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The Roots of Ferronor
By Ian Thomson


The longitudinal line for mining transportation. Transportation of minerals was not an exclusive activity to such mining railways, because this transport covered sections of northern-southern line which was part of the Northern Network. The main line of the Northern Network passed through a territory with a high density of mines per square kilometer, most of which produced gold or copper - or both. Despite this, transportation of metal copper on the Northern Network was almost non-existent, and the copper ore transportation was not significant. For instance, in 1946, out of the total freight traffic from the Northern Network - defined at that time as the line between Pueblo Hundido (now named Diego de Almagro) and La Calera, metal copper represented a 0.0005% of commercial traffic, in terms of ton/km, while copper ore a 1.5%. Despite transporting metal gold by railway not being an option, 7.8% of the Northern Network traffic consisted of gold ores, which was significant. [See reference (i).]

For the most part, mines within the areas where the Northern Network provided services were lbor intensive and produced at a small-scale. For them, the railway was not a very interesting option, even before alternate access roads were paved. The one significant exception was El Melon quarries, with lime stone transportation represented nearly 40% of the traffic in the Northern Network in terms of tons and 15% in terms of ton-kms. For the large volumes they transported (over 400,000 tons/year) the use of truck as means of transportation was not feasible option.

Back then the Northern Network transported only small amounts of iron mineral. The main iron-related production mine was El Tofo, owned its own railway with a different gauge width and worked completely independently from the Northern Network, having no connection between both lines. In time, significant changes took place, including the closing of El Tofo mine due to depletion that ended in the abandonment of the railway serving said mine. In 1971 the Popular Unity Government nationalized the activities of Bethlehem. [See reference (vii).]

In the mid-1950’s, the traffic volume suddenly began to increase at the Northern Network. Minerals of very type were being transported, quadrupling 1950´s 50 million ton-km in a ten year period. Managers at Northern Network postponed their plans to pull the steam traction out thanks to the explosive increase in traffic of iron ores. Instead, they decided to repair steam locomotives which had previously been taken out of operation. To do this they scraped workshop courtyards as far away as Chinchorro, in order to find machines with long trains carrying minerals dragging capacity. This, at least, until additional diesel locomotives were brought to the scene. [See reference (i).]

Local production of iron ore rose from about three million tons in 1950, to six million in 1960, to twelve million in 1965. Thereafter, production settled at about ten million, put of which more than a half circulated through the Northern Network tracks. In 1949, the Northern Network transported a very small amount of iron ores which were not identified separately in terms of traffic statistics. These were labeled under "other minerals". However, in 1959 2.2 million tons were transported, 5.0 million tons in 1964 and 7.1 million in 1971, coming to represent 63% of national production. Out of all the Northern Network traffic 88% consisted of a single product: iron ores. Oddly enough, a portion of the production was brought to port by trucks, at rates which duplicated the railway fees. Production and transportation means are summarized in table 4.






These two wagons were owned by F.C. de Chañarcillo, and still exist atUniversidad de Atacama, but the locomotive of F.C. de Copiapo is long gone. (Photo: Ian Thomson’s collection. Unknow photographer)