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article imageThe old ‘Baquedano’ Station and Railway Museum, Chile Special

By Igor I. Solar     Mar 18, 2013 in Travel
Antofagasta - The old Baquedano railway complex, located 90 kilometers northeast of the city of Antofagasta in the arid Atacama Desert in northern Chile, was the converging point of Chile’s North-South railway line and the East-West Antofagasta-Bolivia Railway.
In 1910, at 1,035 meters above sea level, and associated to the railroad works, grew the small town of Baquedano, so named in commemoration of General Manuel Baquedano, commander of the Chilean Army in the War of the Pacific (1879-1883). In conjunction with the old Baquedano Station, boomed an exceptional railway complex with a large locomotive arsenal, roundhouse, workshops, huge wagon storage yards, warehouses and homes for employees, among other services.
The facilities belonged to the “Chilean Northern Railway Company” operating a railroad route from the city of Antofagasta on the Pacific coast, across the Andes Mountains, to La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, and Oruro, about 1,000 kilometers to the north-east, in the Bolivian highlands. The construction of the Antofagasta-Bolivia railway represents one of the most significant feats of engineering of the late 19th Century. At locations near the Bolivian border, the line (Collahuasi Branch, no longer in operation) reached an altitude of 4,815 meters, becoming the world's highest railroad.
Roundhouse and turntable at the old Baquedano Station and Railway Museum  Antofagasta  Chile.
Roundhouse and turntable at the old Baquedano Station and Railway Museum, Antofagasta, Chile.
The railway line had its origins in 1866, and its beginnings were funded by the “Huanchaca Bolivian Company”. It was mostly used to carry minerals from the inner regions of Bolivia to the port of Antofagasta. In 1884, after the War of the Pacific between Chile and the Peru-Bolivia Confederation, the railway was taken over by a Chilean-Bolivian consortium. Later, in 1888, the property was transferred to a British company, "The Antofagasta and Bolivia Railway Company" (FCAB). The company was listed on the London Stock Exchange, and it was dedicated primarily to transporting minerals, including silver, copper and nitrate (saltpeter). Taking advantage of the available infrastructure, FCAB also offered passenger services. Now, the Antofagasta-Bolivia railroad, still called FCAB, belongs to Antofagasta plc, is still in operations transporting mostly copper ores and other minerals.
Steam locomotive at the roundhouse. Baquedano Railway Museum.
Steam locomotive at the roundhouse. Baquedano Railway Museum.
Roundhouse and turntable at the old Baquedano Station and Railway Museum  Antofagasta  Chile.
Roundhouse and turntable at the old Baquedano Station and Railway Museum, Antofagasta, Chile.
Old Steam Locomotive at Baquedano Railway Museum  Antofagasta  Chile.
Old Steam Locomotive at Baquedano Railway Museum, Antofagasta, Chile.
FCAB operated until the late 1970s, a time when the steam locomotives became uneconomical, giving way to diesel engines. Although the old station fell into disuse and was nearly abandoned, it still remains in fairly good condition. It is built of Oregon pine and the roundhouse can accommodates up to 16 locomotives. The museum contains several American and German old steam engines. There is also a large turntable, old passenger and dining cars, workshops, tools and some old automobiles.
In 1983, the old Baquedano Station and Railway Museum were declared a National Historic Landmark. Baquedano is a site of great historical interest. The decaying buildings and valuable railway relics preserved there, witness of the development of mining and transport in the region, are in the process of restoration. Currently, the facilities are visited by travelers crossing the vast salt flats of the Atacama Desert and are also used for advertising and film productions.
Roundhouse and turntable at the old Baquedano Station and Railway Museum  Antofagasta  Chile.
Roundhouse and turntable at the old Baquedano Station and Railway Museum, Antofagasta, Chile.
An old steam locomotive at the Baquedano Railway Museum.
An old steam locomotive at the Baquedano Railway Museum.
Remains of some of the old warehouses that were part of the storage facilities of the ancient Baqued...
Remains of some of the old warehouses that were part of the storage facilities of the ancient Baquedano railway station
View of old houses in  Main Street  Baquedano. The old village is now a ghost town.
View of old houses in "Main Street" Baquedano. The old village is now a ghost town.
The brief video below, produced by Omar Villegas (Antofagasta), with assistance of the Government of Chile (FONDART), is narrated in Spanish. The following is my translation of the commentary: In 1850, the railroad extended through the desert of northern Chile as a metal zipper ripping the inert, salty landscape.
Suddenly, everything stopped. Fires were extinguished; the towns disappeared; the stations became silent. The huge metal beasts roared no more, and lay there, silent and invalid, perhaps waiting for history to pay its debt.
Baquedano Railway Museum – Chile
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