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Chug-chug-chug-chug! Whoooo-woooo!

13 May 2011

CHEPE, the Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacific  was — and still is — one of the engineering marvels of the world, requiring 36 bridges and 86 tunnels to traverse the route frome Chihuahua to Topolobampo, crossing the six canyons collectively known as Barranca del Cobre, and having elevations ranging from sea level to 2400 meters along its 673 Km of track.

First proposed in 1848, it took some time to get the project off the ground… a U.S. invasion, a civil war and a French invasion having delayed matters some.  In 1880, U.S. socialists — who were interested in founding a utopian community in the Sierra Madres, managed to get a concession for a railway, which — like their dreams of agrarian communes — never amounted to anything.  In 1900, the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway began construction.

KCMOR had successfully built a railway from Wichita to Alpine, Texas (the northern end of the Sierra Madres), but was unprepared for the technical challeges of a railway across the much more rugged terrain they faced.  That, and the Mexican Revolution, the Great Depression and nationalization of the rail system pushed the task back a while.

Finally completed in June 1961, it is now owned by the successor company to the original KCMOR (FerroMex, which in turn is owned by Kansas City Southern).  A bumpy 113 years in the making, and 50 years next month of smooth gliding through some of the most rugged scenery on the planet.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 13 May 2011 1:52 pm

    Rich, I think you need to check on something. I don’t believe that Ferromex is owned by Kansas City Southern. I think that Ferromex is a consortium formed by Grupo Mexico and Union Pacific. By the way, I just finished reading “Gods, Gauchupines and Gringos” and I only wish that I could write like that.

  2. 13 May 2011 3:17 pm

    Rich, nice post! How I wish I could ride El Segundo right now, sigh….IIRC, the Spreckels family was in on this gig beginning in the early 20th Century, then as all fell to pieces due to the Revolution they left town, and ended up building the San Diego, Arizona & Eastern.

    Bob is correct, Ferromex is KCS’s direct competitor, and as he aptly points out is owned by Grupo Mexico, which also owns Ferrosur RR located in Veracruz, Estado de Mexico, and associated states nearby.

  3. 14 May 2011 12:57 pm

    And a bit of trivia for you railroad buffs.

    Back when the route was first completed and up until at least the early 1970s, the “chepe” tourist trains between Chihuahua and Los Mochis (or vice versa) really weren’t trains at all. They were diesel (NOT diesel-electric) powered single train cars only, and the engineer (probably more correctly, the driver) actually had to shift gears up and down just like a big truck would.

    The way it worked in those days, if you came to Los Mochis or Chihuahua by car, was: Day 1 – You went to the railway station and bought your tickets and took your car to the freight yards where it was loaded onto a regular railroad freight car. Day 2 – Early in the morning, you went to the railway station and got on the passenger car and then took the trip (with a number of stops for tourist activities) to the other end (a darn long day, well over 12 hours). Day 3 – You went back to the railway station and your car was unloaded from the freight car where it had been carried by a regular freight train.

    Quite a different experience altogether than today’s tourist trains.

  4. 21 May 2011 11:44 am

    I did the train ride from Los Mochis to Creel back in 2003…. unforgettable.

    There’s a series called Great Railways Journeys, where UK chef Rick Stein went from Los Mochis to Veracruz, just after they’d closed the Chihuahua-Verzcruz stretch to tourists.

    I’ve put the YouTube video below, but it doesn’t have audio. I think the only place you can find the show with audio is through a bittorrent download.

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