The Guayaquil & Quito Railway of Ecuador

A southbound mixed train between Huigra and Bucay on Friday November 26, 1993 hauled by an Alsthom B-B-B diesel electric which contrasts markedly with the wooden equipment.  These trains are always so crowded that riding the roof is a necessity for many.

I have travelled to Ecuador in 1988 and 1993.  These pictures are a selection from these trips.  Click on the thumbnail to see the picture and then use your browser's Back button to return to this page.

The Guayaquil and Quito Railway ran from the Pacific coast at Duran, across the river from Guayaquil, across the tropical plain to Bucay.  From there the serious mountain climbing begins through Huigra, Sibambe, Alausi and Riobamba to the summit at Urbina.  The line then continues through the Avenue of Fire, named from the volcanoes which line both sides, to Quito.

 Leaving a tunnel near Huigra.  It is great fun riding the roof but you must remember to lie down going through tunnels! (December 1993).

The Devil's Nose. (Nariz del Diablo) is the most spectacular part of the journey where the line zig zags up the side of a sheer cliff on a switchback.  This shot is taken from Sibambe looking up at the upper zig zag.  You can see the lower line below the train which has reversed up to the switch at the right. (September 1988).

At the switchback on the Devils Nose.  A down bound steam train is heading into the upper switch. (September 1988).

Train in the Main Street at Alausi.  Steam locomotive No. 45 is a 2-8-0 built by Baldwin. (December 1993).

Leaving Riobamba with Chimborazo in the background.  Steam locomotive No. 45. (December 1993).

Local people watching the train between Riobamba and Urbina.(December 1993).

On the wye at Urbina summit. 2-8-0 No. 45.  Urbina summit is 11,841 feet above sea level. (December 1993).

No. 53 derailed in the yard at Bucay.  It was quickly put back on the track with the help of a diesel. (December 1993).

In the main street at Milagro. (September 1988).

Between Bucay and Huigra.  (December 1993).

Looking down from the Cuenca branch from just south of Sibambe. (September 1988).

A diesel hauled special train south of Urbina.  (September 1988).


Dr. H.C. Lutje Spelberg, of the University of Groningen, visited Ecuador in the summer of 2001.  From Dr. Spelberg's observations it appears that the only part of the railway still in operation is that between Riobamba and Sibambe.  Some of the road crossings on the line north of Riobamba were asphalted over as were those on the Cuenca branch.  A tourist train was running on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays from Riobamba to Sibambe and back to Alausi using Alsthom diesel power.

Gareth Jones returned from a trip over the line in October 2005.  He writes:

The comparison with your visits in 1988 and 1993 were not good. The railway system is only just surviving. The Duran - Bucay section has been cut at Milagro. About six years ago the town mayor decided he didn't want a railway running through his town so without consulting anyone he lifted the tracks! We travelled behind No 11 as far as Yaguachi, turned on the Y and went back to Duran.
We then travelled by bus to Bucay where the yard is a scene of total dereliction. There is one working railcar and one 'private' railcar (one of three operated by Metropolitan-Travel). We used the standard railcar for the journey up the Chanchan Canyon as far as Huigra where we picked up the bus again as far as Alausai. The line has been cut for a length of about 4 kilometres due to a major landslide but some attempts are being made to re-open this section.
At Alausai we had No 17 for a trip down the Devil's Nose to Sibambe and back to Alausi. Next day we went to Guamote and by which time No 17 was clearly in difficulty. Next morning we should have gone through to Riobamba with No 17 but the oil pipe between the engine and tender broke, causing a massive oil spill in Guamote station. A diesel rescued the loco while we travelled on by railcar.
 From Riobamba to Urbina we had No 53 for a return trip. This loco seemed the best of them all. Riobamba station is being renovated!
From Urbina northwards we travelled by railcar to Tambillo on the outskirts of Quito. The track is too poor to take a steam loco. For the last two years, a major highway construction has prevented running into Quito. Again, the mayor wants to keep the railway out of the city. Quito station has been repainted and looks good. No 45 is on display at the station.
Finally we travelled north to Ibarra and used No 14 for some town running but the loco was in very poor condition and failed. We used a railcar down to Primer Paso on the old San Lorenzo line. This line is truly amazing and was the highlight of our visit. Our return journey was abandoned when the railcar transmission broke soon after starting the climb back to Ibarra. We were told that a further 60 km of line has a daily railcar service out of San Lorenzo but that the risk of terrorist activity made it unsuitable for tourist use.
My opinion is that apart from the Devil's Nose section, all remaining sections of line will be out of use in a year or so. We were told that there are only 2 or 3 steam tours a year and if the condition of our locos was typical then it will be impractical to continue using them.

November 2018