Friday, February 23, 2018

Annals of the dead (7) ....cemeteries in Buenos Aires

The most famous cemetery in Buenos Aires is the one of La Recoleta. This cemetery in the rich neighborhood of Recoleta was found in 1722 using the gardens of a disbanded convent.
The cemetery contains 4691 vaults. 94 were declared national monuments. Burried here are Evita Peron, several argentine presidents or dictators like Mitre, Sarmiento and Roca, Nobel prize winners like Leloir (chemistry), generals, artists and actors.
Like the neighborhood around it, it is a popular tourist destination, in particular the otherwise unspectecular grave of Eva Peron in a side alley which is too narrow for the number of her admirers.
The graves of these celebrities are well maintained while some of the other vaults have fallen into disrepair. Probably people cannot afford the price of many ten thousands of dollars for a tomb here. The cemetery might be one of the most beautiful in the world with respect of the beauty of its buildings, but it is definitely not representative of Buenos Aires or Argentina. It is a place for the rich and famous, the others are buried elsewhere.

The other big cemetery is La Chacarita. Like Recoleta it has got the big artistic vaults, memorials and celebrities, in particular many artists like the tango singer Gardel.
It was found in consequence of a yellow fever epidemic when the other cemeteries did not have more capacity. In fact the posh Recoleta cemetery refused to take victims of the epidemic. Special sections are reserved for the british and german community. The german section contains the graves of Hans Langsdorff (1894–1939), Captain of the World War II battleship Admiral Graf Spree who sank his ship in the port of Buenos Aires to avoid being captured by the British, and Friedrich Bergius, who received the nobel price in chemistry in 1931.
However, the biggest part are the endless rows of burial chambers. The older ones are above ground. A lot of them are broken and in some you can detect bones and skulls behind the fragments of the front plate.
The newer ones are in endless rows of subterranean tunnels. Some have plastic or real flowers, but save their photographs most of the occupants seem to be forgotten.
Beyond there is a big yard of even poorer gravesites. Wooden crosses, some flowers, overgrown with weeds. Some parts are abandoned, the cover is broken, most of the graves not recognisable any more. This is more like a representation of Buenos Aires, with its small community of immensely rich families and endless barrios of unknown poor or old people.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Cathedrals of transportation (2) ..... Retiro station(s) in Buenos Aires

At its height at the end of the second world war, the rail network in Argentina extended to 47000 km and was one of the largest and most prosperous in the world. Even now, with 39.966 km left, it is the eigth longest in the world.This is a train of the San Martin line.
In the ninetinth century, during the development of the network, parts were sold of to mostly British investors. The result was that lines were constructed in mainly three different gages, today 26475 in 1676 mm, 2870 km in the european standard gage of 1435 mm and 7711 in a gage of 1000 mm. When the network was nationalised again in 1948, it was owned by 10 Argentine, 7 British and 3 French Companies. The different lines ended in several termini in Buenos Aires, of which after a chaotic succesion of privatisation and nationalisation Constitucion, Once, Lacroce, and Retiro are still used.  
Retiro station in fact is three stations in one. Retiro mitre with a gage of 1676 mm serves the west and north of the country as far as Cordoba and Tucuman via Rosario
For the Mitre station a plan was presented in 1980 by architects Eustace L. Conder, Roger Conder y Sydney G. Follett, and engineer Reginald Reynolds, all British living in Argentina
When it was opened in 1915 it was one of the world's biggest stations
The station was renovated recently.
To take photos on the platform in Mitre and Belgrano station i had to get a permit. This worked well in Belgrano, where I went upstairs alongside an antique elevator and filled a form. In Mitre i only got 5 minutes by the masculine guardess.
Retiro Belgrano with 1000 mm the north and west to Cordoba, Mendoza, Tucuman and the Bolivian border, and
The Belgrano station (former estación Retiro del Ferrocarril Central Córdoba) is a building in French style built by architects Louis Faure Dujarric (french) and Robert Prentice (english) in 1912.
Note the ventilators, which spray cooling water on the platform.
Retiro San Martin the west as far as Mendoza in 1676 mm. Retiro San Martin was started in 1912 but never finished and stayed more looking like a shed.
The station Once (1676 mm) served the west as far as Mendoza Province.
 A serious accident due to neglect happened here in 2012.
 A train crashed into Once station, 51 people were killed and 700 injured. The accident in fact caused the last privatisation of the Argentine rail network.    
Outside Once station there are still a couple of old trains from the great time of Argentine railways awaiting restauration or the scrapyard
 For once this part of the station was not heavily guarded.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Remainders of the great days of railroading (11).... The remnants of the tren de las nubes

With the highest point of 4220 m the 941km long railway from Salta in Argentina to Antofagasta in Chile is the fifth highest in the world and the third highest in South America. The 571 km in Argentina are part of the meter gage Ferrocarril General Manuel Belgrano which links Buenos Aires with Bolivia. The Chilean track (Socompa-Antofagasta) is part of the Ferrocarril de Antofagasta a Bolivia (FCAB).
Together with the railway from Santiago to Mendoza it forms the only rail link between the two countries. Both are out of traffic.

The construction of the railway started in 1921 to connect the North of Argentina with Chile across the Andes and to serve the various mines of the area. The Chilean track was inaugurated in 1947 and the complete railway on 20 February 1948.

The highest point is the viaduct La Polvorilla. The highest of the line, it was finished in 1932.

Steam engines were put out of service on the General Belgrano line in 1980. One is preserved at the foot of the mountains in Campo Quijano. 
Meanwhile freight service has stopped on the Argentine side of the line and all but stopped in Chile. The only train remaining is the tren de las nubes. This tourist train used to link Salta and the highest point of the line at the viaduct La Polvorilla. 
Since the lower part of the line is in such a poor condition that it is unsafe for travel, the tren de las nubes now is restricted to the 18 km from San Antonio de las Cobres to the viaduct. Passengers are ferried to San Antonio by bus.
There is talk about reconstruction of the line both in Chile and Argentina, but this topic seems to pop up regularily without much being done. 
However, there is a new commuter service for 40 km from Salta to Quilmes. A railcar has been shipped to Salta, and it does a couple of runs daily. However, the track is so bad that it took the signal man quite a while to get the point ready at the entrance to Salta. Note that the train is far too high for the platforms. A makshift entrance platform had to be constructed for the passengers to board. However, this train is very popular since it is much cheaper than the bus on the same route.
In addition, they are busy to reconstruct the section of the General Belgrano line between Jujuy north of Salta and the Bolivian border. They have started by removing all the tracks and, strangly enough continue by rebuilding the stations first.  

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Remainders of the great days of railroading (10).... FEVE

FEVE is spanish and stands for ferrocarriles españoles de via estrecha. The spanish railroad company RENFE has inherited a network of narrow gauge railways, mainly in the north of spain.

FEVE was originally created in 1965 to absorb private narrow gauge railroad companies which could not operate profitable any more. Originally, it absorbed railroads of various gauges, 1,435 mm, 1,067 mm, 1000 mm, 914 mm750 mm, whereby some were converted to 1,000 mm.
From 1978 onwards, with the introduction of regionalisation, FEVE also began transferring responsibility for a number of its lines to the new regional governments. This happened in Catalonia in 1978, in Valencia in 1986, with a part of the Basque network in 1979, and with Majorcan Railways in 1994.
You can go from the french border at Irun/Hendaye in the northeast all the way to the northwestern end of Spain in Ferrol. From the border to Bilbao via San Sebestian the network is operated by EUSKOTRAIN. There are frequent connections at least every hour, more in the rush hour. 
Even though the EUSKOTRAIN station in Irun only has two tracks you have difficulties to find out where to go. You will not find any indication of San Sebastian. Neither will your search for Donostia, its basque name, will bring you any further. The station is in the neighbourhood of AMARA ZAHARRA, and that is where you have to look for. 
EUSKOTRAIN is a modern enterprise but they also run a charming local railway museum in a place called Azpeitia. If you come at the right time before they close for a long siesta. If you are even more lucky you can have a ride on their beautifully restored steam train to near little Lasao. The whole line used to be a branch from the San Sebastian to Bilbao main line to the monastery of Loyola, the founding place of the Jesuit order. Now it is a fragment which can only be reached by road.
The FEVE station of Bilbao is next to the RENFE station and a far distance across the river from the EUSKOTRAIN station from San Sebastian. Nobody at the EUSKOTRAIN station will be able to give you any information about FEVE's or RENFE's schedule. In fact the RENFE line from Miranda del Ebro to Bilbao is not even in the official RENFE railway map of northern Spain even though Bilbao has direct trains to far away places like Barcelona or La Coruña. 
The best and most complete  map i found on the internet was from 1921. There are no flyers with FEVE schedules. If you search the internet, you will find a FEVE network map, but there is no hint where it connects to RENFE or EUSKOTRAIN. But they have a list and drawings of their locomotives and railcars. The man behind the counter in the station of Bilbao has nothing to do, but is not willing to let himself be disturbed by customers. So we find out ourselves that there is only one train a day from Bilbao to Leon and on the coastal line to Santander (about the same distance as to San Sebastian to where you have at least hourly trains...) there are merely three.
Bilbao has other interesting transportation sights. The Puente Biscaya, a combination of bridge, cable car and ferry, crosses the mouth of the river. In the town there are numerous elevators and cable cars to get from the valley up into the higher neighbourhoods. And there is of course the Guggenheim museum....
The FEVE lines enclose the Picos de Europa and in particular the line to Leon passes through the vast Castilian landscape with magnificent views. 
There is a luxury train between Leon, Bilbao and Ferrol , el Cantabrico, and for a sizable amount of money you can enjoy the trip from the window of your sleeper or the dining car with a gourmet meal and expensive wine. 
At Mataporquera the only train crosses with the train in the other direction. There is a big RENFE station across the tracks, but it is unclear how to get there without jaywalking - there are no signs.
The only train is well used. On the other hand, out of Bilbao towards Santander there are three passengers on the train... an English train spotter and the two of us.
And they still have an employee who sways out the only two daily trains.
Even though there are so few trains the lines are in excellent condition. The rails are new, the signalling is latest technology, the railcars are new, many of the station buildings are renovated.
The three hour legs out of Bilbao to the west are electrified and have regular commuter service up to the border to Cantabria. 
Out of Leon they are electrifying and rebuilding the line. However, it ends and begins in a suburb next to the university. For strange reasons they have built a bicycle path across it, which blocks the track into town. That does not prevent them from renovating and electrifying the part which is behind the blockade.
Leon is now the end of AVE high speed track from Madrid. They have built a functional, therefore ugly, new station while the old beauty next door is disfunctional.
All the tracks are still there, but guess what, they have built a road right across tracks, platform and all.
One of the reasons the lines are still in use might be the heavy industry around places like Bilbao, Oviedo and Gijon. We cross a couple of heavy steel trains between Bilbao, Santander and Oviedo which are hauled by several Diesel engines. The line from Gijon to Laviana passes through a heavily industrialised valley full of mines. In the 1970 they had still steam engines in these mines and Mr. Schambach has written beautiful articles about this area. Afterwards the line was converted from 1435 to 1000 mm, a quite unusual track conversion.
In Oviedo, for once, FEVE and RENFE share the same station. However, there are separate ticket counters and separate timetables. The old station is completely covered with a concrete upper deck which is used by some invalids of a rehabilition center for walking exercises. Otherwise it is, including the shops, basically deserted.