The Ghost Train

Back in 2003, when I was having fun backpacking through Mexico, I took a train ride. Not many Mexicans, other than metro systems, will ever take a train ride in Mexico. There used to be quite a few lines, and the train is a big symbol of the Revolution.

But all but two of the passenger lines have closed down, unless someone can think of a third. I’ve excluded the Suburbano, although that is technically a passenger rail system. It feels more like a fancy extension of the metro though.

There’s the Tequila Express, a tourist favourite, from Guadalajara to¬†Amatitan. And the Chepe Train, which runs from the Pacific Coast at Los Mochis, through the Copper Canyon and on to Chihuahua. This was the train ride I took. And the train that featured in one of Televisa’s Bicentenario series of video.

I stayed in Los Mochis for all of ten hours, yet in that short period of time it became my least favourite place in all of Mexico. Hot, sweaty, dirty and my hotel room was infested with cockroaches, and had a non functioning air conditioning system. I slept for all of one hour. Maybe if I’d spent longer in the city, at a nicer hotel, I’d have a more favourable impression. Then again, maybe not.

So I was pretty weary when I got to the train station for the start of my epic 13 hour journey on the Chepe Train to Creel, in the heart of the Copper Canyon. But the most spectacular electrical storm  in the still pitch black sky that entertained us while waiting to board helped wake me up a little.

I can’t recommend the train ride enough though. Adjectives, comparatives and superlatives fail to do the ride justice. Whenever I am asked about my favourite places in Mexico, the Copper Canyon is near the top of the list, and the train ride plays a big part in putting it there. The photo below is one I took with my old nikon Coolpix 880 when the locomotive made a stop at Divisadero.

Not all that long ago, once at Chihuahua, you could change trains and take a ride all the way down to Veracruz. That ended in the very late 90’s I believe. Shame. I like rail travel. It’s more comfortable than air travel, more convenient for domestic journeys and it’s easier to appreciate the scenery.

An expensive high speed passenger rail service was proposed a few years back, with the idea of linking up Mexico City and Guadalajara, with a 2 hour journey time between them, and then adding Monterrey and other cities to the network. It hasn’t happened so far, and I severely doubt it will happen at all.

The cost at the time was quoted at 250 billion pesos (22-ish billion dollars) which would have put a strain on the public purse even then, pre economic crisis. It’s safe to say the cost will have risen since then, the final cost will exceed the quote as is normal in massive projects like this, and government income from oil revenues aren’t going upwards at the moment. And are unlikely to in the foreseeable future.

So we are left with those two lines and memories of days gone by. And the BBC’s Great Railway Journeys, with season four being the one of interest. Rick Stein managed to do the whole Los Mochis to Veracruz trip, and the programme can still be found on the Pirate Bay if you can’t find it on video or DVD. I couldn’t, having quickly checked Amazon US and UK. I can though share with you an audio programme that recreates that journey.