The Pan American Highway

Courtesy Reuters

THE dream of uniting North and South America by a convenient means of overland communication has long been popular. At first those who entertained this vision looked to the railroad for its fulfilment. In recent years, however, hopes have been shifted to the modern hard-surfaced highway. True, the United States is now linked by its own steamship lines with every other American nation possessing a seacoast and by its own air lines with every one of them without exception. But neither a sea nor an air route is regarded by the typical citizen in the United States as a satisfactory substitute for a highway on which, whenever he wishes, he might set out in his own car for Valparaiso or Buenos Aires.

One of the reasons why the United States convoked the first International American Conference in 1889 was to promote railway communication with the other American nations. This Conference resolved to establish an international commission of engineers to determine whether the construction of a railroad uniting North and South America was a feasible project, and, if so, to suggest possible routes. A Pan American Railway Committee, set up pursuant to this resolution, conducted a comprehensive reconnaissance survey, completed in July 1897. It was revealed that a railroad from New York to Buenos Aires would be approximately 10,471 miles long, of which at that time less than half was in existence.

There still is a Pan American Railway Committee, though in recent years little active railway construction has taken place in either North or South America. The Committee has submitted reports to the successive Inter-American Conferences; its last, presented at Montevideo in 1933, indicated that 2,990 miles still remained to be constructed. The present status of the railway is as follows: it has been fully completed as far as La Union, in El Salvador on the Gulf of Fonseca (4,286 miles from New York); between La Union and Panama about 200 miles have been built and some 1,300 remain to be laid; between Panama and Puno (Peru) 802 miles have

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