El Sargento is a little known railway junction. But it ought to be a famous spot among railfans. Not because it is the origin of the 30km (18.6 miles) branch to Cuajone, but because this branch is almost entirely a tunnel. Out of the 30km, 27km (16.8 miles) are made of a series of 5 tunnels. From Sargento, they are:
- Tunnel 5 = 2316 m / 7598 ft
- Tunnel 4 = 14724 m / 48307 ft
- Tunnel 3 = 984 m / 3228 ft
- Tunnel 2 = 5384 m / 17664 ft
- Tunnel 1 = 3596 m / 11798 ft
Yes, one of these tunnels is 14.7 km (9.15 miles) long!
It is generally thought that the Mount Macdonald tunnel in British Columbia on the Canadian Pacific main line is the longest railway tunnel in the Americas. Built between 1984 and 1988 it is slightly shorter than the Tunnel 4 of the Sargento – Cuajone tunnels that had been opened to railroad traffic in November of 1975, i.e. 13 years before the Canadian tunnel. Despite that, perhaps because of lack of publicity about the Cuajone line, it is still claimed that Mount Macdonald tunnel “is the longest railway tunnel in the western hemisphere” (See the Canadian Railway Hall of Fame web site).
El Sargento is inaccessible unless you get there by travelling on the track. As regards the tunnels, they are totally off limits. But I was lucky enough to visit the tunnels and I will share with you some of the exceptional pictures that Raul Merino – manager of the SPCC railroad - and his team facilitated. I warmly thank them for their outstanding support! On this picture, you see the U-boat #41 getting ready to enter the tunnel backwards with a short train for a photo session. This engine has the same age as the tunnels (11/1975).