A Renowned Railway Engineer in South America Embarks on His Final Journey

July 10, 1950

Richard Fontaine Maury, an engineer whose legacy includes several key railways in South America, died in the city of Córdoba in northwestern Argentina’s Salta Province at the age of 67. He had started out life in the United States, but ultimately became a naturalized Argentine citizen.

Maury was born in Philadelphia in 1882. He graduated from Virginia Military Institute as an engineer in 1902. Maury subsequently helped work on a major project for the Pennsylvania Railroad that entailed building a tunnel underneath the section of the Hudson River between New Jersey and Penn Station in midtown Manhattan. That twin-tubed structure, which became popularly known as the Pennsylvania Tunnel, was designed to improve railroad access in the region.

The stage was set for Maury’s longtime engineering career in South America when he arrived in Argentina in 1906. By the following year, he was working on behalf of that country’s state-owned railway network.

Maury’s pivotal contributions to that system included designing the route for the Salta-Antofagasta Railway (also called the Huaytiquina Railway) within the formidable Andes mountain range. This railway was developed to connect Argentina’s Salta Province with Chile and provide better access to local borax mines. Work on the Salta-Antofagasta Railway started in 1921 and was completed in 1948. The steel used for various sections of the railway, including its 11 viaducts, came from mills in Trieste, Italy. That steel, along with other construction materials, would routinely be shipped to the Port of Buenos Aires and then transported overland for approximately 930 miles (1,500 kilometers) to where the railway was under development.

Salta-Antofagasta Railway is the sixth highest railway in the world and the third highest in South America; its highest point — 13,845 feet (4,220 meters) above sea level – is at La Polvorilla Viaduct near the city of Salta. The railway covers a total of 585 miles (941 kilometers) between the city of Salta and northern Chile’s port city of Antofagasta. Since 1972, the railway has been used for a tourist train service known as the Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds).

A 1920s photograph of Maury (third from the left) with workers helping to build the Salta-Antofagasta Railway.

Maury also worked on developing the segment of the Transandine Railway between the city of Mendoza and town of Las Cuevas in Argentina. This railway, covering a total of 154 miles (248 kilometers), crossed the Andes mountain range via the Upsallata Pass and linked Mendoza with the Chilean city and commune of Los Andes.  Another project in which Maury took a leading role involved the construction of a railway between the cities of Sucre and Yacuiba in southern Bolivia (near that country’s border with Argentina).

Along with helping to transform various South American railways from blueprints to full-fledged reality on some of the most challenging terrain on Earth, Maury wrote a book entitled Manual for the Layout of Railways. This book was published in 1928 by the National University of Tucumán in the Argentine city of San Miguel de Tucumán.

Seven years after his death, Maury was reburied at the foot of a monolith dedicated to his memory. This burial site stands along the portion of the Salta-Antofagasta Railway line located in the town and municipality of Campo Quijano (near the city of Salta).

For more information on Richard Fontaine Maury, please check out  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Maury and https://structurae.net/en/persons/richard-maury


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