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La Trochita Railway

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Argentina

train patagonia argentina

Infamous for its relentless winds and endless wide-open terrain, Patagonia is a land where only the hardiest of things can survive. The Patagonian resilience is best personified by La Trochita, Argentina’s only fully-functioning steam engine train and one of the few remaining narrow-gauge steam train lines in the world. An opportunity to ride behind the old engine, also known as the Old Patagonia Express, and see its bellowing smoke rise through the pale blue Patagonian sky is an experience for all ages.

The story of La Trochita is one of starts and stops, much like the original 402-kilometer (250 mile) route through the Río Negro and Chubut provinces. The state-run rail project was a high-risk proposal when it began in 1906. Due to the financial constraints of World War I, work didn't begin on the narrow-gauge-section until the 1920s. It would take builders nearly 40 years to make the .75-meter (2.5 feet) gauge tracks reach the town of El Maitén in the province of Chubut, through the harsh, desolate Patagonian landscape. When completed, it was the southern-most regular passenger service in the world. It yet holds that distinction, being the main transport for the Mapuche inhabitants of Nahuel Pan.

El Viejo Expreso Patagónico has been the subject of many documentaries and books, like Paul Theroux’s epic journey through the Americas, The Old Patagonia Express. However, there was a time when it was almost shut down for good; due to their inability to compete with alternative modes of transportation, most trains were all but abandoned by the 1990s. But La Trochita, special in the hearts and minds of those who traveled its steely rails, continued to operate. Today, through winter snows and summer fields of thistle, Esquel visitors regurally hop the Old Patagonia Express. The two dining cars, one at either end of the train, serve coffee, tortaletas, beer and sandwiches during the trip, just as they did in the old days. Tickets typically cost $14.70 for adults and $5.90 for children. The second weekend in February the ride usually goes as far as El Maintén, to celebrate the annual Día del Trencito.

The Argentine Patagonia is not short on stories of struggle and survival but some are naturally more endearing than others. A passage through Patagonia would not be complete without a passage on-board Argentina’s lovable legend, La Trochita.



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21 Sep 2010


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