The Central of Chubut Railway
From the early days of the Welsh Settlement, supporters of the movement had seen the advantages that a railway line could bring to the inhabitants of the Camwy Valley. Captain Love Jones-Parry, one of the two men who were sent to Patagonia to inspect the land, suggested in his report in 1863 that the construction of a railway line would be beneficial to the trade of the proposed settlement.
However, it was not until the early 1880s that serious discussion began on the construction of a railway line to link the Camwy Valley with Porth Madryn. The idea was promoted mainly by three people: Thomas Davies, Aberystwyth, who emigrated to Patagonia in 1885; Lewis Jones (1836-1904), the first president of the Settlement; and the engineer, Edward Jones Williams (1857-1932). E. J. Williams, better known as 'Williams Mostyn', emigrated to Patagonia in 1881 and played a prominent part in the scheme to irrigate the Camwy Valley. The network of canals and dams had a positive impact on Patagonia's economy, and underlined the need for a railway line. In October 1884, Lewis Jones was given official permission by the Argentine government to build the proposed railway, which would be named Chubut Central Railway or 'Ferrocarril Central del Chubut'. While E. J. Williams surveyed the route of the railway line, Thomas Davies and Lewis Jones travelled to Britain to seek financial support for the venture. Indeed, in six months, they had managed to collect £7,000. Lewis Jones also persuaded Azhabel P. Bell, an engineer from Liverpool, to take part in the venture. On completing his training as a surveyor, Llwyd ap Iwan, the son of the Rev. Michael D. Jones, also travelled to Patagonia to work on the scheme.
Construction began in August 1886. Some weeks earlier, the steamboat 'Vesta' arrived in Porth Madryn carrying more than 400 men who had travelled to Patagonia to work on the railway. For eighteen months, they cleared the land and laid the tracks. The tracks and iron beams were imported from South Wales, and the vehicles and the machines from England.
Unfortunately, the construction work was not unhindered. Two deputy engineers were employed to supervise the plan: E. J. Williams and an Englishman called W. A. Brown. E. J. Williams was put in charge of the married men who laid the rails from the Camwy Valley to the sea, and Brown was responsible for a group of single men who began work at Porth Madryn. The workers were promised a good wage and 240 acres of land after finishing the work. However, tempers flared when it was discovered that the land which they had been promised in the Kel-kein Valley was of poor quality. When 'HMS Ruby' visited Patagonia in May 1887, about a quarter of the labourers left Patagonia. With the future of the venture in the balance, E. J. Williams had to travel to Buenos Aires to look for workers of Italian descent to replace those who had resigned. The new workers were also disappointed by the land that was offered to them but many stayed in the Camwy Valley once the work had been completed.
Despite these difficulties, it was decided in 1887 that the two tracks, one supervised by W. A. Brown and the other by E. J. Williams, would be to joined near a landmark called T|r Joseff. That year, wheat from the Camwy Valley was taken by rail to Porth Madryn for the first time, though there was still a considerable amount of work to be done if the stations and associated buildings were to be completed by the official opening. The ceremony was held on the 25th May 1889 at Trelew railway station, in the presence of Governor Fontana. Trelew, the town that was constructed at the end of the line in the Camwy Valley, was initially going to be called Llanfair. However, as non-Welsh speaking people would have difficulty pronouncing 'Llanfair', it was agreed that the town would be named Trelew, in recognition of Lewis Jones's contribution to the venture.
The railway line not only supported the economic development of the region but also also linked a number of scattered communities in the Valley. It also strengthened connections between the Settlement and other regions of Argentina. In fact, in years to come, Lewis Jones expressed his anxiety about the destructive effect that the railway had on the Welsh language and culture of the Settlement.
By 1909, the railway had been extended as far as Gaiman, and by 1915 it had reached Dolafon. The railway company remained in private hands until 1922, when it was placed under the authority of the Argentine government. During the 1920s, the line was extended again, this time as far as Dôl y Plu (La Plumas). The intention, it is claimed, was to construct a new railway line across the pampas to Esquel, but it came to nothing. The railway line was closed in 1961, thus bringing the era of the Chubut Central Railway to an end. Many of the railway's old buildings were adapted for other purposes. The stations at Gaiman and Porth Madryn, for example, have now been converted into museums.
R. Bryn Williams, Y Wladfa (Cardiff, 1962)
K. E. Skinner, Railway in the Desert (Wolverhampton, 1984)