The International Steam Pages

Steam Restoration for RFIRT 119, Argentina, 2015

Shaun McMahon has sent the following update for November / December 2015. Click here for the previous press release / update for October / November 2015 which follows it..

Pictures of the restoration work on 119 have previously been posted on this site and  there is also a progress report up to just before the first steam test. There are also pictures of 119 returning home in October 2015.

Following a second round run off for national president of Argentina that took place on 22nd November 2015, a new national government was sworn in on 10th December of the same. Already many changes have been made with respect to the way in which the country is run. A major change that will affect overseas visitors is that of the return to a free exchange market following a release of the overseas money exchange restrictions that had been enforced by the previous government during 2011 following their 3rd election win at the ballot boxes. The results of the restriction have been many but the most visible have been hyper inflation and a masked devaluation of Argentina's national currency. During recent times the US Dollar has had up to six exchange rates depending upon whether one was travelling abroad or simply wanted to purchase US Dollars as an investment precaution against a steady national inflation rate. On 17th December the restriction was lifted and Argentina now has one US Dollar exchange rate and people along with companies can exchange national currency for overseas money at banks and foreign exchange offices instead of having to go out on to the street and exchange on the black market. Apart from having a direct effect on tourism this change in policy has also had an immediate effect upon industry. Importation restrictions have also been lifted as the country returns to normality thus components for steam locomotives can once again be purchased from overseas suppliers. As readers will realise this alters the perspective of projects such as the Rio Turbio Railway in various ways.

Given the many changes taking place at the moment within the country, caution has prevailed and as a result the continuation of work has been slow yet steady with respect to RFIRT locomotive 107 and the Sentinel S6 steam waggon.107ís boiler takes a prominent position in Cromwell Marines main erecting shop. As reported in issue 99, boiler work is now complete and only re- modifications so as to incorporate the GPCS remain to be completed along with lagging and cladding as well as front end fitting. Tender bogies are complete and await fitting under the tender body which is still under repair. Main driving and coupled wheel tyres have been turned and work on the chassis will continue during the next few months.

Due to the changes that have taken place at national government level and the direct effect that this has had on the province of Santa Cruz, the completion date of March 2016 has now been altered to a point in time later on during 2016 that will tie in with organisational developments at YCRT. Strike action continues at Rio Turbio coal mines, workshops, railway and power plants. YCRT remains an intervened semi re nationalised company, that is to say the full renationalisation of the Argentine coal board that begun back in 2002 was never completed thus the coal board continues to be run as a government managed private company. During the last week of the outgoing government's period in office, an attempt was made to pass a bill to fully renationalise YCRT and form YCF S.E. Whilst the bill was voted through the lower house at the national congress it was rejected in the upper house, thus the new national government is in the process of deciding the future of the coal mines and its associated railway. It is likely to remain open however, changes so as to increase productivity and connect the new 240 MW power station to the national grid will most probably come into effect during 2016.

Rebuilt locomotive 119 along with its set of refurbished coaches, remain parked up at Turbio Viejo Staion (32 km short of Rio Turbio) until further notice. The railway has no traffic running over it at this point in time. A political rather than a technical decision will determine when these items can proceed up the line so as to be stored under cover rather than continue be exposed to the harsh windswept conditions and varying climate of the Patagonian scrub desert. The full rebuilding of the steam motor of the Sentinel S6 waggon continues; as mentioned previously a considerable amount of rectification work is required to bring this major component back to working order. A whole new lubrication system has been manufactured and is being trial fitted at the moment. Reassembly of the chassis unit is taking place at the time of writing and a completely renewed tipper section is complete to be fitted to the S6 once the chassis, motor, boiler and cab are in place.

During the past couple of months notable progress has been made in relation to the Rio Turbio Railway project. Perhaps the most significant advancement has been the completion of locomotive 119. As was previously mentioned in the pages of this website, a political timeline was set for the work during 2014 when the work was contracted out to G & G Metalmecanica of Lanus Este, Buenos Aires. Essentially in terms of a technical schedule this means that the contractor must complete the itemised work on or before the date required by the national government, ministry of federal planning and public works, in order that the said item, locomotive 119 in this case, is ready to be included as part of a forthcoming political event or election campaign. On 25th October 2015 general elections at national, provincial and regional levels were held in Argentina and 119 had to be in steam hauling a number of passenger coaches in Rio Gallegos on 10th October as part of the political campaign closure by the national president and a group of ministers along with political candidates in the southern Patagonian province of Santa Cruz.

Final assembly of 119 carried on through September, with all available staff being used so as to achieve completion and dispatch date during the first week of October. During this period, work on 107 and the Sentinel S6 steam waggon came to a standstill whilst all available manpower was allocated to 119. By the last weekend in September the locomotive was virtually complete and ready for an initial static steam test on site at Cromwell Marine in Buenos Aires (as readers will remember from previous reports, this company have been sub contracted by the contracting company, G & G Metalmecanica in order to provide workshop facilities and skilled manpower) which was concluded successfully. In order to send off south for punctual arrival at Rio Gallegos it was decided not to complete all features required for the successful operation of the Gas Producer Combustion System (GPCS), including the full ashpan exhaust steam pipework and brick arch. The mechanical stoker is also in need of completion on site and exhaust deflectors have yet to be fitted to the locomotive. Hand fired wood fuel was used for the static steam test in Buenos Aires.

On the morning of 6th October, 119 was duly loaded on to the road rig and started the long journey from Buenos Aires to Rio Gallegos, arriving on Friday 9th October just in time for an all night working session in order to finish off detail items ready for trial running and project launching on Saturday 10th October. The passenger carrying coaches that had been completed along with brake van were also sent down from the workshops in the province of Chubut in order to make up an initial train for the project launch. The standard of work carried out on these coaches is very high and they have been finished off to an excellent standard in relation to any part of the country or overseas. For the time being the set is made up of four complete coaches and the restored brake and luggage van. Four more coaches are under total rebuild in the Chubut province based workshops of the ďLa TochitaĒ narrow gauge railway and these will be dispatched to Santa Cruz province early in the New Year.

By sunrise on Saturday 10th October, 119 was in steam and ready to start trial running on a section of line at Killik Aike Station (this station serves Killik Aike Estancia), which is 14 km west of Rio Gallegos. A series of trial runs were made over relatively short distances taking into account the overall length of the mainline (284 km) of the RFIRT and the maximum drawbar horsepower of these locomotives which is in excess of 1,200 hp; this is an equivalent of just over 1,300 dbhp in straight comparison to a diesel locomotive. Once the engineering team of G & G Metalmecanica were satisfied with the initial results and the RFIRT mainline crew had settled back into handling a steam locomotive rather than a diesel hydraulic (the last RFIRT mainline steam hauled train ran at the end of 1996!), the project was launched in the presence of national, provincial and local government officials. The weather remained fine throughout the event which was attended by some 100 people on the edge of the Patagonian scrub desert.

With the official launch having taken place, thoughts returned to operational logistics and general engineering in order to ensure that locomotive 119 and rolling stock could reach the other end of the line by the following weekend. Following some technical adjustments to the locomotive as a result of these initial trials, 119 was loaded up again on to the road transporter rig along with the rolling stock and the convoy headed west towards Rio Turbio. The reason for conveying by road rather than rail, was due to a rumour that internal problems were being suffered by YCRT (Argentine national coal board) at Rio Turbio in connection with a conflict between state employees and management. By Tuesday 14th October trouble had broken out in Rio Turbio and all employees at the mines, workshops, running shed and both power stations went out on strike for an undefined period of time. Common sense prevailed with respect to the 119 convoy and all stock were offloaded at Turbio Viejo Staion, 32 kilometres short of Rio Turbio and parked up in order to await conveyance to the end of line once the trade union dispute had come to an end. At the time of writing, 119 and rolling stock are still parked at Turbio Viejo Station whilst negotiations continue between YCRT management and staff, though it is estimated that strike action will carry on beyond Christmas and into the New Year.

With 119 out of the way at the workshops in Buenos Aires a great deal more space was made available in order to continue work on locomotive 107 and the Sentinel steam waggon. The work previously described in relation to 107ís rebuild has advanced considerably since 119 was sent back to the RFIRT. Boiler work is now complete and hydraulic testing is taking place at the time of writing. Both leading and trailing pony trucks are under overhaul whilst the main drivers and coupled wheelsets are having their wheel profiles turned. Brakegear is being reinstated as well as a full suspension refurbish. A completion date for March 2016 has now been set by the contractors, G & G Metalmecanica, which will allow more time so as to work on the GPCS as well as other remodifications in order to bring the locomotive in line with previous standards as well as allowing on site engineering visits to Rio Turbio in conjunction with 119ís next remodification stage at the same time as preparing locomotives 105 and 113 for transportation to Buenos Aires for rebuild and remodification during 2016.

The Sentinel S6 steam waggon has also advanced considerably during recent weeks. The heavy overhaul of the motor continues and much time is being spent upon rectification of this major component due to the lubrication system having been stripped off during service years at Rio Turbio. As readers can imagine, this has caused a tremendous amount of internal damage. On the vehicle side of matters, the tipper unit has been completely dismantled and in the same manner as the two locomotive tenders were dealt with, sections of platework are being used to replace damaged or corroded existing sections as this is faster and more cost effective in comparison with patching up the existing side sections. The chassis has now been stripped and attention is being paid to wheelhubs, tyres and brakegear. The 1949 batch of Sentinels sent to Argentina were fitted with hydraulic brakes rather than steam brakes. This was quite an advancement at the time in the UK, however due to the very harsh conditions of the scrub desert allied with the coal mine environment, it appears that the hydraulic seals on the wheel hubs leaked considerably. Spares were hard to come by as well as skilled labour in order to fit such, indeed as was the case with the fleet of steam locomotives with respect to many important component parts hence the drastic demodification process from the mid 70ís onwards when know how and discipline no longer existed on the system. Upon strip down it was found that rather than attending to the S6ís hydraulic seals, the hydraulic pipes leading to the system had been carefully closed up by hammering flat thus no hydraulic oil could get to the brakes; in other words they operated without brakes and used the motor running in reverse to slow down and stop which over an extended period of time added to the mechanical damage of the motor. It is most probable that when the locomotives started to suffer brake problems due to lack of maintenance in the 1980ís this practice was copied by staff who had been involved in emergency rectification work to the fleet of S6 vehicles. The semi water tube boiler has been overhauled and hydraulically tested in readiness to refit to the waggon. No serious problems were found in relation to the boiler upon stripdown, inspection and overhaul. The whole of the steering system is being overhauled at present whilst the cab unit has been sent to the specialist workshops that restored the cab of 119 and at the time being are fully restoring the cab of 107.

Rob Dickinson