Cementario de trenes - Bolivia's train graveyard

Trip Start Jan 30, 2010
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Trip End Sep 12, 2010


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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Just outside the town of Uyuni lie the remains of Bolivia's first train fleet.
Dozens of steam locomotives, wagons, coaches and associated scrap sit rusting in the harsh climate of the salt flat. Everything of any value has long been removed and what are left are the iron hulks of the early 20th century industrial age.The brass plaques, steam pipes and boiler innards have been carefully dismantled and carted off the the nearby metal recyclers, yet the basic shapes and features are still there - huge 4-8-4-4-4 locomotives and tenders. Crossing the huge deserts of southwest Bolivia must have required large water and fuel tanks, These were built in Europe - the only identifying marks we could find indicated 'Vickers, England' - and shipped out here at the turn of the century. Why this remote place was chosen as the final resting place of these monsters of the steam era no-one could tell us. Perhaps someone imagined they might be restored to life one day, But it is for certain that this cannot happen; too little of the key components remain and the iron frames continue to rust away in the harsh, salty climate. Next to the graveyard, dead straight tracks head off in both directions to the horizon, crossing the flat featureless desert of the salar. 
The world of the train is not yet completely dead in Bolivia. Twice per day, trains pass through on their way from the Argentine border to Oruro, the provincial capital. This remains the most comfortable way to travel these parts, smooth rails making a welcome relief from the washboard dirt roads. Yet you must have patience and fortitude to wait for the habitually late  "Wara de ' or Estrella". This train is scheduled to come through Uyuni at midnight or 1:45am each day, but the two days we were there, I was woken in the night by the passing train at 5:20am and 2:45am. In our time in Bolivia we have seen many train tracks, yet the only running passenger trains are here in Uyuni - a shame to see so many disused tracks heading through the tortuous mountains here. The lines between Uyuni, Potosi and Sucre run through amazingly beautiful scenery, yet only the campesinos and their llamas get to use these "steel roads". There is talk of restoring some of these lines to service, but as with many things here in Bolivia, who really knows if or when this will happen?
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