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Tehuantepec Railway / Canal 1842-1850

The topography of the Tehuantepec isthmus had come to be much better known through the surveys undertaken by an Italian engineer, Don Gaetano Moro, who had been sent out some time before by a Mexican promoter, Don Jose de Garay. Garay had received valuable concessions for the construction of an interoceauic railway across Tehuantepec from Santa Anna's government, and in 1842 had proceeded to take advantage of his rights by instituting these surveys. Instruments of precision were used by Moro and his party, and, as a result, a seemingly favorable route was laid out over Tarifa pass, for either a railway as proposed, or for a canal of small dimensions with many locks. The proposed canal was to be 50 miles long and to have 161 locks, to be built at an estimated cost $17,000,000.

The Mexican-American War ended when the government of Mexico surrendered on 14 September 1847, after a year of fighting. California became part of the United States, with all its magnificent extent of western seaboard; but was it not after all but an out-post, and extremely difficult to defend. President Polk had instructed the American representative in Mexico, Mr. Trist, who was arranging matters there on the conclusion of the war, to offer to double the indemnity of $15,000,000 the US was about to pay for the land the US had already acquired, in return for an exclusive right of way across Tehuantepec.

But the Mexican authorities, smarting under their late defeat, and looking toward Garay himself for the completion of the transit-way, refused this first offer. Some New York capitalists, under the leadership of P. A. Hargous, nevertheless went ahead, formed the Tehuantepec Railway Company, and succeeded finally in buying out all the rights and concessions of Garay and his associates. Meanwhile the US government, by pushing matters against Mexico, had gained still further territorial grants toward the southwest. In the Gadsen treaty, therefore, Mexico, seeing Garay's rights already in American hands, resolved to make the best of it, and reluctantly granted the United States the right to construct a railroad, at least, across her isthmus.

At the request of the Tehuantepec company the government also sent out a surveying party in December 1850, under Brevet-Major J. B. Barnard, of the Engineer Corps, and elaborated detailed plans for the immediate construction of an interoceanic railway to provide for the western trade. The Mexicans continued to vent their ill-will, however, by throwing every obstacle in the way of the American surveying party, and thus delayed the work.

Other Americans, in the meantime, had been more successful in Panama, and in the face of opposition and competition the Tehuautepec company abandoned its project for the time.

The Mexican government some decades later completed its interoceanic railway across the isthmus of Tehuantepec, and the road was in operation by the early 1890s.

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