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Lima - Huancayo Train

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Here are some notes of the rail trip to Huancayo that I took the last weekend of September 1998. ENAFER, the Rail Company had just started passenger services again after years of inactivity and was now running the last weekend of every month during the tourist season, usually departing Lima on Saturday morning and returning from Huancayo on Monday morning (at last update the service has been suspended again). This journey was featured in the BBC series "Great Rail Journeys of the World" some years back. It is also described (rather fancifully) by Paul Theroux in Chapter 16 of his book "The Old Patagonian Express" (bear in mind the book was written 20 years ago).

The railway was built between 1870 and 1908 principally for transporting mineral ores (copper and zinc) from mines in the Andes and farm produce from the high fertile valleys, and has been running continually for freight every since. The passenger service was stopped in 1992 due to terrorist activity and the government received a loan from the World Bank to re-open the passenger service in 1995.

The basic data of the line are – distance Lima-Huancayo 346 km, standard gauge, steepest gradient 4.37%, 1115 curves, 66 tunnels, 58 bridges, 9 zigzags, journey time ten and a half hours, roundtrip fare is US$20. Our train consisted of a diesel loco built in the USA pulling (and pushing) four carriages built in 1952 at Craven Works, Sheffield. (By coincidence I worked there myself for four months in 1959 in the exalted position of painters labourer; this was the time in between when I came out of the Army and when I started college). The train, besides having the usual complement of staff and a buffet service, also carries two nurses armed with oxygen bottles for passengers who might suffer from altitude sickness, and some armed guards (although quite how they would discourage a determined attack is open to conjecture).

The journey between Lima and Huancayo is basically in three parts. Starting from Lima (sea-level) the line follows the route of the Rio Rimac and initially follows a fairly wide valley but then climbs increasingly steeply through ever-narrowing deep gorges and ravines cut into the bare, brown mountains. Except when crossing bridges or passing through tunnels the view from the carriage windows is on one side a rock wall and the other side a very steep drop to the river in the valley bottom a long way below. When the line runs out of hill the train reverses and continues to climb in the opposite direction. After four and a half hours (and 172 km) the line cuts through the highest tunnel and arrives at Galera the highest passenger railway station in the world at 4781m (15688 feet). Two days previous to our journey there had been a storm that left a foot of snow that fortunately had melted away by the time we got there. (No passengers got on or off the train here – not surprisingly as there is apparently nothing there.)

The line then starts descending steeply through similar terrain for a further 48 km following a river until it arrives at the horrible and dirty mining town of Oroya (altitude 3726m) where I have read there is the highest golf course in the world. There the branch line from Cerro de Pasco, another mining area, joins the line. From there it joins the Rio Mantaro when it opens up into a broad fertile valley and continues descending gradually for a further 126 km until arriving at Huancayo (altitude 3261m).

The town of Huancayo doesn't have much to recommend it (although the Sunday market is famous, with people coming from miles around selling farm produce and craft products). The surrounding valley is very attractive with the Rio Mantaro running through it with a lot of agriculture and trees and a pleasantly warm climate with occasional showers. It is possible to take an organised tour and visit interesting small traditional villages, a large trout farm with restaurants nearby to sample the product, and take a boat ride on a large lake near Jauja.

The weather on the out-going journey was partly cloudy and it was fairly chilly at high altitude. I only saw a couple of people suffering from altitude sickness (I think I must have been still acclimatised from my Bolivia trip.) The return journey was under clear blue sky so there were some beautiful views and I got some good photos. The train wasn't full on the way back as I found out later that some returned to Lima by bus; (only six hours). The bus trip I am told is nearly as spectacular but not for people of nervous disposition.

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These pages last revised 19th May 2000.
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