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EISENBAHN-KURIER
logo-eisenbahnkurierThe Highest Train in the World

On the way from Peru’s capital Lima to Huancayo, crosses the locomotive 1000 on the 24th of may with a tank wagon, Bartolome-Matucana situated in the amazing “Carrion overpass”, over the Verruga cliff.

After our first visit to the Peruvian Andes in the year 2000 (see globetrotter in E.K. 11-2001) Peru again became our trip goal in May and June 2003. A message shook my travel guides and I, the central rails, the most spectacular track of the entire Andes was ready to be used with a passenger train after years of disuse. In August and November 2002 began the first journeys with passenger trains from Lima to La Oroya and Huancayo since the nineties, when the journeys were postponed because of the terrorist threat. Since that time, the only transport taking place on this unique track was cargo transport, while all the passenger transport was taking place on the road. The first trips were taking place in 2002 and went so well, that for 2003 there were six trips on the time-table. Until that time the track only gave the people of Lima the possibility for an excursion on Sundays from Lima (150 m. high) to San Bartolome (1513 m. high). After weeks of preparation and lots of communication with different departments of the private FCCA ( FerroCarril Central Andino S.A.), the time had finally come, with a translator and a local taxi driver we are standing on the rail depot in Chosica at the crack of dawn.

train1 Thursday 22 may 2003 at the Chosica depot we shall receive information about the cargo transport over the central rail, because we – before crossing the Andean mountains- want to photograph the cargo transport on the first part of the route around Lima. Chosica ( 859 m.) is the first big train station on the route in the Andes, 54 km. from Lima, isolated in a small valley. At first we had to wait. The security personnel from the heavily guarded train station was indeed informed about our visit, but the station chief hadn’t arrived yet to get permission from higher up. In Peru it’s just like that, it isn’t that easy. After two hours of waiting- in the meantime the sun had set- the chief greeted us with surprising news, two persons are allowed to ride along with the next good train towards Huancayo, from Chosica to San Bartolome. “But, now what…” actually we wanted to know the times of the good transport and not to immediately ride along on the locomotive. So it happened that Horst Helmle the train and Horst Kraft and I followed the train per PkW. At the maximum speed of 50 km. Per hour it was easy to reach San Bartolome. That’s where the first of 18 turntables of the central railway is located, here; the locomotives are being turned on a turning disk to cross the Cordeliers with the best possible power. Almost simultaneous with the good train we arrive on the station, where another good train is waiting readily to go to Lima, to reach the capital after the crossing, 76 km. later. We are looking for Horst Helmle on the locomotive, but are unable to find him, where can he be? We decide to go back to Chosica, on the way we catch up with the train going downwards. When it stops in a small station we can also see a second train going upwards and from the engineer booth our missing friend greets us cheerfully. The engineer booth from the first train wasn’t tidy enough, so they moved the German guest to the second, following locomotive.
After all these adventures we receive more good news about the track, we are a reasonable distance from the 2389 m. high city of Matucana, over 100 km. from Lima. The highlight of this part of the track is the 218 m. long steel bridge named “Carrion” over the Verruca gap. The climb to the photo point, by foot, demands a lot from our lungs. This is the price for a nice picture- and on the pictures from the passing trains from san Bartolome, no one will see how out of breath we were.

Friday 23rd of may We are in Lima in front of the tower of Lima’s station, Desamparados. With us are 90 more travelers waiting, (mostly tourists) to be let in to the - because of the lower situated presidential palace, - strictly guarded train station. We meet up with Lucho Hurtado, a Peruvian railway friend, who will accompany us on our journey on the highest train in the world. With a 2 hour delay, we leave Lima at 9 am. Instead of a clean passenger train, all of a sudden we are riding in a GmP, after which both wagons were simply attached to the susposed cargo train, efficiency principally goes before exclusiveness. The heavy shaking makes us doubt our decision to endure this 13 hours. The train’s horn is ready to warn crossing people and cars. The journey goes trough the povertystricken district of the 8 million metropole, when we’ve left the chaos of Lima behind us, the journey becomes a lot more bearable.
train2 In Chosica is a short stop, which gives us a good view. Unfortunately the only steam locomotive is somewhat un-photogenic placed in between the other trains. In 1837 Beyer Peacock built 1’E Schlepptenderlocomotief nr. 206 and it is still used for charter rides, but it is in such a bad state that for extra trains the diesel power is often very necessary. Unfortunately it is the investigations and the money that is lacking. After passing the picturesque villages Matucana, Chicla and San Mateo, we cross the Infiernillo bridge. This is a short bridge and only one of the 67 bridges on the track between Lima-Oroya, but it is 3300 meter high and so the highest railway bridge in the world. Besides bridges, we also cross 65 tunnels. The passenger wagons are on the end of the train on this track. An opened wagon door and some flat wagons in between the passenger wagons and the locomotive, gives us some good photo opportunities from the impressive mountain world. This journey is a technical miracle, designed by the American Henry Meiggs (1811-1877). Meiggs could, while building the railway from Lima to La Oroya not make use of the regular turn tunnels to overcome the differences in heights, because of the small ravines and the breakable rock. Therefore he used a technique that had been used in 1863 by the build of the railway Bombay- Poona in India and created the special characteristic of the Peruvian railway, the turntables.
The breaks scream and we make our 3rd stop. Soon the zigzags begin to climb through the mountains. There’s a statuesque rail by steep ravines through the high mountains of the Peruvian Andes. Until arriving into the station of Ticlio /4758 m.), we are going at 16 meters per minute. To prevent ourselves from getting the altitude sickness “soroche” we’ve been drinking coca tea and mineral water without stopping and as an extra help we’ve been chewing on blood thinning tablets. For emergency cases there is a nurse on board. The oxygen comes in handy for the sleeping kids, to make breathing easier with the help of an oxygen mask. In the turntable of Chicla (3734 m) there is even a train crossing taking place. Our upward going GmP puts half of the train on a side track, for this turn, drives onto the turntable and drives into an, in the mountain drilled tunnel. When the train has reached the end of the tunnel the rail worker can change the rails for the train that goes downwards. This train passes part of the train on the side track and goes in opposite direction downwards. In the meantime, our train is put back together. The locomotive is now on the end of the longer rails, where the good train used to be and pushes us in the back to Saltacuna. Ticlio has been reached. 157 km. from Lima Desamparados, begins the last part of our adventurous journey. As signed guests we enjoy the journey train3through the 1176, 85 m. long tunnel from Ticlio to Galera from the engineer stand. In the middle of the tunnel, we reach, 4784 m. above sea level, the highest point of the Peruvian central railroad. Directly after the tunnel, we enter the station of Galera. This station at 4781 m. is the highest station in the world, only a piece of rails from Ticlio-La Cima lies a bit higher. A fascinating evening atmosphere hangs over the station, some side tracks are lying in the last sunlight of the day. We direct the engineer to the last sunlight and leave the locomotive to capture this beautiful scene on camera. Half anaesthetized and floating because of the high altitude we climb the hill to take some really nice pictures. Our heart is racing and our breathing equals that of a 400m. runner after reaching the finish. Madness, a dream coming true! This exclusive photo shoot was made possible by the American Henry Posner, manager of the private FCCA, after a long period of negotiating, thank you very much! A unique evening atmosphere surrounds the rails and the mountains on our journey to the next ig ag, towards Yauli- tal. In complete darkness we reach the mine city La Oroya. The city of about 50.000 people, has a copper and lead supply and is because of that Peru’s biggest mountain home depot. Zink, coal and silex are the most important goods for the rails. Daily and morefrequently, there are cargo trains in the area of Lima - La Oroya - Huancayo. Based on the strong differences in height and the turntables, the maximum loading is limited to 270 t per train. After another three hours ride, our “tourist train” reaches it’s destination in Huancayo on an altitude of 3271 m.

Saturday 24 may 2003 after a short night; we ride very early in a taxi with our friend Lucho Hurtado to our first photo point, on the 914 mm. small rail track from Huancayo-Huancavelica. Recently this belongs to ENAFER, the Peruvian state railways. This railway can, based on the thrifty good transport, not be sold or leased to private companies like the other former state railways. The lucrative tourist shop is missing out on passenger transport, because only the Peruvian farmer uses the train connection, even though the rails are the only connection, for the isolated villages, between Huancayo and Izcuchaca and the outside world.train4
A daily train makes it possible for farmers to come to Huancayo and sell their goods in the market. In the weekends there is an extra train running. The trains usually function as a “mixto” (GmP) and in isolated stations they mostly serve as good trains. As a memento, there are two diesel locomotives to be used by the whole business. In the first morning light (this equals the train of 6.30 am in the 3657 m. high Huancavelica) we take our first pictures. One hour later, in the meantime we’ve left a tour over a bumpy road behind us; we meet our train in a small valley in front of Izcuchaca for the second time. In this beautiful bit of nature, we later wait for our return to Huancayo. We send our taxi driver back alone, because we’ll take the train to get back. On the evening train to Huancayo, we’re the only foreigners. In the train, the local people are singing, making music and drinking their homemade “chicha” (corn beer). The kids surround us, hoping to sell some candy to us. When it becomes dark, there’s just a flashlight enlightening the scene. There’s no light in the train, the seats no longer have pillows and on the floor are different liquids with different scents. In the hallway are big bags filled with vegetables and fruit (garlic). The unforgettable ride ends in Huancayo, where the farmers sleep on the street wrapped in blankets on top of their bags, dreaming of big sells and lots of customers. We spend the night with our friend, Lucho Hurtado (travel companion, hotelier and railway friend) with a good beer and music to discuss our common hobby, the railway.

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