Busy tracks in North Chile
There are few locations in the Atacama Desert where tracks are that busy and intensively used. Apart from this place, I can think of Antofagasta on the FCAB, and Llanta on Ferronor. The picture shows the Llanos de Soto siding, yard and shops near the city of Vallenar. It was formerly a station on the “Norte” and today it is the headquarters of the Huasco to Los Colorados iron ore line. The heavy traffic justified importing the first new diesels in Chile in many decades (EMD GT46AC) and required track renewal. The old “Norte” had never seen such big rails as the ones that now equip the main track (on the left of the picture).
From the left to the right, you can see:
- A loaded ore train going away toward the port of Huasco for export,
- An empty train starting to leave the siding with a brand new GT46AC in the blue EMD livery
- Km post 0 of the line (please don't ask me the zero of what line it is)
- A dog and a worker taking some rest in the shadow
- And on the right the ugly face of road slug #285 in front of the shops.
This odd-looking unit is the result of a home-made transformation. It was built in 1957 in the USA by GE as a U9C (builder’s number 32924) and shipped to Chile where it saw service for EFE, the Chilean State Railroad, under “Dt-9007” name. Circa late 1980’s it was purchased by the SQM with in a batch of 5 similar units (SQM is the nitrate railroad located in Tocopilla where some famous GE electric boxcabs used to work). 25 years later, Ferronor purchased the Dt-9007 in a wreck state to rebuild it with a 12-645 engine at Baquedano. In 2009 the decision was made to convert it to a slug. The almost derelict Baquedano shops managed to make the new shell, which was trucked to Llanos de Soto (Vallenar) and completed there. The result is today’s Ferronor slug 285. I thank Mel Turner for this information.
Given that the recent, efficient and powerful GT46ACs now take care of all iron trains, #285 is almost useless and redundant. It probably sees sporadic service in case there are not enough GT46ACs available. Retrospectively, it is a surprise that this slug was built because a couple years later Ferronor was purchasing the new engines.