The International Steam Pages
The Railway Touring Company in Central America 2007
This report from Keith Taylorson covers only the countries with steam, Colombia and Guatemala.
Ferrocarriles Norte de Colombia Gauge: 3 ft.
The main station (Estacion de la Sabana) in Bogota is (for a capital city) remarkably small, with only four platforms. There is a good display of maps and old photos in the café area. No regular passenger services have survived, but there is a once weekly “Tourist Tren” each Sunday to Zipaquira, (km 53). On 4/2/07 the train was hauled by No 76, 4-8-0, BLW 73095/47, immaculately polished. Altogether three locos (Baldwins 72, 76 and 85) are serviceable and Baldwin 75 is under repair. Stored/dumped are a collection of steam locos from various other Colombian railways, Nos 109, 48, 44, 8, 16 and 114, identities of which are known.
5km out of Bogota the train passes large marshalling yards where the line north to La Dorada diverges - several diesel locos were visible here. At La Caro bogie diesels 1034/1028 in blue livery were passed on a southbound freight. The tourist train due to arrive at Zapiquira at 11.30 was delayed by a collision with a car which tried to cut in front of the loco at an unmarked crossing. Proving the effectiveness of cowcatchers, the car was shunted 30 yards along the track then spun clear, the four occupants emerging shaken but uninjured. Police attended and took a statement from the train driver, and the train proceeded after a 30 minute delay.
On 6/2/07 a RTC special behind No 85 (2-8-2, BLW 73057/47) ran from Bogota to Villapinzon, on a line formerly terminating at Paz de Rio; this line sees regular tourist trains as far as Eduardo Briceno (where there is a bizarre amusement park) but the special was the first steam train to venture beyond here for at least six years, resulting in large crowds turning out to cheer the train. There appears to be no regular freight traffic on this section. The train was turned on the “wye” at Villapinzon and returned on 7/2/07, being double headed by No 72 (2-8-2, BLW 73056/47) from Eduardo Briceno to Bogota.
Tren de la Montana (Gauge: 3 feet)
This private operation utilises ex FCC tracks on the disused line from Facatitava (40km out of Bogota) to Giradot, as far as Cacipay. The line reaches a summit of 2370m at Zipacon and features gradients as steep as 1 in 33. “Motive power” is comprised of converted permanent way trolleys and operates on a charter basis only.
Compania Desarrolladora Ferrovaria SA gauge: 3 ft
This is the name of the locally based (but American owned) company which took over the running of the once moribund state railroad in 1997 (traffic having ceased in March 1996). The company is part of the railroad empire of the visionary Henry Posner III, a modern tycoon who has breathed new life into railways in a number of countries. A huge backlog of permanent way maintenance is being tackled and there are 6 diesel locomotives available for traffic. Currently 1 –2 trains a day are run between Guatemala City and Puerto Barrios (on the Atlantic), traffic consisting mainly of containers and baled steel wire. Motive power consists of Alco and GE diesels. One steam locomotive (No 204) is currently serviceable and operated a charter from Gualan to El Rancho on 15/2/07 and from El Rancho to Guatemala City on 16/2/07. The locomotive had received extensive overhaul under the supervision of a Colombian steam engineer and performed well, until about 20km out of Guatemala City on 16/2, when problems with the injectors finally caused it to fail, just short of the summit. Diesel 1009 was commandeered off a following freight and pushed the train into the next loop, from where the passengers were bussed in to the city.
A visit to the shed and works in Guatemala City on 14/2/07 found four other US built steam locos (116,117,119 and 200) OOU in the roundhouse. There is an excellent small museum adjacent to the shed, containing a number of locos including steam locos No 34 (Baldwin of 1897) and No 205 (ex Compania Agricola de United Fruit). The old roundhouse at Zacapa (itself now almost derelict) houses 183, 153, 189 (all US built) plus 165 and 168 (Krupp) in near derelict condition.