12th Region

1,300 km south of Puerto Montt, 2,300 km south of Santiago, 4,400 km south of Arica;
capital of 12th Region
pop. 1907, 12,199; 1930, 24,307; 1986, 107,064
stm tw 1902-1950; 9 km; 1000 mm; 4 pt

One-third of Chile lies south of Puerto Montt, but the area has less than 1% of its population. There were not many railways in the labyrinth of islands, fjords, glaciers and snow-covered peaks of the 11th and 12th regions. There were none at all, as far as is known, in the 11th. But there were a half-dozen railways in the 12th Region at the southern end of the continent, and one of these, in its capital, may be considered the southernmost street railway in the world.

At latitude 53°, Punta Arenas is the world's southernmost large city. It is the most populous city in the Americas below latitude 40°; there are only a few, very small permanent settlements in Patagonia between Punta Arenas and Cape Horn. The arctic location, however, is deceptive, and the city's climate is relatively mild: 53° latitude in the northern hemisphere is the area of central Canada and England.

Two railways were built, at different periods, between Punta Arenas and a coal mine at Loreto, 9 km southwest. The Sociedad Carbonífera de Magallanes inaugurated a 914 mm gauge line in 1870, which used both animal and steam power; the mine and that railway closed in 1875. Mining activities revived at the end of the century and the Ferrocarril Mina Loreto inaugurated a new 1000 mm gauge railway along the same route on 29 January 1902. Tracks began at the docks on the Strait of Magellan, ran north on Calle O'Higgins and west along Avenida Colón, the city's main street. Power was supplied by Baldwin and Koppel locomotives.

The railway was built to transport coal from the mine, but the town spread westward along the route, and four cross-bench open cars were added in 1910 to carry passengers on a regular schedule. The service was especially popular for Sunday picnics during the 1920s and 30s. Huidobro Díaz reports 18,784 passengers carried in 1938. The FML was later purchased by the Sociedad Anónima Comercial y Ganadera Menéndez Behety and the railway closed in 1950. Its rails were removed in 1952 and there is little trace of the line today.

In addition to the steam-powered mining line there were three separate plans for electric street railways in Punta Arenas, in 1907, 1921 and 1922. The September 1913 Bulletin of the Pan American Union notes "tramway improvements in Punta Arenas." But none of the projects was realized. The world's southernmost electric tramway ran in Invercargill, New Zealand.

In addition to the Punta Arenas line, there were short steam-powered railways on a naval base at Cape Horn, in Puerto Natales near Torres del Paine National Park, and at Puerto Sara and San Gregorio Ranch on the Strait of Magellan. All have disappeared today. Locomotives from the latter two lines are displayed today at the Instituto de Patagonia in Punta Arenas. Equipment from the Puerto Natales railway, which carried passengers until 1973, is preserved on the plazas of that city. Puerto Natales is just 25 km across the Argentine border from Río Turbio, terminus of a 750 mm gauge steam railway that still runs today to Río Gallegos on the Atlantic coast.