Imagine boarding a train in Buenos Aires, crossing the pampas to the Atlantic coast, then venturing west over the Patagonian Steppe and waking up in Bariloche! This will soon be a reality, thanks to a recent deal struck by two Argentine rail companies, Ferrobaires and Tren Patagonico.
The route, leaving from Estación Constitución in downtown Buenos Aires, passing through Bahía Blanca to the historic gateway of Patagonia, the twin cities of Viedma and Carmen de Patagones, had been previously interrupted in recent years, due to the large accumulation of sand on the rail segment between Bahía Blanca and Viedma. This region’s sandy soil, lack of rainfall, and strong winds have left the rails completely covered with sand, rendering them useless since some time at the beginning of last year.
This new deal, between the Buenos Aires government-owned Ferrobaires and the Río Negro-based Tren Patagonico company, states that the two entities will work together to maintain this stretch of track operable, linking their two rail networks. Ferrobaires runs rail lines all across the province of Buenos Aires, including lines down to Bahía Blanca. Tren Patagonico runs one main line across the province of Río Negro, from the Atlantic coast of the capital city, Viedma, to the Andes mountains of San Carlos de Bariloche. Recently, Tren Patagonico also revived several antique steam engines to make the trip down to Esquel from Jacobacci on the old narrow-gauge rail, ‘La Trochita’.
Apparently, the Tren Patagonico, from Viedma to Bariloche, takes about 14 hours. Featuring a dining car, cinema car, and even a dance club car, this would be a very comfortable, fun and scenic ride. They also offer several different classes of seats for the trip: the basic ‘Turista’ fare, about $75 ARS/$18 USD; the upgrade to First Class, about $100 ARS/$24 USD; the ‘Pullman’, offering the most comfortable seat option, about $155 ARS/$37 USD; or the ‘Camarote’ option, featuring a private room with two beds, large storage space, and a table, about $304 ARS/$74 USD. These are prices per person for non-residents. Residents of the Río Negro province receive a discount on all fares. (Unconfirmed prices from last year at old 4.1 exchange rate)
There are a couple of options for getting to Viedma, now that the section between Bahía Blanca and Viedma will be operable. Taking the train from Estación Constitución in Buenos Aires to Bahía Blanca takes about 14 hours and costs about $58-95 ARS/$13-21 USD, depending on the seat class (Turista-Pullman, no Camarote). So far, we have not been able to find any information about the cost or duration of the ride between Bahía Blanca and Viedma. We are hoping that some kind of Ski Express Train service, from Buenos Aires to Bariloche, will eventually be enacted, allowing for a faster, more comfortable ride. Ideally, this service would offer the traveler the option to have their own room for the whole trip and would also feature all of the extras of the Tren Patagonico (dining car, cinema car and dance club car), all at a single, affordable price.
We have been thinking about taking the Tren Patagonico to Bariloche next year to kick off our 2012 ski season. Since our dream Ski Train does not yet exist, we would take a bus from Buenos Aires to Viedma, a 13-hour ride for about $440 ARS/$98 USD for the Cama Ejecutiva class. We would board the bus at the Retiro station on Thursday night and arrive in Viedma Friday morning. After spending the day enjoying the beauty and history of Viedma and Carmen de Patagones, we would board the Friday night train to Bariloche and wake up in the mountains of Patagonia on Saturday morning. This trip would ultimately cost about the same as just taking the bus straight to Bariloche (about $770 ARS/$170 USD) and take about 12 hours longer, but we feel it would be more than worth it for the adventure of it all.
Link to the status, schedule & rates of Tren Patagonico (translated to English): www.sateliteferroviario.com.ar
July 3, 2012 Update: We have just spoken with a Tren Patagonico representative and have been informed that the Tren Patagonico service is not currently operational. They are running an alternative rail service from Viedma to Bariloche, utilizing a Spanish GM 319 Locomotive equipped with Portuguese Sorefame cars. This rail service is a basic passenger train with coach-style seating, no private rooms, and it does NOT feature the amenities of Tren Patagonico: dining car, cinema car, etc. The status, schedule and rates for this train can be found in the link above.