“Ferrocarriles de la Sabana de Bogotá” is commonly known as the “Tren de la Sabana.” This railroad crosses the geographical region of the savannah around the city of the Bogotá. In 1953, the “Tren de la Sabana” reached its maximum extension of nearly 200km and contributed enormously to the development of Bogotá and the surrounding region.
The Tren de la Sabana gradually lost its importance once the government began building asphalted roads between Bogotá, the suburbs, and the surrounding villages and cities. The train’s slow speed, the narrowness of the tracks, and poorly planned modernization efforts together with general corruption by the authorities all led the Sabana Railroad to disappear entirely in 1991 together with Colombia’s National Railway.
In 1990, when the Colombian National Railway Company ceased to operate, former railroaders and steam locomotive fans began to renovate steam locomotives and some passenger cars as a hobby. In 1992, four former railroaders from the renovation team decided to form the private company Turistren, which would operate a tourist train in Bogotá’s surroundings. Turistren signed a contract with the National Government to use the tracks between Bogotá’s Sabana Station and Zipaquira. The railroad to Zipaquira was especially interesting because the famous salt cathedral was already an important tourist attraction, and visitors to the salt mine could now combine their excursion with the train journey. In 1993, the first tourist train ran with a renovated steam locomotive between Bogotá and Zipaquira and became an immediate success with the people of Bogotá.
The Company Turistren bought nine abandoned steam locomotives between 1993 and 1997 in order to see which locomotives could be restored and brought back to life. There was a significant number of abandoned Baldwin locomotives in an acceptable state worth the effort of renovation. Turistren considered it essential to stay with one locomotive manufacturer so as to more easily interchange spare parts between locomotives. Today, five steam locomotives are fully rehabilitated, restored, and in perfect operating condition.
The tourist train journey starts at Bogotá’s Sabana Railway Station, not far from Bogotá’s historic downtown. The journey continues through the city to Usaquen at Km 15, where more passengers board the train.
The train leaves the city soon after departing from Usaquen and travels across Bogotá’s northern savannah region. The next stop is Zipaquira at Km 53, where the passengers have time to visit the famous Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirea or the Salt Mine in Nemocon. On its way back to Bogotá, the train stops in the picturesque village of Cajica (Km 40), where the passengers can have lunch at one of the restaurants near the railway station (the restaurants there are prepared for an influx of visitors for lunch on the weekends). The train returns to Usaquen and to Bogotá’s Sabana Railway Station in the late afternoon.
Today, the train journey is a popular excursion for Bogotáns, and most passengers are locals who travel with their families. A brass band creates a cheerful, typically Colombian atmosphere on the train.
In recent years, Turistren has operated its regular weekend trains from Bogotá to Zipaquira with Diesel locomotives because the operation costs of steam locomotives would be very high. Steam locomotives are used only on select dates, special occasions, or when the train is chartered.
The Salt Cathedral and the Salt Mine in Nemocon are highly recommended as sites to visit. Train staff sell entrance tickets for both locations during the morning train journey. As soon as the train enters the railway station in Zipaquira, many buses are seen waiting to bring passengers to the salt mines. Those not interested in salt mines can participate in a guided city tour of the lovely colonial town of Zipaquira.
If you visit the salt mines, you won’t travel the 13 km stretch from Zipaquira back to Cajiba by train but instead will journey that stretch by bus to be dropped off in Cajica for lunch. Those who instead remained in Zipaquira will return by train to Cajica to have lunch.
In addition to the weekend trains, the company Turistren runs daily morning and afternoon trains for students between Bogotá and La Caro (Km 35) or Zipaquira (Km 53).
Freight trains also use the Sabana railway line up to Usaquen, where they turn eastward to reach Tunja, Belencito, ending in Paz del Rio’s steelwork.
The City of Bogotá is planning a commuter train system on the rails of the Tren de la Sabana. This system aims to connect Bogotá to nearby cities and towns. The city administration expects the project to be executed through a public-private partnership with an investment of 1,050 million dollars and an execution phase of three years.