The railway line that keeps on rolling

On the road: In Ecuador

As I boarded the modern, glass-encased railway carriage I couldn't help but think that this had not always been a tourist train. I first rode these rails 25 years ago on the roof of some 1920s-vintage rolling stock. At the time, wheels screeched, Andean scenery lurched and swayed around me, and I hung on for dear life. These thrills came to an abrupt end in 2007, when two tourists were decapitated by an overhead wire and riding the roof was prohibited.

At the dawn of the 20th century this was not a tourist train at all. Rather it was Ecuador's pride and joy, the result of an internationally acclaimed 11-year effort by president Eloy Alfaro and US entrepreneur Archer Harman. Alongside Alfaro's sweeping liberal reforms, these rails carried the country into the new century.

It is a spectacular 464km line with a unique set of switchbacks to climb the daunting slope known as the Devil's Nose. It runs from Durán, outside the port city of Guayaquil, up to Ecuador's capital, Quito, at 2,850m above sea level. The line first passes through 87km of delta lands and then, in another 80km, climbs to 3,238m, before reaching Riobamba in the heart of Ecuador's "Avenue of the Volcanoes". The highest point is 3,619m, after which the line falls and rises on its way to Quito.

The G&Q railway remained the backbone of transportation in Ecuador for more than 60 years, but time and neglect eventually took their toll and by the turn of the millennium only a few short segments remained in service. There was often talk of reviving the railway but only in 2007 did the current government, ideological heir of President Alfaro, undertake this task.

The line from Durán to Quito reopened earlier this year. From new concrete ties to the modern rolling stock, this is unquestionably a formidable achievement, but what remains unclear is the purpose of the refurbished railway. For it still offers only a series of short – still spectacular but no longer cheap – tourist rides, plus an all-inclusive four-day/three-night package priced at US$1,270 (£850). Was this the dream of Eloy Alfaro and Archer Harman?

Footprint's 'Ecuador & Galápagos Dream Trip' is out now, priced £9.99 (footprinttravelguides.com)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there