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Steam Locomotion in the 21st Century

The Recent History of Steam Locomotive Development

Steam Locomotive Improvements on the FCAF
(Ferrocaril Austral Feugo)

updated 4 February 2022

photos and info courtesy Shaun McMahon except as noted

At the southern tip of South America, near the city of Ushuaia, Tierra del Feugo, Argentina, a small tourist train operation has become a proving ground for modern steam motive power. This railway is known as the Ferrocarril Austral Fueguino (FCAF).

Photo from Chile Tourism Website   

Ushuaia was originally settled as a penal colony in the late 1800's. Among the duties of the prisoners was harvesting timber from local forests. Around the turn of the century, a 600 mm gauge railway was constructed and used to haul the timber. The prison in Ushuaia was active until the 1950's, at which time it was closed down. The railroad was abandoned, and the line's single small steam locomotive was displayed in the city.

In the 1990's, it was seen that the tourist industry was growing in Ushuaia. Tourist ships brought many travelers came to visit the National Park Tierra del Fuego there. Eventually, it was determined that a tourist railway, located on parts of the original right-of-way of the old prison railway, would be built to capitalize on this tourist traffic and to provide easy access to the national park. The use of a railway had the advantage of minimizing environmental impact compared to the building of roads for automobiles.

Tierra del Fuego is subject to very harsh winters and its remote location makes the acquisition of parts and supplies difficult. This was a significant challenge to the construction of the railway.

Suitable rails for the railway were located in Buenos Aires (3,000 kilometers away) and shiped down. Cross ties were located at the northern end of Argentina, and shipped down. The original right-of-way was excavated, and track construction began. A gauge of 500 mm was chosen for the new railway, narrower than the original gauge of 600 mm.

It was decided next to manufacturer passenger coaches and locomotives locally. Since the value of steam locomotives in attracting tourists was realized, it was decided that the locomotives would be steam. Oil firing was chosen to minimize the fire risk to the forests of the national park.

The first locomotive constructed was of the Beyer Garratt arrangement (0-4-0+0-4-0), loosely based on the first Beyer Garratt locomotive ever constructed. Construction began in early 1994 and took 9 months. Designated as "Nora", this was the first steam locomotive constructed "from scratch" in Argentina. While parts were being manufactured for this locomotive, a complete set of parts which could be used as spares or for the construction of a second locomotive were also manufactured.

The second locomotive acquired by the FCAF was built in by the Winton locomotive works in England. A small 2-6-2T, it was based on an 1890 Lynton & Barnstaple prototype. This locomotive was smaller and less powerful than the Garratt, but was suitable for most service on the railway.

                    and Camila double headed

No. 2 and No. 3 on a Rare "Double-header"

A small industrial diesel locomotive was also acquired to serve as backup power for the line's steam locomotives and for use on work trains and other duties.

While both steam locomotives gave good service for the first year or two of the railway's operation, it soon became apparent that their design was far from optimum. Both of the engines were based on prototypes built nearly 100 years ago, and virtually the only modern features which had been added were welded boilers and roller bearing axles. The engines used saturated steam, which limited their power and gave them relatively high fuel and water consumption. Mechanical problems resulted from some poor design details, and it became apparent that the locomotives could not be expected to provide continued reliable service without modification. Shaun McMahon has spent the last several years working with steam designers L. D. Porta of Argentina and Phil Girdlestone of South Africa to design and implement improvements to the line's steam locomotives. In 2005, a third modern steam locomotive was added, Garratt No. 5, named "Ing. H. R. Zubieta". 

Another on-going project at the FCAF is the development of improved steam locomotive water treatment. This system uses water treatment developed by L. D. Porta based on a system used in France in conjunction with boiler internal monitoring equipment based on a system developed by the Dearborn Chemical Company of the U.S.A. in the 1940's.

Details of the railway's locomotives follow below.

FCAF's Locomotive "Camila"

photos and info courtesy Shaun McMahon except as noted

Camila before modifications

Camila Before Modifications

Camila, the FCAF's second steam locomotive was designed and built in the UK by "Winson Engineering". It is of 2-6-2T arrangement and weighs an estimated 7.5 tons. The design was based on the steam locomotives of the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway in England. Camila was built between December 1994 and February 1995 in Daventry. Camila gave good service during the FCAF's early days, but as passenger traffic increased and demands on the line's locomotives became more severe, it became clear that the engine had some serious shortcomings.

While Camila was built with some modern items (roller bearing axles, welded boiler, oil firing) in most other respects it was a late 19th century design. Winton's design was very simple, no doubt to minimize first cost and maintenance costs. The engine lacked superheating, an efficient exhaust system, or a streamlined steam circuit, which gave it dismal thermal efficiency and low power. When the engine was overhauled, it was found that some frame components were improperly aligned, which resulted in excessive friction and wear.

Shaun McMahon, the Technical Manager of the FCAF at the time, worked with L. D. Porta to devise a plan for improving the performance and reliability of Camila. It was determined that a two-stage modification plan would be implemented, to allow the work to be accomplished within the allowable time (dictated by the railway's operating season) and budget. It was believed that Stage I of the modifications would result in significantly improved operational economics (larger trains hauled on less fuel with less labor) which would help justify the second stage of the modifications. Phil Girdlestone in South Africa, via his company Girdlestone Rail, assisted in the work by fabricating the entire Lempor Exhaust system as well as supplying replacement parts and components for the overhaul.

                      w/Chris, Shaun, & Fabian

FCAF No. 2 "Camila"

in present form, Stage I modifications complete
showing (left to right):
regular seasonal driver Chris Parrott, Shaun McMahon, technical manager of the railway,
and Fabian Papatrypmonot, senior driver on the FCAF

In late 1999/early 2000, Camila was overhauled and "stage I" modifications were implemented. The major modifications include:

Installation of Lempor exhaust system
Provision of streamlined main steam pipes
Improvements to oil burner
Heavy insulation of cylinders, boiler, and steam pipes
Thorough overhaul of mechanical components
Turning drivers to "high adhesion" profile developed by Porta
Ergonomic modifications to cab and controls

Upon its return to service, Camila was a complete success, with noticably improved performance, both in terms of power and fuel and water economy.

The photo below shows the highly insulated cylinder and steam chest- "sealed for life" as advocated by David Wardale. Wardale notes in his book The Red Devil that steam locomotive cylinder insulation was typically maintained in deplorable condition. (For example, I have yet to find a photo of a single engine operating in Zimbabwe with insulated cylinder heads!) The insulation applied to Camila's cylinders appears to be an excellent start towards Wardale's recommended permanent cylinder insulation.

Camila's highly
                      insulated cylinders

View shows Camila's cylinder showing heavy insulation, and proportional feed lubricator drive with "between the rings" oil delivery to the valve heads. Also note direct, well-insulated steam delivery pipe to steam chest.

"high adhesion" tire profile

Camila's high adhesion wheel profiles are clearly visible in this photo. Copper pipe runs are for flange lubrication. (Note- the "high adhesion" tire profile was developed by Porta and includes a step and a groove in the running surface of the wheel, the idea being to keep contaminants such as oil or grease away from the part of the wheel in contact with the rail.

Camila (boiler temporarily raised) and Nora in
Camila with raised boiler next to Garratt locomotive "Nora"

This photo shows Camila's boiler temporarily installed in a raised position. Shortly after Camila's return to service after the Stage I modifications, an unrelated boiler fault occurred. The boiler had to be removed and shipped to Buenos Aires for repairs. While the boiler was disconnected, the opportunity was taken to develop some data for Camila's Stage II modifications. This anticipates the probable mounting of the new or modified boiler to be fitted to Camila for Stage II of the modifications to the engine. The much higher mounting position will allow a much deeper firebox to be fitted, providing a great increase in firebox volume. The Lempor exhaust stack was temporarily installed and the engine was towed around the railway yards to check clearances which were just (!!) sufficient. The degree to which the boiler was raised (385 mm) can be judged from the distance between the Lempor exhaust nozzles (normally located within the smokebox) and the bottom of the smokebox.

This photo also gives a good idea of the probably proportions of the Second Generation Steam (SGS) locomotive (0-6-0T or 0-6-2T wheel arrangement) that may be built in the future for the FCAF and for production for other narrow gauge tourist railways. This new engine is to be a 2-cylinder compound, incorporating and optimizing all the existing and planned improvements for Camila.

Camila's Drivers On Route to Machine Shop

Taken March 2001, drivers were being trucked to "nearby" Rio Grande (only 250 km from Ushuaia) for replacement of a defective axle roller bearing. The sign gives distances of 100 km to Punta Maria, 134 km to Rio Grande, and 582 km to Rio Gallegos, where the "neighboring" RFIRT terminates.

Camila, June 2001

Smokebox after 41 days in steam. Note very low mounting of the Lempor exhaust nozzle to maximize available total height of stack. Also note fully contoured radius of stack inlet, rather than just a "bellmouth" inlet as was traditionally used, which minimizes flow restriction of exhaust gasses into the stack.

Camila rear/side view

Side/rear view of Camila. Clearly visible are Lempor chimney (note significant taper compared to original stack), air pump exhaust external to chimney, high degree of insulation fitted to air pump steam delivery pipe, water tank gauge, and extra test instrumention fitted inside the cab. New diesel "Tierra del Feugo" built by Girdlestone Rail is visible in the background.

Locomotive Camila on the FCAF

Camila's modifications show that "tourist" locomotives need not be brutally simple engines devoid of any modern design features. The value of the modifications has been proved in day-to-day service on a heavily trafficed, geographically isolated railway where reliability and economy are paramount.

FCAF No. 2- "L. D. Porta"

As-Built Photo of FCAF No. 2 "Nora"

prior to extensive overhaul in 2001 and renaming as "L. D. Porta"
photo by Martin Coumbs

No. 2 is an 0-4-0+0-4-0 Beyer Garratt type locomotive, designed and manufactured in Argentina in 1994. It is based on the first Garratt type locomotive to be built by Beyer Peacock in Manchester in 1909, the K1. No. 2 is reported to be the first steam locomotive built from scratch in Argentina. No. 2 as built had an estimated weight of 9 tons and was designated KM Class.

Much like its sister British-built locomotive Camila, No. 2 was constructed using modern techniques and certain components, but to a very old design. No. 2 has welded steel cylinders and boiler, roller bearing axles, and oil firing, but few other concessions to modern technology. On the other hand, No. 2's Beyer Garratt 0-4-0+0-4-0 wheel arrangement provides a relatively powerful locomotive which rides well, can negotiate tight curves, and which utilizes all its weight for traction.

As a result of the success gained following the overhaul and first stage modification of Camila, Tranex gave sanction for similar work to be carried out to FCAF's other steam locomotive No. 2. The first step in planning No. 2's modifications was to thoroughly evaluate the design and condition of the locomotive. The photos below show Ing. L. D. Porta supervising steam leakage tests on No. 2 as part of this work. A significant amount of work had to be performed on No. 2 to bring it up to the standards established nearly 40 years earlier (!!) by Porta on the Rio Turbio Railway in Argentina.

One of the first steps taken prior to beginning the rebuild was to perform detailed steam leakage experiments. Ing. L. D. Porta himself came down to Ushuaia to supervise the work.

"At the age of 77, Ing. L. D. Porta supervises steam leakage tests on FCAF locomotive 'No. 2'- October 1999."

"L. D. Porta looks on as steam escapes from static steam leakage test to FCAF "No. 2". The result was 67% leakage!! Porta still holds the world record at 2% (only) with Rio Turbio Mitsubishi 2-10-2s! Note snow capped mountain in background. Porta has a particular affection for Patagonia and says his best years were spend in Rio Gallegos!"Photo: Shaun McMahon, October 1999

The design of a variety of improvements to the locomotive was conducted in 2000 and the locomotive was extensively rebuilt in 2001.  For details of the extensive re-build of No. 2, follow this link:  Rebuild of FCAF #2

FCAF No. 2 "L. D. Porta"

"L. D. Porta" After Complete Rebuild in late 2001

Garratt Locomotive No. 5, "Ing H. R. Zubieta"

Following the experience gained by the modernizations of locomotives No. 2 and Camila, the FCAF elected to construct a new locomotive with these and additional improvements.  No. 5 was constructed in South Africa by Phil Girdlestone and associates and delivered to the FCAF in 2005.  Some parts fabricated in Argentina and originally intended for a sister engine to No. 2 Nora (now L. D. Porta) were used.  However, the majority of the locomotive is new construction.  An all-new boiler, designed to appropriate codes and incorporating both a Belpaire firebox and superheating was provided.  This locomotive incorporates lessons learned from the modernizations and operation of other FCAF steam locomotives and is the line's most powerful steam locomotive.

FCAF No. 5

For more details on the engine, see Martyn Bane's page at:


Future Steam for the FCAF

steam art copyright 2001 by Rudi Hough

Artwork by Rudi Hough Showing Camila After Completion of Stage II Modifications

Stage II improvements were planned for Camila, to consist mainly of improvements to the steam circuit, including high superheating, larger, improved piston valves with larger steam chests, a re-designed Lempor or new Lemprex exhaust system (to suit the superheated steam circuit), a feedwater heater, and an enlarged firebox and improved oil burning system. Depending on the extent of modifications required, a new boiler may be fabricated rather than modifying the existing one.

No. 2 stage 2 modifications

"Stage 2" Modifications for L. D. Porta

Additional modifications were planned for Garratt No. 2 which would have looked something like Mr. Hough's painting above.  The status of these planned modifications is unknown.

steam art copyright 2001 by Rudi Hough

Future New Steam for the FCAF
LVM 803
Art by Rudi Hough

New steam was also planned for the FCAF and other tourist railways in the form of the locomotive shown above. Design work began in 1998 on this locomotive, planned for use on the FCAF and other small tourist railways. While several design details have changed since the sketch above was prepared, the image gives a good idea of what the locomotive will look like. The locomotive will be a 2-cylinder compound, with an 0-6-0T or 0-6-2T wheel arrangement. The LVM 803 designation is in keeping with the other modern steamers planned or designed under Ing. L. D. Porta's guidance: the LVM 800 0-6-2T shunting locomotive for Cuba; LVM 801 2-8-2T/tender passenger locomotive for Tren a Las Nubes (Train to the Clouds), Salta, Argentina; LVM 802 "standby" steamers for Spain; and LVM 803, Tranex Turismo S.A.'s FCAF, Ushuaia.

Since Ing. Porta's death in 2003 the fate of these projects is uncertain. A third Garratt has been planned for the FCAF, but the status of this is currently not known.

For more information on the railway, visit the Official Homepage of the FCAF at:

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