Ecuador’s great railway line reopens in June (2013)
New Spanish built luxury steam trains will take passengers from the Pacific seaport Guayaquil (the biggest Ecuadorian city) up to the capital Quito in the Andes. The distance is 447 kilometers or 278 miles and the highest station is as high as 3609 meters above sea-level. So this can rightly be called one of the most spectacular rail journeys in the world. It is the result of a multi-million pound project (283 million US-Dollars) to restore Ecuador’s historic narrow gauge railway (1067 mm or 3,5 ft) first opened in 1908. Since the economic crises during the 1990s until 2007 the line was closed due to neglect and devastating landslides. Since they were so badly out of repair the tracks could no longer bear the old steam and diesel-electric locomotives, only rail busses could run on but a few line sections, whereas 250 km or 155 miles were completely out of service.
On the occasion of its centenary in 2008 President Raphael Correa announced the plan to reconstruct the whole line from Guayaquil to Quito. After more than four years of renovating Ecuador’s famous railway was reopened in June 2013. Several locomotives and some old coaches have been repaired or reconstructed, some modern coaches bought in France and Spain.
The ambitious project will see trains running again between Quito in the Andes and lowland Guayaquil on the Pacific coast, connecting the Valley of Volcanoes with famous Nariz del Diablo (Devil’s Nose) – one of the steepest stretches of railway you will ever be likely to experience. To travel this section from the base of the mountains up to the Valley of Volcanoes (between 2600 and 3600 m or 8500 and 11800 ft above sea-level) the ridge of “Devil’s Nose” can only be conquered via a spectacular zigzag line.
In the northern Andes the railway line from Quito to the small seaport of San Lorenzo near the border to Colombia is still out of use, but a section of about 30 km or 18 miles between Ibarra, the capital of the province of Imbaburra, and the town of Salinas is being repaired. On the way down to the northern coast the “Train of Liberty” crosses bridges of different kinds, among them lattice bridges, viaducts, and tunnels in a breathtaking scenery; besides, this region houses the only Ecuadorian population whose forefathers (and mothers) were African slaves; the smaller part lives in the Andes, whereas the majority lives in the coastal parts.
In December of 2014 the section from Ibarra to Otavalo was restarted in order to give access to Otavalo’s well-known textile industry and it’s markets so that the “Train of Liberty” soon will run from Otavalo via Ibarra to Salinas covering the distance of 54 km.
The reopened railway is thought to be part of the programme to develop tourism, but first of all the population living next to the line can hope for economical recovery.
“Tren Ecuador”, the railway company, offers weekend and one-day tours between Quito Chimbacalle, Riobamba, Alausí and (Guayaquil-)Durán; in addition every fortnight four-day round tours with the luxury train „Tren Crucero“ are offered running between Quito and Durán touristic by-programmes being included. Besides cheaper tours with rail busses will be offered without any by-programme.
Thus especially Pakay Tours Travel Agency, specialists in booking rail tickets, now offers tours across Ecuador’s three regions; these tours will take small groups, and part of the programme will be a railway journey promising views and impressions you will never forget.