceable:


El Maitén:

Ing. Jacobacci:

La Trochita - The Old Patagonia Express: Nahuel Pan

The railway was built to give the remote parts of Argentina access to the economically better 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 in 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.

La Trochita - The Old Patagonia Express: Esquel

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.

La Trochita - The Old Patagonia Express: Cerro Mesa

From Ing. Jacobacci the line heads first south-west and then 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. Incidentally, 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.

La Trochita - The Old Patagonia Express: Ing Tomahe

La Trochita - The Old Patagonia Express: La Palma

The broad gauge section starts in very typical hilly grasslands, but turns spectacularly further west with fantastic girder bridges over rivers. The line winds through some cuttings and falls sharply to Perito Moreno. This is one of the reasons why it’s so difficult to get an approval for this line, because on the way from Perito Moreno eastbound, we have to master this very stiff gradient. They’ve never done it with this steam loco under its own power. The North British 2-8-0 engine no. 121 is currently in Ing. Jacobacci and in need of repair, which will be done only if we can confirm the tour. We’ll use freight wagons on this trip, to have an authentic looking train. We might have a passenger coach or a caboose, but this is still under clarification.

121 in Perito Moreno 2007

121 in Patagonia 2007

The most southern coal line, Río Turbio to Río Gallegos is only a shadow of its former self. However, the old government allowed two of the mighty 750 mm gauge 2-10-2 locomotives to be overhauled in Buenos Aires, and both locomotives returned back to Rio Turbio in serviceable condition just before the new government came to power. They want to establish a tourist service through a national park at the border with Chile. We cannot expect that our charter train will look anything like authentic. However, I thought when travelling so far south, it’s well worth seeing these locomotives which are the only ones in the world which worked with the famous L.D. Porta’s improvements very successfully for many years. These locos could have been the key to worldwide improvements to existing steam locomotives, but apart from a few examples, mainly in South Africa, Porta’s work was widely ignored by operators of steam locomotives. These locos were capable of hauling 1,800 ton trains – keep in mind, we’re talking about a 750 mm gauge locomotive!

Rio Turbio 10/2015

Rio Turbio 10/2015


Small Print

La Trochita - The Old Patagonia Express: Ojos de Agua

Please read the trip reports from the previous trips to Argentina.

The government changes with the elections of 2014 – hence everyone who depends on the government is fearing the loss of his job. Everything seems to be paralysed and answers are even harder to get than before. No-one wants to move, no-one wants to make a mistake, no-one wants to invest in something. This is a very tricky situation when organising such tours. But from our recent experience in the country, I’m quite confident that the Argentineans will solve the problem their way – at the very last moment, but just in time. The broad gauge section of the tour is not confirmed yet, the only advice from Argentina was: “go ahead with the tour” and “we will make it possible”. Don’t ask how, and don’t ask how well I can sleep with this attitude to sorting out and discussing things, but it’s worked twice already, and the conditions were not much better, when I remember the thunderstorm the day before the tour set off in 2012 and interrupted the line at three locations.

La Trochita - The Old Patagonia Express: Mamuel Choique

So here is the risky gem of the world again: Patagonia with its most scenic lines and with some of the most interesting steam locomotives in the world. Nothing is guaranteed except that we’ll try everything to make it a wonderful success again.

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 spray paint and, with the help of a stencil, I sprayed the “Ferrocarriles Argentinos” logo on the freight wagons. And this not only happened in 2012, but also on the tour in 2014. Only after I arrived did things progress and on the very last day before the first train was due to move, did they change the tender inscriptions! Arranging such an event didn’t get any 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, I have to mention it again: we cannot guarantee anything other than that we’ll always try to make things happen the way we want them. There is no reason to contact a lawyer if something doesn’t work out as planned/hoped/wished/paid for, if trains don’t look as we ordered them or if locomotives fail or derailments occur, etc. From our Argentinean partners we can expect no refund or compensation in such cases, so you must accept that there won’t be any refunds possible in any case. You have 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 or 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 and 2014.

La Trochita - The Old Patagonia Express

The survival of this long line is really quite uncertain, even in the southern province of Chubut. In the peak season of 2013 the railwaymen went on strike – and the governor of Chubut discussed in public the idea of shutting down the line and dismissing 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 that they’ll 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)? After the election things may change completely – but it will take at least a year to see the changes. That’s why we go their again now, before cut backs in infrastructure may terminate such tours. In Ing. Jacobacci and Esquel they would need to invest a huge amount of money to catch up with the not yet done but necessary track maintenance. Ing, Jacobacci can be reached only over dusty or muddy gravel roads so far (and by broad gauge train). It’s likely that they’ll invest in their road system first – although they’ve announced a plan to re-open the whole line for regular service with modern railcars. The new government didn’t give a statement about these plans so far.

We will – as usual – consider the trains and daylight hours rather than fixed dining times or four and five star accommodation (which are not available anyhow, only prices would match a five star hotel in Europe sometimes). 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 they did in the 1980s. We’ll offer different train compositions and hope to be able to offer a real freight train as well – which is only possible if we can get them to rebuild the brakes on several freight wagons.

La Trochita - The Old Patagonia Express: Rio Chico

La Trochita - The Old Patagonia Express: Rio Chico

La Trochita - The Old Patagonia Express

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). We need our railway crews to work together with us and hence it’s essential that we allow them some rest between the hard days and, 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 that we’ll book.

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 bus that still works.

La Trochita - The Old Patagonia Express

Mobile phone coverage in the places we’re staying overnight is good, but in between there are big gaps. Internet is available in most of the places we’re going to, but not in all and, for sure, it’s not as fast as you’re used to. Electricity is available in all our accommodations.

Argentina is a safe country to travel to. 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.

Fitz Roy at dusk

Glacier Perito Moreno near Calafate



Patagonia Express 47 to 56 participants £4,060
16.10.2016 – 28.10.2016 40 to 46 participants £4,260
  Single room surcharge £590
Registration Deadline: 15.06.2016
Broad Gauge Steam in Patagonia 38 to 56 participants £2,370
24.10.2016 – 30.10.2016 30 to 37 participants £2,620
  Single room surcharge £310
Registration Deadline: 15.06.2016

South Patagonia and a Glimpse of Steam: This part is a private extension you can join. The costs will be shared. Depending on the group size it will be between 1.500 and 3.000 Pounds.

The price includes:

Not included are:

Prices can change more than 5% if exchange rates move seriously.

The terms of payments are different from the general terms and conditions. There is no deposit required for this tour when booking. It’s only due after we’ve announced that the tour is on. The deposit then will be £600 (instead of the usual £250) and can’t be refunded under any circumstances.

La Trochita - The Old Patagonia Express


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