Bridging the gaps
Baldwin 2-6-0 No. 17 crosses the viaduct north of Alausi on September 8, 2003. HUGH BALLANTYNE
ROD ELY describes one of the ‘Great Railway Journeys of the World’, subject of a major track renewal project
THE most diffi cult railway ever built. That’s how the Guayaquil & Quito was described during its construction at the turn of the last century. When it was opened throughout in 1910, it cut no fewer than seven days off a nine-day trek through the mountains. Soon, it was acclaimed as one of the ‘great railway journeys of the world’. In the 1980s, several sections of it were destroyed by fl oods and for a long time it looked as though it would be closed. Its yards fell into disrepair and an apology for a service staggered along on what was left of the line. Within the last two years, however, the Ecuadorian government has authorised a £200m project to improve the line and bridge the gaps with the aim of making it possible once again to travel much of it by steam – and in September, a party of Railway Magazine readers will be among the fi rst to sample the progress of this project for themselves by taking the ride of a lifetime up the snow-capped volcanoes of the Andes. The proposed itinerary of The RM tour will be as follows. Day 1: Arrive in the Pacifi c city of Guyaquil. Day 2: Visit Duran works, followed by a rare street-running section through the town behind Baldwin 2-6-0 No 11. Continue through rice plantations to the town of Milagro, where the line is being resurrected after years of disuse. Day 3: Visit Bucay locoshed, where coastal steam engines were exchanged for powerful
46 • The Railway Magazine • April 2009
locomotives suited to mountain-climbing. Here Baldwin No. 58 is rostered for our train and we begin the steep ascent up the Andes, along a section that has not seen steam since 1997. The line climbs the spectacular Chanchan River gorge, which has no road access, to Huigra, former headquarters of the G&Q Railway Day 4: We continue to the world-famous Devil’s Nose – an immense natural obstacle surmounted by spectacular zig-zags and gradients as steep as 1-in-18 high on the mountainside (see facing page). Here our train will stop to allow readers to climb the hill and take panoramic pictures at one of the world’s great ‘must-do’ photspots! We overnight in the colonial town of Alausi. Day 5: The day starts with run-pasts in the Alausi streets (Ecuador is one of the last places in the world that this can still be done with steam). Further ahead there is a spectacular steel bridge high above the gorge. We continue to Guamote, a colourful place where it seems the way of life has not changed for centuries. ‘Avenue of Fire’ Day 6: Heading north to Riobamba, we climb slowly past breathtaking landscapes, Indian villages and the Colta lagoon, from where we gain views of the snow-capped, 19,000ft Chimborazo volcano – the highest mountain in Ecuador. We enter the city of Riobamba, home of Alsthom Bo-Bo-Bo 2,400hp diesels Nos. 401-409. Day 7: This is the day we reach the summit of the line – 11,840ft above sea level! Baldwin 2-8-0 No 53 takes us through the sensational volcanic ‘Avenue of Fire’ and on past open moorlands to Urbina, the loftiest station of the line, which lies right at the base of the volcano. In order to continue staying in comfortable hotels, we return to Riobamba for the night. Day 8: We are taken to the recently
rehabilitated Latacunga station to meet steam engine No. 18, which was rebuilt in 2008 after 20 years out of service. We ride through the Inter-Andean valleys and begin our ascent to Cotopaxi station through Cotopaxi National Park, which affords awesome views of the highest active volcano in the world. Day 9: From Cotopaxi, we descend to Machachi through a rich agricultural valley and arrive at Tambillo before entering the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, visiting the beautifully-refurbished Chimbacalle station. In the afternoon, a visit to Chiriyacu Works has been laid on especially for our party. Day 10: Our last full day will see us cross the Equator: We travel by coach to Otavalo and Ibarra, where we take a railcar ride on the line that used to reach San Lorenzo, a port on the Pacifi c Coast. This line was built in the 1960s, but only ran for 20 years or so before it was interrupted by landslides. Today, only the fi rst 40 kilometres are open to Primer Paso, but it is a spectacular line featuring 23 tunnels and numerous bridges and it descends through a sub-tropical eco-system in the Salinas Valley. When we get there, steam loco No. 14 is scheduled to be working shunting duties and runpasts. We continue to Primer Paso, where our railcar will use the turntable ready for the trip back. Day 11: Private transfer from hotel to Quito airport for fl ights back home. Altogether, that’s eight and a half days of steam. Non-preserved steam too – not bad almost a full decade into the 21st century! Says seasoned traveller Michael Hyde, who made the journey with the Railway Touring Company in 2007: “Ecuador is a friendly and hospitable country. Not a rich community but content, laid-back and a joy to visit. Our hotels were comfortable and the food excellent. “This is a trip I can certainly recommend.” ■ ���
Great Rail Journeys of the World PLACES
STEAM AT 11,000FT! SEPTEMBER 25OCTOBER 5, 2009 An unforgettable 11-day fully-escorted tour through the Andes of Ecuador accompanied by the Editor of The Railway Magazine.
High drama on the Devil’s Nose during one of the now very rare occasions on which steam runs to this iconic location.
If there were a railway-related version of such a list, it would include in its ‘top ten’
£3,49 5per p erso n(bas ed o n tw o sha ring) singl e sup plem ent £295
iconic steam locations left on the planet that this astonishing railway on
Ahundred and one places ‘to try before you die’ is now a popular theme for books and websites. If there were a railway-related version of such a list, it would include in its ‘top ten’ the Devil’s Nose line in Ecuador. In fact, there are now so few truly iconic steam locations left on the planet that this astonishing railway on the roof of the world could well be considered the No. 1 destination for all self-respecting train travellers and photographers. Because of the remote location, the language barrier and the fact that steam now only runs along it on special occasions such as this, The Railway Magazine has decided it is time to offer its readers the chance to see it for themselves. We’ve teamed up with one of the world’s leading train travel specialists – the UK-based Railway Touring Company – to provide you with a holiday you will never forget! For not only will you travel on one of the most famous routes in the entire history of railways but you will spend many glorious days riding behind steam in one of the least-visited parts of the planet, climb high to the roof of the world in the Andes . . . cross the Equator and have the once-in-a-liftetime chance to extend your stay by travelling to the Galapagos Islands – home of some of the
(plus an optional visit to the Galapagos Islands)*
rarest and most exotic creatures known to Man. Many are unique to the islands – a veritable ‘land that time forgot’. (This part is not a railway trip but your ‘better half’ will never forgive you if you don’t take her there!) Our adventure runs from September 25 to October 5 and will include the editor of The RM, Nick Pigott, as a member of the party. Our tour has been especially tailored to provide as much steam as possible – 8∫ days of it in fact! We’ll travel over the famous Guayaquil & Quito Railway, which has been closed in parts for some years following fl ood damage, but which is
now in the process of restoration in a huge £200m government project (see p46). Excitingly, our train will travel over sections that have not been in use for decades – and it is even possible that we’ll be able to travel from end to end if the restoration work is on schedule. We’ll visit depots and works, stage runpasts (often in streets!), see the world’s highest active volcano and climb to over 11,000ft through ravines no roads have ever reached. At the Devil’s Nose, you will be allowed to climb the mountain directly ahead of the zig-zags to capture the classic shot reproduced above! At least
fi ve different steam locomotives have been requested and our itinerary will take us to the following places: Duran, Milagro, Bucay, Huigra, Alausi, Guamote, Riobamba, Urbina, Latacunga, Boliche (Cotopaxi), Ibarra, Primer Paso and of course, the capital of Ecuador – Quito. To ensure all runs smoothly, we will be in the care of an experienced tour manager and a Spanish-speaking guide. Don’t forget – you can’t see steam on the Devil’s Nose in the normal course of events; only by joining a tour such as this. Don’t miss this rare chance to get right up the Devil’s Nose and live to tell the tale!
In a land where costumes have changed little in the mountains, trilby-hatted Andean women stroll past Alsthom Bo-Bo-Bo No. 2404 and Baldwin 2-6-0 No. 17 at Guamote.
Remarkably, at a time of weak exchange rates, we have been able to keep the cost down to £3,495 per person, including meals and ten nights’ accommodation in high-quality hotels (plus a £295 single room supplement if required).** Call 020 3148 4683 to book, request further information or order a detailed itinerary* Alternatively, you can write to The Railway Magazine, Blue Fin Building, 110 Southwark Street, London SE1 0SU.
(**Please note all prices and details are provisional at time of press.)
* Please call the above number for prices of the Galapagos optional extension.
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