A train ride through rural Chile in 2001.

with an update in 2012

G. Bastias is the half way point in the journey from Talca to Constitucion where the train from Talca, on left, meets the train running in the other direction.  Note the steward in his red coat.

We were travelling through Chile in February 2001 with a very flexible itinerary. The guide book mentioned a narrow gauge train from Talca to the coast at Constitucion, 80 kilometres away. So it was that we found ourselves in this interesting town located about four hours travel south of Santiago.

It is still dark as we make our way about the streets of Talca, to the railway station. There are very few people out although we can hear the sound of horse's hooves as the farmers were bringing their produce to market in small two wheeled carts. We are taken aback by the bizarre sight of a car, devoid of window glass, which had obviously been rolled as the roof was seriously crushed on the passenger side. It is driven slowly past by a very old man, sitting erect, with a little old lady in the seat behind him. It would have been impossible for her to have sat by his side because the roof was crushed too low.

It is an hour before train time yet the dark station waiting room has a number of intending passengers, mostly family groups ready for a day out at the beach. Parents have picnic hampers and sunshades. The children have toys. The teenage girls are dressed in the latest fashions and the teenage boys have their discman players. There is a merciful absence of cell phones. Small children rush around with excitement and some get lost, only to be quickly reunited tearfully with their parents.

A small four car train, an ancient railcar with three equally ancient trailer cars, is tucked away waiting to receive passengers - but we need tickets. Tickets are only sold just before each train leaves.

At seven o'clock a light is turned on in the office by the ticket wicket. With dignified haste two lines are formed from the ticket window. A smiling railway policeman appears and organizes just one line. There is some good natured grumbling from those forced to go to the back of the line but I am struck by the gentle and courteous nature of the Chilean people.

I purchase two tickets to Constitucion for the total sum of 2500 pesos, under $6. Clutching the old style, hand dated, pasteboard tickets we make for the train where the engineer has just got the motor running. There is no mad rush to get a seat. Everybody is polite, pleasant and friendly - especially to the two gringos. The small kids sit three or four to a seat while some of the older siblings have to be separated to keep the peace.

The conductor, looking smart in his uniform, appears just before the 07:30 train time. There is much whistling and, with a great crashing noise, the engineer finds first gear and we leave right on time. We move about two metres to show we mean business and then stop to allow the latecomers to join.  As we leave Talca we pass a railway graveyard.

There are many intermediate stations and at each one people are waiting for the train. Many stop work to see us pass and some have come to the station just to see what is happening. This area is not well served by roads and many are travelling to Constitucion where they can do their shopping or attend the farmers market. The train is full and standing for most of the way.

The conductor punches our tickets and hands them back - they make excellent souvenirs. We settle down to enjoy the view over the engineer's shoulder of the road ahead. A steward comes through offering cookies. He is smartly turned out in a white shirt, black tie and red jacket. He comes back frequently offering soft drinks, chocolate cookies, chips, tea, coffee and a roll and butter. The hot drinks are served in attractive, pre-sugared, porcelain mugs.

The countryside varies from dry to good agricultural with a wide variety of fruit and vegetables as well as vines. People are working in the fields while small boys look after the animals. The track is overgrown and people are standing between the rails to flag down the train because the engineer cannot easily see them if they stay on the overgrown platform. There is a profusion of wild blackberry (bramble) bushes along much of the line.

The train is old and well worn but in relatively good condition. It is pretty much underpowered and takes some time to get up to speed after each stop, but it works pretty well. These trains are a real rarity in this day and age

At Tricahue, a young man comes in with a clarinet and boom box. He explains that he has the permission of the engineer and conductor to play us a couple of tunes accompanied by his tapes. The live entertainment is punctuated by blasts from the horn from the engineer. He receives delirious applause, and a few coins, from a very appreciative audience.

We meet the train coming in the opposite direction from Constitucion at G. Bastias. This is an opportunity for people to get out for a stroll around and chat with friends. The smokers have a quick cigarette because smoking is not allowed on the train. An old lady carrying a basket is selling rolls out of a spotless white cloth. Many of the holidaymakers take the opportunity to have their photo taken with the train crew against the train. With much good natured whistling the crowd is shepherded into the train and, with the station master's permission, we continue on our way.

.  .

Scenes at G. Bastias

At G. Bastias the conductor gets everyone back on board so that he can continue the journey.

I only see two trackside shrines. These are placed to denote locations where people have been killed in accidents. At one crossing in Peru I saw thirteen so this must be a pretty safe railway!

Passing through some orange groves, we come to the major engineering structure on the line. This is the bridge over the River Maule close to Constitucion. It is now a road - rail bridge and is protected by a barrier at each end operated by flagmen. We run down the middle of a street with much whistling and astonished looks from passing motorists. At Constitucion there is an orderly exit from the train and people make for the buses which will take them to the beach. Somehow we managed to lose 27 minutes on the schedule so we actually took close to three hours to make the journey. However, nobody minds because getting there is part of the fun.

.  .

On arrival at Constitucion.

Constitucion was well known for its black sand beaches and coastal rock formations. As a holiday destination, it has been spoiled by the construction of a paper mill which puts unpleasant fumes into the atmosphere and we didn't stay to take the evening train. There is a frequent bus service, every twenty minutes, back to Talca from the bus station adjacent to the train station. It costs 1200 pesos and takes only two hours.

However, it isn't anywhere near as much fun!

Click below to see all my images of this trip


2012 Update

Bernardo benitomac@gmail.com writes in July 2012:

Hola, he visto tu página y me han gustado las fotos que tienes del Ramal Talca Constitución (Chile). Me he permitido enviarte algunas fotografías de este tren tomadas durante 2011 y 2012 para apreciar las diferencias con el año 2001.

Hello, I have seen your site and I liked the photos you have of the Branch Constitution Talca (Chile). I am sending you some pictures of this train taken during 2011 and 2012 to assess the differences with 2001.

ADI 253 at Talca

ADI 256 at Cruce Unihue

ADI 256 at Barros Negros

ADI 253 at El Parrón

 22 November 2018