History of the Trains in Ecuador
The main line of the Ecuadorian Railway (Ferrocarril del Sur) was built between 1873 and 1908 by the Guayaquil & Quito Railway Company. It connected the country’s largest cities, Guayaquil, on the coast, and Quito in the Andes. It had enormous importance for the development of the country, especially the Andean highlands.
The railway worked profitably for only a few years. In 1925, the Guayaquil & Quito Railway Company finally sold its majority stake to the State of Ecuador. Maintaining the route was very expensive, especially as a result of rainfall, landslides, and flooding, which often hindered traffic, particularly in the Andean region. The damage was often only repaired cheaply and temporarily, and significant renovations failed to materialize for decades.
Although the journey was difficult and the wagons were often very full, the railroad was vital for the transportation of goods and labor. Until then, goods had mainly been transported by donkeys, but also by horses, mules, and llamas. Even after the inauguration of the railway, the donkey remained competitive. Large numbers of automobiles only appeared in the banana boom of the 1950s.
The Recent History of the Trains in Ecuador
The railway line was severely damaged by El Niño in 1998 so that it could no longer be fully used. Unlike in other countries, however, the railroad was not wholly abandoned or dismantled. Small sections remained in operation on tourist routes. The tourist centerpiece Alausí – Sibambe (Nariz del Diablo) was particularly popular. A peculiarity was that the tourists were allowed to drive on wagon roofs.
Under the Government of Rafael Correa, the Ecuadorian Railway Company (EFEP Ferrocarriles Ecuatorianos Empresa Publico) was provided with funds, and nearly the entire network was restored. The restoration work started in 2009.
The Restoration Process of the Ecuadorian Railway
First, the section from El Tambo to Baños del Inca was put into operation on the branch line to Cuenca. The opening of the route from Quito to Latacunga followed in several sections. The section from Durán to Yaguachi was also restored in October 2010. Then the work concentrated on the part Riobamba-Bucay, with the piece Alausí-Sibambe (Nariz del Diablo) already in operation in early 2011. In October 2012, the Riobamba – Colta line went into service. At the end of December 2012, the entire highland route opened from Quito via Latacunga, Ambato, Riobamba to Guamote. At the end of January 2013, the rest of the railroad from Guamote via Alausí, Huigra, Bucay, Milagro to Durán followed.
The government also repaired the scenic railroad in the north Ibarra – Salinas. Last but not least, in early 2015, the Ibarra – Otavalo route opened.
In addition to repairing the track systems, Ferrocarriles del Ecuador received funds to rebuild the railway stations. Technology transfer took place with the Spanish railway company FEVE. In the course of this, the Ecuadorian railway received some modern cars, and the existing diesel locomotives were primarily repaired.
After all the renovation, the Ecuadorian Railway operates 32 stations and five workshops. It has eight diesel locomotives, seven steam locomotives, some railbuses, and 24 passenger cars.
Trains in Ecuador Today
The railway network of Ecuador has 966.1 km, of which, between 2010 and 2015, the government rehabilitated 506.7 km with an investment of $ 386.8 million. However, only 380.3 km are operational at the beginning of 2019. Five sections comprising 126.4 km were closed since January 2018.
The lack of knowledge of how to plan, build, and operate a railway under the government of Rafael Correa was the main reason why this exciting project partly failed. Today, the Central Government is not able anymore to cover the operational loss.
Railroads that are no longer operational on the railroad Duran – Quito:
Rocafuerte-Bucay 22.2 km (Flat, Littoral Region)
Bucay-Huigra 28.7 km (The part when the train enter the Andes, one of the fascinating parts of the Ecuadorian Railway system)
Alausí-Palmira 23.5 km (Because this part is missing, passenger trains cannot run from Riobamba to the Devil’s Nose, from a touristic point of view, this part should be restored with priority)
Latacunga-Cotopaxi 39.2 km
Bellow, you find a map that shows the open railroads in Ecuador. (The interrupted Railroad between Alausi and Palmira is not shown.) Because there are so many bus journeys necessary when traveling on the Tren Crucero, Railsouthamerica cannot sell the Tren Crucero as a rail program anymore. Should, in future, the railroad be restored on large parts, we consider retaking the Tren Crucero into our Train Portfolio for South America.
A few years ago, I participated in a film production of the German Television about trains in Ecuador. Here you find the link to this film (German).