1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Tehuantepec (isthmus)

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TEHUANTEPEC, an isthmus of Mexico lying between the Gulfs of Campeche (Campeachy) and Tehuantepec, with the Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas on the E., and Vera Cruz and Oaxaca on the W. It includes that part of Mexico lying between the 94th and 96th meridians of W. longitude, or the south-eastern parts of Vera Cruz and Oaxaca, with perhaps small districts of Chiapas and Tabasco. It is 125 m. across at its narrowest part from gulf to gulf, or 120 m. to the head of Laguna Superior on the Pacific coast. The Sierra Madre breaks down at this point into a broad, plateau-like ridge, whose elevation, at the highest point reached by the Tehuantepec railway (Chivela Pass) is 735 ft. The northern side of the isthmus is swampy and densely covered with jungle, which has been a greater obstacle to railway construction than the grades in crossing the sierra. The whole region is hot and malarial, except the open elevations where the winds from the Pacific render it comparatively cool and healthful. The annual rainfall on the Atlantic or northern slope is 156 in. (Enock) and the maximum temperature about 95° in the shade. The Pacific slope has a light rainfall and dryer climate.

Since the days of Cortés, the Tehuantepec isthmus has been considered a favourable route, first for an inter oceanic canal, and then for an inter oceanic railway. Its proximity to the axis of international trade gives it some advantage over the Panama route, which is counterbalanced by the narrower width of the latter. When the great cost of a canal across the isthmus compelled engineers and capitalists to give it up as impracticable, James B. Eads proposed to construct a quadruple track ship-railway, and the scheme received serious attention for some time. Then came projects for an ordinary railway, and several concessions were granted by the Mexican government for this purpose from 1857 to 1882. In the last-named year the Mexican government resolved to undertake the enterprise on its own account, and entered into contracts with a prominent Mexican contractor for the work. In 1888 this contract was rescinded, after 67 m. of road had been completed. The next contract was fruitless through the death of the contractor, and the third failed to complete the work within the sum specified (£2,700,000). This was in 1893, and 37 m. remained to be built. A fourth contract resulted in the completion of the line from coast to coast in 1894, when it was found that the terminal ports were deficient in facilities and the road too light for heavy traffic. The government then entered into a contract with the London firm of contractors of S. Pearson & Son, Ltd., who had constructed the drainage works of the valley of Mexico and the new port works of Vera Cruz, to rebuild the line and construct terminal ports at Coatzacoalcos, on the Gulf coast, and Salina Cruz, on the Pacific side. The work was done for account of the Mexican government. Work began on the 16th of December 1899, and was finished to a point where its formal opening for traffic was possible in January 1907.

The railway is 192 m. long, with a branch of 18 m. between Juile and San Juan Evangelista. The minimum depth at low water in both ports is 33 ft., and an extensive system of quays and railway tracks at both terminals affords ample facilities for the expeditious handling of heavy cargoes. The general offices, shops, hospital, &c., are located at Rincon Antonio, at the entrance to the Chivela Pass, where the temperature is cool and healthful conditions prevail. At Santa Lucrecia, 109 m., from Salina Cruz, connexion is made with the Vera Cruz & Pacific railway (a government line), 213 m. to Cordova and 311 m. to Mexico city.