This book is devoted to the 750mm gauge Ing Jacobacci to Esquel railway in southern Argentina. Though the steam loco had been practically banished from Argentina's railways by 1980, the highly spectacular Esquel branch has remained steam worked and, over the years, attracted an increasing number of visitors. From the late 1980s onwards, many special trains have been run over the line by American and British tour companies; today the railway survives essentially as a tourist operation.
The line was originally conceived as part of a larger narrow gauge system intended to open up the sparsely populated areas of northern and central Patagonia. In the event only the already existing metre gauge Puerto Madryn to Las Plumas was converted to 750mm and the Esquel to Ing Jacobacci railway was opened in stages between 1922 and 1945. Ambitions were evidently high as 80 locos were inexplicably ordered off the shelf from Baldwin and Henschel in 1922; or was there more than a whiff of corruption here? Many of these locos were put into store and never worked; nonetheless today about 25 survive.
The heyday of the railway was in the 1950s and early 1960s, but with improved road transport in the region, it was already in decline by the late 1960s. It has always been my understanding that the Argentinian Railways long wanted to close the line, but it was kept open at the behest of the Argentinian military (relations with Chile were very strained in the 1960s & 1970s) and thus the line survived as a 100% steam worked operation into the 1990s and the era of quasi-preservation. Sadly Keith Taylorson does not address this issue but instead presents us with a romantic view of a plucky little steam railway continuing to operate against the odds.
This is the first book on this railway to appear in English (indeed there are very few books on the railways of this country in English) and its appearance is to be welcomed. We are treated to a brief history of the line, its development and decline, as well as descriptions of the railway, its motive power and rolling stock. The book concludes with some travellers' impressions. "Narrow Gauge to Esquel" is beautifully printed and well illustrated - but do the locos constantly emit thick clouds of black smoke? The photos included certainly give the impression they do!
"Narrow Gauge to Esquel" was evidently inspired by Keith Taylorson's first visit to the railway in October 1998. It is a useful introduction to the Esquel branch, but a definitive work it is not.
"Narrow Gauge to Esquel"
By Keith Taylorson
ISBN : 1-871980-41-0
Available from the author: 23 Hanover Street, Brighton, BN2 2ST, UK
Price : GBP 9.95 (plus postage).