Steam Above the Andes

Steam in Ecuador: 27.07. – 08.08./10.08.2009
Steam in
Paraguay: 09.08. – 16.08.2009

Ecuador – The End of a Hope 

After a talk to the General Manager of Ecuador’s railways on March 2nd which had not previously been filtered by the wishful thinking of the local travel agency, I must announce that the planned tour cannot go ahead as planned. Regrettably, I must cancel the proposed trip to Ecuador completely.

Although the Ecuadorian government had recently expressed their willingness to donate further funds for the rebuilding of the line, the South American mentality means there is no chance of restoring the line by mid 2009. Besides the Ecuadorian attitude not allowing straight forward reconstruction work, there is also neither sufficient money available nor sufficient workers able to do the job. Around the Devil’s Nose, one of the most interesting spots for photographers and video film makers, no work has been started yet. The heavy steam locomotives can’t be used there unless substantial track work is carried out. The explicit question of whether or not they would finish track work in the section between Alausi and Sibambe by June 2009 was answered with a “maybe”. If you know Southern America you understand this message means “no way”. Hence our group could only use the railcar here – which is far from what we wished to do.

This is not all that leads to a decision not to run the tour. The General Manager also pointed out that the lowland section from Duran is also not serviceable and will not be by July, rather likely not in 2009 at all. The part with No.11 running through the streets of Guayaquil would have needed to be cancelled completely.

The repair of the line is far from what had been promised. They’ve just replaced every forth or fifth sleeper. No sight of the promised ballast! Safety on the railway cannot be guaranteed this way. I’m not talking about the usual derailments which I’m used to and not afraid of at all. But in January 2009 a children’s special derailed and one coach turned over! This happened on the “rehabilitated” section between Latacunga and Quito!

"sanierte" Strecke südlich Quito

Rehabilitated” section between Latacunga and Quito

In December 2008 the President undertook a promotional steam train ride towards Quito. The press followed this trip with great interest. However, photographs only show the President leaving the steam train in Quito. The tour had been far from being trouble free. The locomotive had failed on the first section of the line, so they had arranged a bus to bring the President to another station where another train took him onward.

A loco can fail, no problem, but it was said that they would take the loco immediately (maximum five days later) to the workshops. However, for many weeks the loco just sat unattended in the station in Lasso, where locals found it too tempting to take a way some of the brass parts to sell to the local scrap dealers! Hence the loco is no longer serviceable and won’t be serviceable by July. Another loco cannot be used either. Its repair is going very slowly or better to say it hasn’t started yet at all!

They promised us their two heavy locomotives, Nos.53 and 58, but No.58 is neither in Bucay (as was said at first) nor in Riobamba (from where we could use it down to the Devil’s Nose. The loco is, in fact, in Quito. They would need to arrange road transport over some 100 miles to bring it to the place where we need the locomotive. Of course, they wouldn’t do this because in Riobamba there is no track fit for the locomotive to run on. The rails wouldn’t stand the weight of the locomotive. It could hardly move out of the station without a derailment. The second heavy loco, No.53 needs repairs which are unlikely to start for months. If you know the speed of work in Ecuador.…

The situation with rolling stock is uncertain too. They’ve done everything needed for mass tourism and mounted colourful plastic seats on the roof of several freight wagons and passenger coaches, while other wagons have been painted in strange colours (a blue and white tank wagon for example). These wagons are useless for our tour.

Plastikschalensitze und Nr. 58, in Quito, mithin am falschen Ort

By normal local practice all this news would have cropped up after we’d arrived. Our tour would have ended up in a first class disaster. The planned trains could definitely not run as promised and I have no other option but cancelling the tour.

However, the Switzerland of Southern America, as the locals like to describe their country, Paraguay welcomes us. The charter train from Asunción is booked, the regular use of 99 year old British steam locomotives in Encarnación lingers on. So we’ll change the Paraguay tour from an extension to a stand alone tour. A block booking with the airline will be done in about two weeks and announced on the website.

With rumours about the flooding of parts of Encarnación, Paraguay’s steam can’t wait. Just because Ecuador is not working we cannot abandon the Paraguay tour. Paraguay has one of the very last state railway steam operations, in fact, it’s the last 100% state owned steam railway in the world.

Ecuador: Devil's nose

In Ecuador we’re chasing an exciting development which no one could have believed possible. After a decade of declining railways in both, rolling stock and track sections, we’ve seen a remarkable turnaround. Not only have they started to rebuild sections which have been interrupted by land slides for many years, they’ve also overhauled No.18 for use on charter trains. This loco has spent some twenty years staying around in Duran. Together with No.18 the line now has four working steam locomotives for charters and maybe a fifth which can move at least itself plus a few wagons. Several closed sections of the spectacular line (please excuse the word spectacular here but the line is breath taking) were refurbished by the end of 2008 and they’ve already raised funds to work on the remaining closed sections as well. Of course, this will only happen if groups come and pay the required prices.

We want to take this chance to visit this outstanding railway. We’ve planned some things different from the normal tourist programs bearing in mind the needs of dedicated photographers and video film makers.

Ecuador: Sibambe






Morning departure (07.45 hrs) from London or Frankfurt/Main or other airports on request. Flight to Madrid, departure Madrid 12.15 hrs, arrival Guayaquil 18.30 hrs. hotel in Guyayaquil


Late morning visit to the Duran workshop, afternoon optional tour to the sights of the city, hotel Guayaquil


In the morning at 7am we board our first steam train, a freight train hauled by loco No.11 from Duran to Yaguachi. There we’ll turn the loco on the triangle and return to Duran. Bus transfer to Alausi, hotel La Quinta in Alausi


Charter steam train Alausi to Sibambe with loco No.58 and return to Alausi. We may continue down to Boliche and a bit further below to the area where a landslide at km 124 interrupted rail services in 1999. Hotel La Quinta in Alausi


‘Devil’s Nose’ at Sibambe is one of the most exciting spots for railway photography in the world. So we’ll return in the morning to Sibambe with a freight train and take some more pictures at Devil’s Nose. In the afternoon we’ll make some shots at the famous steel bridge at the northern edge of Alausi. Hotel La Quinta in Alausi


In the morning we’ll make some pictures in the streets of Alausi before we set off to climb up to the first summit 3,239 meters above the sea in Palmira, from there we’ll roll down to Guamote and continue by charter bus to our hotel in Riobamba


Before sunrise we’ll return by charter bus from Riobamba to Guamote to continue with our charter train in the early morning light to the second summit at Colta, 3,296 meters above the sea level. From Colta we’ll continue at a high altitude to Riobamba. In the late afternoon we’ll visit the workshop of Riobamba, the most active workshop on the line. Hotel in Riobamba.


Today we’ll take No.53 back from Riobamba to the summit at Colta. From Colta we continue to Columbe to turn the loco. The morning light is best for glint shots because the line leaves the city westbound. Both locomotives, No.58 and 53 will do some shunts in the patio for taking pictures. Hotel in Riobamba


Behind No.53 we’ll make the ultimate climb towards the summit of the line at 3,609 meters above the sea in Urbina. From the station you have an amazing view of the highest volcano of Ecuador, the Chimborazo (some 6,300 metres above sea level) From here we’ll continue by bus to our next hotel, a basic hotel in Latacunga.


After all the high mountains we’ll take a day’s rest at an altitude below 2,800 meters in Latacunga. If you’re feeling fit enough, we offer a steam free, but nevertheless spectacular option, a visit to the caldera of the Quilotoa. This volcano erupted last time some 730 years ago. The viewpoints with exciting views are below 4,000 meters and therefore good for low land visitors (as we are). Basic hotel in Latacunga


Behind No.18 we’ll climb the final summit on the way to Ecuador’s capital, Quito. At 6.45 in the morning we’ll start from Latacunga to the station of Cotopaxi. There are plenty of positions with volcanoes on the way to the summit at Cotopaxi at 3,547 meters above the sea. We’ll continue by bus to Lasso. Hotel Cuello de Luna, Lasso


In the early morning we’ll go by charter bus to Tambillo (near Aloag) where our loco No.18 will have been turned on the triangle. From here we’ll take a freight train to climb the pass at Cotopaxi from the other side. At noon we’ll return and reach Quito just in time to have a quick shower before our return flight starts at 17.40 hrs – or Ibarra extension


Arrival in Frankfurt/Main at 18.40 hrs (or another destination in Europe upon request)


Continue by charter bus to Ibarra, hotel in Ibarra


Visit to the workshop of Ibarra. Loco No.14 will be under steam and haul a charter train to Salinas. There a railcar will pick us up and go down the next approx. 35km to Primer Paso, a spectacular line with tunnels and bridges. In the evening return to Quito, hotel in Quito


In the morning we’ll visit the Chiriyacu workshop of Quito, followed by a guided sight seeing tour through the capital. In the afternoon by charter bus to the airport and departure at 17.40 hrs


Arrival in Europe in the evening

Paraguay is still under negotiation.


Line description

A train passes Duran

market day

Ecuador’s railway system was almost dead. Landslides, washouts, mismanagement and the political preference of building roads over maintaining the railway were the catalysts taking customers off the railway and onto the buses. This spectacular line was always expensive to maintain. Several interruptions of the line haven’t been repaired for a long time and almost put an end to the rail service. After years of sleep the authorities finally became aware that they own a gem of a railway and that tourists came just for that reason. Late, but not too late, they announced a revitalisation programme to rebuild sections which have been not passable, mainly due to land slides. Along with infrastructure investments, no fewer than three steam locomotives have been taken to the workshops and refurbished. Late in 2008 the miracle happened, the line was repaired at several major points along its length and all together four steam locomotives could be used (plus a fifth in Ibarra)!

near Sibambe

The only possible conclusion, it’s now worth visiting the line into the Andes. The line starts at 4 meters above sea level in Guayaquil and takes some 70km through the flats before it starts its climb. The following almost 100km are among the most spectacular of all the world’s railways. With gradients of over 5% the line winds up more than 3,100 metres above sea level. The world famous “Devil’s Nose” with its two zigzags alone would justify a charter steam event in Ecuador, but there is much more to see. Deep gorges, trestles and volcanoes, in a not too far distance, guarantee outstanding photographic and video opportunities.

Bucay is located on the edge of the coastal plains at 300 meters above the sea where the coastal steam locomotives have been exchanged for mountain locomotives to begin the steep climb up the Andes. The section between Bucay and Boliche still needs repair and won’t be finished by mid 2009. Here the vegetation changes from tropical to cloud forest. Huigra, on the way, was the old headquarters of the Guayaquil & Quito Railway (G&Q). One of the most spectacular sections of the railway are now ready to see charter trains. We’ll spend two days between the famous Devil’s Nose and Alausi.

railway bridge under repair



After the line has climbed the highlands you’ll find several outstanding opportunities with volcanoes (including the snow capped Chimborazo) in the backdrop. When we reach an altitude of 3,239 metres (Palmira) the climb is not over at all, the third summit is at 3,609 metres above sea level (Urbnina). This climb starts from Riobamba at an altitude of 2,764 metres, so another 845 metres steaming uphill over just 30 kilometres are again a sight for eyes and ears. On the next 43km the line will fall more than 1,000 metres before the last summit to be tackled takes us to 3,547 metres above the sea (Cotopaxi).

The section Urbina – Latacunga is not passable at the moment. We’ll cover this distance by bus.

We have planned visits to the workshops in Duran (Guayaquil), if time permits, Bucay, the busiest one along the line in Riobamba and the Chiriyacu workshop in Quito.

a rural station of the G&Q

Urbina - the highest station

volcanoes along the railway


Small Print

Nowadays, the steam locos are used only for charter trains. Please remember that an old engine which has been out of use for a while may face some technical problems. In this case we need to remain patient. The railway staff are very good at improvisation and making on-the-spot repairs. They will resolve most of the problems in a short time. Because of bad weather or other technical problems some parts of the lines can become inoperable. Even after repairs were carried out, derailments are still a major problem. Sometimes you can take rail pins out of the sleeper with your bare fingers. Don’t be tempted! Please understand that we cannot guarantee the availability of the line, departure or arrival times, number of wagons or a locomotive. All these are things far beyond our control. Landslides may make it impossible to run the tour at all. You need to consider that this line is among the most challenging mountain railways in the world and the weather can have quite an impact on its availability. The itinerary shows the details we have discussed with the railways. It doesn’t mean that everything will run perfectly, but we will do our best to make the most out of the opportunities. We’ll try to get authentic looking trains behind our steam locomotives.

Guayaquil & Quito railway

bridge near Alausi

Light conditions are tropical in the coastal area but are changing in the mountains. There are often clouds in the mountains, even during the dry season. The best light is of course in the morning and the late afternoon, but sometimes the mountains make it impossible to use the early morning or late afternoon light. So don’t expect us to book a breakfast at 8am! We’re going to Ecuador to experience an outstanding railway, but we’re not even trying to find the best restaurants of the country.

Time doesn’t matter in Ecuador the same way it does in developed industrial countries. Delays are common and can be amplified by derailments or technical problems with the locomotives.

The temperatures are tropical in Guayaquil, but it can be very fresh in the mountains. Have a look at the climate diagrams to get an impression about the average temperatures:

climate Guayaquil

climate Quito

People are friendly and helpful. But, especially in the big cities like Guayaquil, you should keep a careful eye on your belongings. Thefts are on the “shopping tour”!

Electricity : 220 Volts, 50 Hz – sometimes blackouts can happen. A mobile network is available in the cities. Most of the tri- and all quad-band mobile phones can be used, but, check roaming rates with your provider before using your mobile.

Our hotels provide A/C, bath and toilet in the room. Charter buses represent the domestic standard.


Panamericana in Ecuador

Please bear in mind that accommodation and transportation in Ecuador definitely fall short of EU/US safety standards. Always use common sense when crossing roads and railway tracks. Please remember that being close to an active railway is risky, so please be careful. There are no platforms along the line and you may face a ditch when getting off at a photo location. Sometimes jumping off a coach can end up in a free fall of several hundred yards downhill, so please double check the situation before leaving the train along the line. FarRail Tours cannot be held responsible and will not accept any liability whatsoever in the case of any accident, damage or delay. We strongly suggest you take out a comprehensive overseas accident and health insurance policy.

Registration period ends March 18th, 2009

watching the train



Steam Above The Andes

from 33 participants


27.07. – 08.08.2009

26 to 32 participants



Single Room Supplement



from 33 participants


07.08. – 10.08.2009

23 to 32 participants



Single Room Supplement



from 24 participants


 09.08. – 16.08.2009

18 to 23 participants



Single Room Supplement


Paraguay is still under negotiation.

Land only (tour from/to Ecuador/Paraguay): please deduct £1020

Minimum number of participants:   26
Maximum number of participants:  42

The price includes:

Not included are:

As a service to our UK-based clients FarRail Tours accepts and will continue to accept payments made out in Pound Sterling until further notice. However, please note that from January 28, 2009, all prices quoted in Pound Sterling are indicative only and are subject to change without prior notice. This measure was taken by FarRail Tours due to the unprecedented volatility in the international foreign exchange markets and its impact on the valuation of the Pound Sterling versus other major currencies, namely the Euro as FarRail Tours' accounting currency.

Devil's Nose

Sibambe zig zags

clouds in the Andes

all pictures: Jörg M. Seifert & Marcelo Meneses


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