The Devil's Nose Train Route
Overview & History
Ecuador’s train system is quite remarkable. For the workers and engineers to have created a viable passage from Quito to Guayaquil over a century ago with the technology available at the time is nothing less than heroic. The track goes over rocky ravines, along raging rivers, through dense cloud forests and around mountains. But by far the most impressive section of the railway is the so-called “Devil’s Nose”, a hair-raising trip down the rocky slopes of the Andes through some of Ecuador’s most breathtaking scenery.
Building the railway on the central plateau or on the coastal plains, was relatively easy. The hard part was finding a spot between Quito and Guayaquil where they could be connected. In 1901, the engineers found their place: a mountainside known to the locals as “the Condor’s Aerie.” This section of track, now named “the Devil’s Nose” because of the many deaths among the workers that occurred there and the sheer difficulty of building it, connects the Alausí and Sibambe stations.
The elevation of the track drops some 500 meters over the course of only twelve kilometers: to put that in perspective, Quito is only about 2800 meters above sea level. The Devil’s Nose crossing is made by use of switchbacks: the train rumbles ahead past a junction, then backs down the next section, before going forward again. It was the only way to get the lumbering trains down the hill.
The history behind the Devil’s Nose section is interesting. About 3,000 Jamaicans and 1,000 Puerto Ricans were brought in to work on the project. Many men died during construction: the number is estimated at around 2,000. After the project, many of the workers remained in Ecuador: about 300 Jamaicans decided to stay. Among their legacy is Ecuador’s most famous singer of the past, Julio Jaramillo, whose grandfather was one of the Jamaican workers.
The Devil’s Nose has always been the most popular section of Ecuador’s train track. Even in the 1990’s, when nearly all of the train sections had fallen into disuse and decay, the Devil’s Nose remained open because of the many visitors who came to ride it. The tracks have been renovated as part of the ongoing restoration of Ecuador’s rail network. The train cars have been refurbished as well.