Shaun McMahon: 1964 – 2022

Shaun McMahon standing beside Santa Fe No 107 at Rio Turbio in 2005. © Chris newman

Shaun McMahon began his railway career on the Ffestiniog Railway, joining the permanent staff there as a trainee technician engineer in 1984 when Phil Girdlestone was Works Manager.  Thus began a working relationship between the two of them that continued up until the time of Phil’s death in 2016.

Shaun moved from the FR to the Vale of Rheidol Railway in 1989, becoming heavily involved in boiler water treatment schemes on various UK preserved lines. At this time he formed “Day McMahon Steam Technical Services” with Nigel Day. A number of successful locomotive redraughtings were carried out by the partnership.

In 1994 he became Assistant Mechanical Engineer to Girdlestone on the Alfred County Railway in South Africa. He continued on the ACR until 1999 when he moved to Argentina as Technical Manager for the Argentine railway development company Tranex Turismo S.A.  He was subsequently employed by Tranex as Technical and Technical Projects Manager at the Ferrocarril Austral Fueguino on Tierra del Fuego (FCAF). This 500 mm gauge railway continues to be committed to an innovative program of steam locomotive development for hauling tourist trains over its 7km of steeply graded track.

In his early years in Argentina, Shaun benefited from the guidance of Livio Dante Porta and was frequently charged with getting Porta’s ideas translated into hardware, particularly on the FCAF railway.

From 2009, Shaun worked for INTI, the government scientific establishment in Buenos Aires where Porta had been head of the Thermodynamics Department from 1960 (when he left the Rio Turbio Railway) until his retirement in 1982.

Shaun McMahon (right) talking to Chris Parrott beside FCAF No.3 Camilla.

Shaun McMahon (right) talking to Chris Parrott beside FCAF No.3 Camilla.

In recent years, Shaun had been working on the restoration of an Argentinean North British-built Class 8A 2-6-2T No. 3351 dating from 1906.  He had also been busy supervising the restoration of two of the Rio Turbio 2-10-2s which he planned to return to Rio Turbio to haul tourist trains and perhaps even coal trains over the railway.  One (No 119) was being restored to Porta-modified condition while the other (No 120) was to be upgraded to incorporate later advances in steam technology.  (No 107, featured in the photo above, has already been restored to its original ex-Mitsubishi as-built condition.)

Shaun was only 57 years old when he died.  His untimely death leaves a big hole in the “modern steam” community in South America that will be very hard to fill. 


The photos below show two of Shaun’s “demonstrator” locomotives which show what can be achieved with minimum investment to improve the performance of poorly designed locomotives.

See also Shaun McMahon’s page on

FCAF No 3 "Camilla"

FCAF No 3 “Camilla”


FACF Garratt No 2 "Ing L.D. Porta" Click here for further information about modifications to this loco.

FACF Garratt No 2 “Ing L.D. Porta” Click here for further information about modifications to this loco.