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Railways in

Ecuador

Train on La Nariz de Diablo
Tren Crucero luxury cruise train near one of the switchbacks on La Nariz del Diablo

The first railway in Ecuador was a short line running inland from Yaguachi, near Durán. It opened in the early 1870s (sources differ as to the exact date) and was built to 3ft 6in (1067mm) gauge, an unusual choice for Latin America but probably dictated by the availability of ready made material from the British suppliers. The line was intended to link Guayaquil (via a river connection from Yaguachi) to Sibambe, where it would meet the mule roads from Quito. However, by the turn of the century, a grandiose project was conceived to carry the line through to Quito; this involved major engineering works to overcome the mountainous climb out of Sibambe, and the result was a unique steeply graded line with switchbacks ascending La Nariz del Diablo (“The Devil’s Nose”). The line opened throughout from Durán (situated on the opposite bank of the river Guayas from Guayaquil) to Quito in 1908. There were few later extensions; noteworthy were Quito to Ibarra in 1929, extended to San Lorenzo on the northen coast in 1957; a branch from the main line near Durán into Guayaquil proper in 1936; and finally a branch from Sibambe to Cuenca, opened as recently as 1965. There have never been any international connections.

In the latter half of the 20th century the network suffered much neglect, until just a few isolated sections of line remained in operation. Around 2010, rehabilitation work commenced and by 2015 the line between Durán and Quito was reopened throughout, along with an isolated segment further north between Ibarra and Salinas. However, projected freight and local passenger services did not meet expectations and ultimately tourist passenger services, including the prestigious luxury cruise train Tren Crucero, were the only traffic.

Lack of maintenance and damage caused by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions led to parts of the line being again closed; by 2019 only 380km out of the 507km of restored route remained in operation. In 2020, FEEP, the operating railway company was placed into liquidation. At the time of writing, a new operator is being sought which will allow tourist train services to continue to run.

The city of Cuenca has a modern tramway system about 20km in length, opened in 2020. The capital, Quito, has a 22km underground metro under construction.

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