Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway
The Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway (BAGS) (Spanish: Ferrocarril del Sud) was one of the Big Four broad gauge, 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm), British-owned companies that built and operated railway networks in Argentina. The company was founded by Edward Lumb in 1862 and the first general manager was Edward Banfield after whom the Buenos Aires suburban station of Banfield was named, when it opened in 1873. After president Juan Perón nationalisation Argentina’s railway network in 1948 it became part of the state-owned company Ferrocarril General Roca.
On 7 March 1864, in a ceremony attended by the president Bartolomé Mitre, construction began on the site of the present-day railway terminus at Plaza Constitución in Buenos Aires, and the line of 114 km as far as Chascomús was completed in 1865. The first terminus was completed in 1885 and on 19 September 1925 a foundation stone for the rebuilding of the terminus was laid by the Prince of Wales, later Duke of Windsor, during his official visit to Argentina.
By 1930 the company had become a vast enterprise, probably the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere, with over 8000 km of mostly 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm) (broad gauge) single track, 504 stations, 857 steam locomotives, 955 carriages, 16,602 wagons and over 30,000 staff. Its influence over the life and development of Buenos Aires Province was considerable. The railway network was planned to provide communication between towns in the interior of the province and the capital, and to enable the agricultural produce of the interior, much of which was destined for export, to reach the ports of Buenos Aires, Necochea and Bahía Blanca.
The company and its subsidiaries owned and operated many ancillary services including grain handling facilities, an experimental fruit farm at Cinco Saltos in the Rio Negro valley, a power station in Bahía Blanca, the Argentine Fruit Distributors Company, the Club Hotel de la Ventana, the Condor long distance coach company, and a hotel with an adjoining golf course in Miramar.
Puerto Ingeniero White, one of ports of Bahia Blanca, was built by the company who installed two grain elevators there in 1908 to cope with the increasing grain traffic, and constructed a jetty to provide berthing for four steamships. Together with the other British-owned railways, the company had a financial interest in the Compañía Ferrocarriles de Petróleo in Comodoro Rivadavia whose wells supplied a large proportion of the fuel oil used by these railways. The railway controlled and operated the South Dock in Buenos Aires, at the mouth of the Riachuelo River.
Much of the goods traffic, including the movement of grain, livestock, fruit from the valley of the Rio Negro, was seasonal, as was the summer tourist traffic to Mar del Plata, Miramar and Necochea. Apart from the suburban services around Buenos Aires and Bahía Blanca, the main traffic flow was between these two cities and beyond by three routes: the direct line via Las Flores, Olavarría and Coronel Pringles; a variant of this from Olavarría through General La Madrid and Saavedra; or finally via Las Flores and Tres Arroyos. Services beyond Bahia Blanca through the Plaza Huincul oilfield to Zapala in Neuquén Province, and to Bariloche in Rio Negro Province, at first provided by through coaches on trains to Bahia Blanca, soon developed to the point where it became necessary to run separate complete trains from Buenos Aires.
Always in fierce competition with the British-owned Buenos Aires and Ensenada Port Railway the BAGS took over that company in 1898.
In 1906 the BAGS proposed an extension of the line from Zapala, 115 km from the Chilean border, across the Andes to the town of Lonquimay in Chile. Due to lack of funds the line was never built. This would have provided a rail link between the two countries in addition to the Transandine Railway, connecting Mendoza in Argentina with Los Andes in Chile, which was opened in 1910.
Other mainline services included those from Buenos Aires via Bolivar to Carhué, via Maipú to Tandil, via Chas and Ayacucho to Necochea, and services from Bahía Blanca to Toay in La Pampa Province and to Huinca Renanco in Córdoba Province.
Except during the 1939-45 war in Europe, most of the steam locomotives, almost all of which were manufactured in Britain, burned oil, a fuel in which Argentina was almost self-sufficient. Coal suitable for locomotive working was not available locally and had to be imported. The heaviest goods trains, reaching over 2000 tons during the harvest season, were often hauled by three-part articulated Garratt locomotives.
Hazards on the tracks included the accumulation of sand during and after high winds, stray cattle and the possibility of collisions at the many unprotected level crossings.
The railway's repair shops were built in 1901 at Remedios de Escalada, 11 km from the Plaza Constitución, were the largest in South America, and employed nearly 3,000 men. Although primarily for repair work, the shops were equipped to make every part of a locomotive or a railway carriage. When the company took over the working of the Bahía Blanca and North Western Railway from the Buenos Aires and Pacific Railway company in 1925 it acquired the latter's workshops in Bahia Blanca.
The year 1930 marked the peak of the company’s prosperity but towards the end of that year the ill effects of the progressive devaluation of the Argentine peso began to be felt and labour costs began to increase substantially. The company was also facing increasing competition from transport on the expanding road network.
When the entire Argentine railway network was nationalised in 1948, during Juan Peron's presidency, the BAGS became part of the state-owned company Ferrocarril General Roca. At the same time it absorbed the former state-owned line from Patagones to Bariloche, the 750 mm (2 ft 5 1⁄2 in) narrow gauge line from Ingeniero Jacobacci to Esquel, affectionately known as La Trochita, and the southern half of the French-owned Ferrocarril Rosario y Puerto Belgrano.
- "Attempts to cross the border". Railways of the far south. Retrieved March 4, 2013.
- D.S.Purdom, British Steam on the Pampas, Mechanical Engineering Publications Ltd, London, 1977.
- William Rogind, Historia del Ferrocarril Sud 1861-1936, Edit. Ferrocarril Sud, Buenos Aires, 1937.
- Colin M. Lewis, British Railways in Argentina 1857-1914: A Case Study of Foreign Investment, Athlone Press (for the Institute of Latin American Studies, University of London), 1983.