The International Steam Pages

Steam in Colombia and Equador 2017

Kevin Hoggett reports on his trip with the Railway Touring Company in October 2017.

The first two days were spent in Columbia with the 3‘ gauge lines out of Bogota.

The impressive station in Bogota is now only used by the “Turisttren de la Sabanna” which is operated by Mr Eduardo Rodriguez, a former railway engineer and enthusiast. Eduardo and his daughter, Cristina, accompanied us for the whole of our visit. They made us very welcome and nothing was too much trouble. At the station, after passing the tight, but unfortunately necessary, security, we were greeted by 4 locomotives in steam which were lined up for photos and a “runpast” of all 4 side by side was performed. Circus steam at its best, but impressive none the less. Meanwhile, the regular tourist train had left behind Babcock & Wilcox diesel Bo Bo no 601.

The steam locomotives were all Baldwin built, 2-6-0 no 8, 4-8-0 no 76 and 2-8-2s nos 85 & 72.

The story circulating recently in the railway press of 76 having been sold proved to be completely without foundation. Eduardo was horrified at the idea of parting with her when I asked him about it!.
The well-equipped workshop was also visited where 2-8-2 no 75 was undergoing an overhaul. The neatly appointed station buffet contains an impressive collection of locomotive number and builders plates and a Smith Rodley steam crane is cosmetically preserved on the track outside.

After this we departed on a special train behind no 85 to Zipaquira, 53 km from Bogota and the destination of the normal tourist trains which run every Saturday, Sunday and holiday, mostly diesel hauled (a ride on any train is a novelty for Columbians) but steam on selected dates, about once a month. There were runpasts en route and footplate rides for those who wished. All locomotives are now coal fired. Eduardo said this conversion had saved him 80% of his fuel bill! Columbia has plenty of coal.

On the return trip, just after the junction at la Caro, the train came to an abrupt halt. No 85 had lost a die-block pin from her right side radius link. The pin was found, and a temporary repair was carried out. However, the problem reoccurred, and finally Diesel 723 was summoned to assist.

Next morning we again left Bogota, this time behind 2-6-0 no 8 as far as Usaquen, 14km out where she was replaced by 4-8-0 no 76. No 8 didn’t sound too healthy with only three beats to a revolution pointing to valve problems! The train carried on to La Caro where the junction was taken and continued to the picturesque rocks beyond Suesca, 80km from Bogota. Once again, many runpasts were performed. It was not possible to go beyond this because a land slip has made the line unsafe for heavy locomotives. Hopefully this will be rectified, the railway is still maintained by the state, with access charges being paid for the tourist trains.

Eduardo is also busy reintroducing commuter trains to Bogota using his railcars.

We said farewell to our friends at this point, returning to Bogata by bus, the train being diesel hauled back.

Dates for steam operation can be found on Turistren’s website (in English)

Next day we flew to Guyaquil in Equador.

All trains in Equador were private charter. The first, from Duran to Yaguachi and back was hauled by 2-6-0 no 14. Sister no 11 and 2-8-0 no 53 were also seen on Duran shed. Again runpasts were performed and tender riding (although not officially condoned) was allowed once outside Duran. The train was shadowed by Alsthom diesel 2405 which was our motive power for the non-steam parts of the trip all the way to Quito. Which was continued next day.

All of the G+Q steam locomotives have been fitted with mobile diesel compressors on the back of the top of the tender. These are used for Lighting up the diesel firing and also for braking in preference to the steam pumps. I was told that the cruise train which loads to about 6 cars needs more air than can be provided by the steam pumps at the high altitudes, a story I find difficult to believe! Fortunately the diesel units run quietly, so are not too disturbing.

At Bucay the sadly derelict locomotive depot contains the wheel-less remains of 2-8-0’s 44 and 46 (with 45’s tender).

The Devil’s Nose section is quite busy with 2-3 tourist trains per day on the section from Alausi to Sibambe.These are diesel hauled (they say the turning wye at Sibambe is too tight for 2-8-0’s) and well patronized at $25 per passenger are probably subsidizing the rest of the operation. Our group was provided with 4x4 vehicles which took us to a mountain top vantage point, passing the old locomotive depot on the way, to watch a train descending the switchback.. Above Alousi there is a bridge which is considered unsafe for passengers, so this was the only section of the line we could not cover, being bussed past it.
Riobamba proved to be the highlight of the trip. We were given a whole day out and back trip with 2-8-0 no 53 to Guamote. The locomotive is in good condition and is run by competent and enthusiastic enginemen, led by driver Edgar who has been on the footplate for 37 years and is teaching younger colleagues. Next morning no 58 again hauled our train to the summit at Urbina giving some excellent running on the rising gradients. Once again runpasts were plentiful and tender riding permitted away from Riobamba station.

The pro steam team at Riobamba would like to run more steam and are hoping to introduce a monthly run out and back from Alausi over the Devil’s Nose to Huigra once 2-8-0 no 45, at present on maintenance at Riobamba shed, is back in action. 2-6-0 no 17, normally based at Quito was also seen in Riobamba shed. The rest of the run to Quito was diesel, in spite of being promised steam for the last 20km from Tambilo into Quito. Apparently no steam locomotive was available and it seems Quito crews do not share Riobambas affection for steam saying no 17 is underpowered for the cruise train. A rostering problem somewhere.
The final railway visits on the tour were to the restored but unconnected sections of line based on Ibarra, north of Quito. A depot visit was arranged before a ride in a diesel railbus along the very scenic line to Salinas. Next day, we had a steam special with inside frame 2-8-0 no 18 on the line towards Otavalo. Unfortunately a collapsed embankment, leaving about 50 yards of track suspended in mid-air stopped us from covering the last part, and the train was hauled back from San Roque by electro-diesel trax no 2003. A surprise was that no 18 was crewed by our friends from Riobamba who had been sent up to do the run! They were training an Ibarra crew.

All in all, a fairly successful and enjoyable trip with a good amount of steam by today’s standards.

Rob Dickinson