Ernest Malinowski – Bringing the Railway to Peru
small, Ernest Malinowski, around 1890, photo: the National Library / Polona, center, ernest_malinowski-portret-wikipedia.jpg
It is pretty certain that this Polish engineer did not suffer from acrophobia: the Ferrocarril Central Andino, which was designed by Ernest Malinowski, reaches up to 5,000 metres above sea level at some points! Malinowski not only revolutionised Peru’s transport system but also fought for the country’s independence.
Adam Stanisław Hipolit Ernest Nepomucen Malinowski is born in 1818 to a noble family settled in Volhynia. Because of his father’s underground political activity on behalf of the Kingdom of Poland, the Malinowski family is forced to flee from the country, subjugated by the Russians following the failure of the November Uprising. They find shelter in Paris in 1832.
In Paris, Ernest Malinowski embarks on a new chapter of his life. The boy begins studies at a technical university in Paris and later enrols in the prestigious École nationale des ponts et chaussées (State Road and Bridge School), famous for its great achievements in the field of engineering. After he graduates, Malinowski works for over a decade as a designer and constructor: initially for the French Road and Bridges Engineer Corps and later transferring to the Ministry of Public Works.
Reportedly, the Polish engineer decides to move to Peru because of the lack of prospects for promotion and professional development in France. In 1852, he signs a five-year contract. In Peru, he is supposed to oversee drainage works, construction of new roads and bridges as well as educate local engineers. It is worth remembering that at that time, this South American country had a very underdeveloped road and transportation infrastructure. Today we know that Malinowski stayed in Peru not for a few but for a few dozen years, and his undertakings, ultimately much broader than planned, revolutionised the country’s transportation system.
Champion of independence
In the 1850s, Malinowski builds roads and city plazas, modernises bridges and oversees the construction of two small railways. He works primarily in Lima but also designs the reconstruction of Arequipa, a city destroyed by war. In 1865, Peru and Chile are forced to defend their newly declared independence against Spain, which refuses to lose its colonies. During this tumultuous time, Malinowski ends up in the strategically important port of Callao in the vicinity of Lima. Initially he simply modernises the city’s fortifications, but before long, he joins the actual fight. The Polish engineer, instilled with values of freedom and respect for the safeguard of one’s independence by his father, finds it difficult to remain indifferent.
As a result, in 1866, Malinowski takes an active part in one of the most important fights for Peru’s independence: the defence of fort Santa Rosa in Callao. His engineering skills benefit the cause: the fort is defended thanks in part to cannons moving on special platforms which were Malinowski’s idea. For his service, the Pole receives Peruvian honorary citizenship and to this day remains one of the country’s national heroes.
By train through the Andes
In the 19th century, the railway is one of the most important inventions of the Industrial Revolution. Every country wants to have its own rail network, but not everywhere is this plan easy to implement. Building a railway in Peru, sliced in half by towering mountains, seems impossible: but not for the American entrepreneur Henry Meiggs. He asks Malinowski to design a track network which would connect the coastal capital with the interior, rich in natural resources.
Ernest Malinowski proposes to build a network of overpasses, bridges and mountain-piercing tunnels. Many shake their heads and say the visionary concept is impossible to implement. Englishmen, considered to be experts in the field, are the most critical of the idea: they think that the trains will not be able to move that high in the mountains and that the long viaducts drawn out by Malinowski will surely collapse.
Nevertheless, in 1872, construction commences. In the subsequent years, a 219-kilometre-long train network designed by Malinowski emerges. It goes through 62 tunnels and over 30 bridges (the highest one runs 80 metres above ground level). The highest point through which the tracks go is the Ticlio mountain pass located 4,818 metres above sea level. The train gets there through a 1,200-metre-long tunnel drilled in rock. To this day, it is the highest-located railway section in the world.
Ferrocarril Central Andino, bridge between Rio Blanco and San Mateo, photo: David Gubler bahnbilder.ch/Wikipedia
Ferrocarril Central Andino
However, Malinowski’s ingenuity does not end there. He designs a railway connecting Peru’s coast with the Amazon River: a railway-cum-river transport route running across the whole South American continent. Unfortunately, Malinowski will not be able to implement this vision. The train network across the Andes is still considered to be one of the most important engineering achievements in the world.
Ernest Malinowski dies in Lima in 1899. His statue, sculpted by Gustaw Zemła, appears on the Ticlio mountain pass to mark the centenary of Malinowski’s death. An inscription is visible under the medallion with the Pole’s effigy: ‘Ernest Malinowski 1818-1899. Polish engineer, Peruvian patriot, hero of the Defence of Callao 1866, constructor of the Ferrocarril Central Andino’.
Translated by Patryk Grabowski