Railroading at 15,000 feet and other true tales from South America: Trains’ Peru tour, part 2

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Henry Posner warned me before we left. Climbing the Andes on Peru’s  FCCA railroad would tax one adjective more than any other to the point of becoming a cliché before the day was out: Amazing. That word, however, does not do justice to this king of mountain railroads that challenges railroaders with an unrelenting barrage:  4.2 percent grades, dozens of tunnels, sharp curves, and one of the highest altitudes of any railroad in the world at 15,000 feet. It is beyond surrealistic with its loops, switchbacks, and seemingly every trick ever devised to push tonnage across a mountain. In places, it feels like well-known American mountain railroad icons of today and yesteryear. Tunnels tight and narrow like Southern’s pre-1963 Rathole. Bridges separating tunnels like the Clinchfield. Switchbacks like Great Northern’s original line over the top of the original Cascade tunnel in Washington State. Loops that will make you think of the Giant’s Ladder just outside Moffat Tunnel in Colorado. Think of every major mountain grade you’ve ever encountered, then combine them, and multiple them and you have the FCCA.

Our three-car special zipped up the mountain at a brisk pace, meeting opposing freight traffic, stopping for photos, and stirring both sheep and llama herds. If you are not comfortable with heights, this is one railroad that is not for you. It runs along steep cliffs on shelves high above the rest the typography. Bridges are perched at dizzying elevations. But if you are good with this, the scenery is spectacular and the show truly beyond belief.

A last parting thought on this railroad. My favorite moment came when we arrived at the summit at Galera, some 15,000 feet above sea level, late in the afternoon. On the way up, some of us were receiving oxygen to minimize the effects of altitude. Others sipped coco tea or coco candies, which the crew told us would help mitigate our experience. Despite the impact the lack of oxygen had on us, we all got off the train, snapped pictures, marveled at the summit tunnel which took minutes to clear after we’d roared through in a smoky blaze. We snapped photos of a mineral train departing the summit loadout. It was mountain railroading at its fiercest and boldest. And yes, Henry, you were right.

If this Trains tour in conjunction with Special Interest Tours sounds like something you’d enjoy, please consider joining us on a future expedition. We’ll be visiting great scenic railroads and museums of Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland next June. And we’ll be visiting Switzerland next September. More tours are in the works. Please visit www.specialinteresttours.com for more information and to register.  

It truly was amazing. 

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