The International Steam Pages

The First Railway in Uruguay

Tabare Bordach has sent his information based on documents stored at Railway Museum - Railway Studies Circle of Uruguay (CEFU)

In 1860 a project was launched to build a rail or tram way from Montevideo to Durazno, known as "Ferrocarril a Durazno", but the scheme failed on the grounds that it would interfere with an existing road and because the promoters had no connection with public men of Government.

Other proposals were subsequently mooted, but it was not until 1865 that Mr. Senen Maria Rodriguez obtained permission to build a railway from Montevideo to Durazno via Las Piedras, Canelones and Florida. Largely by reason of the persistence of Senen Rodriguez —a leading Spanishman and a member of a respected Montevideo family - the scheme was brought to fruition, and by a decree dated on October 10, 1866, the "Ferrocarril Central" came into existence.

The route between Montevideo and Durazno crossed a number of rivers and, as the money available did not permit expensive earthworks, the line had to end at Las Piedras.

On October 4, 1868, the Directors arranged an inaugural trip. The President of Uruguay, Gral. Lorenzo Batlle, arrived at Bella Vista at eleven on that morning, and shortly afterwards a train consisting of three carriages, drawn by locomotive Nş 1 named "General Flores", left Bella Vista for La Paz River, about 2½ miles before Las Piedras. The line was not completed until the 22nd. of that month, reaching Las Piedras. The Directors decided to open the line formally on January 1, 1869. That morning the train arrived at Las Piedras, and there was a display of fireworks. The first railway in Uruguay was brought into public use on that day.

When completed, the railway consisted of 10 miles 4 furlongs of standard gauge single line. Gradients were not numerous, the sharpest being 1 in 60. There was also two curves, having a radius of 20 chains. Two small bridges were necessary; the arches of which were brick on stone or masonry abutments. In addition, a number of culverts were erected. Stations were built at Bella Vista, Pantanoso (now Colon) and Las Piedras.

The operation of the railway was not a complicated matter, in that, no telegraph was necessary, and single-section was worked by time interval system for many months. The time taken for the journey of 10½ miles was 42 or 44 minutes. The line was worked with two engines, The "General Flores" and the "Montevideo", which were built by Manning Wardle & Co. They were of the 0-6-0 saddle tank type, with 3ft. 6in. wheels, 11in. by 17in. cylinders, 120 lb. pressure and a weight in running order of 16½ Tons. Apart from minor troubles and the outset of their careers, these two coal burning engines rendered good service. Nş 1 and Nş 2 were scrapped by 1905, but one sister loco is in existence: Nş 3 preserved in working order by the CEFU. The coaching stock was of British design (Ashbury Co., of Manchester), and comprised eight 4-wheel carriages. They had an average tare weight of 7 or 8 Tons. Ten tarpaulin, eight pick-up and four covered completed the list of rolling stock.

The first full year working resulted giving a loss of $ 17367 (Uruguayan money). The next year showed a debit balance, attributable to the revolution. The unfortunate occurrences in Uruguay had checked the prosperity of the company. The continued failure of the Directors to make definite proposals for meeting the acute financial situation of the "Ferrocarril Central" caused that it was impracticable to continue working without additional capital expenditure. In October 1870, Mr. Rodriguez travelled to England and obtained an additional capital from Waring Brothers of London. The amount of these capital was £300,000 entitled to interest at 7 per cent., per annum.

By 1871, the line was extended for 1 mile 5 furlongs reaching Montevideo, and a new station (named "Central") was built at this point. On November 17, 1872, the line was extended to 25 de Agosto, a distance of 39½ miles from Montevideo Central. Eleven days later, the Board had to report the retirement, and subsequent death, of the Uruguay earliest railway pioneer, Mr. Senen Maria Rodriguez

The Ferrocarril Central continued building northward from Montevideo. Finally, on May 16, 1874, the first train ran over the entire line from Montevideo to Durazno, a distance of 127½ miles. On December 13, 1876, the Ferrocarril Central was sold to the Central of Uruguay Railway Co., Ltd. (CUR), with offices at 4, Great Winchester St., London, E.C. The new company will be considered to have commenced its existence on the 1st January, 1878. The CUR was destined to become the longest line in Uruguay. By the close of the British railway era (1949), the CUR could lay 975 miles of standard-gauge track, and owned about 160 steam locomotives.

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Rob Dickinson