The International Steam Pages


Costa Rica Railways, 2012

James Waite was here in April 2012. See also a collection of earlier short reports.

For a history of the railways of Costa Rica please see http://www.ferrolatino.ch/FLBCostaRicaTextEng.htm.


I got to see the seven surviving steam locos in Costa Rica about which I know last week. Three of these locos are Baldwin Mikes from the Ferrocarril del Sur which, despite being a common carrier, was essentially a banana system on the Pacific coast close to the border with Panama run by the United Fruit Co. They're the survivors of a class of 6 similar locos which were kept on after the line was dieselised as it was prone to occasional flooding and the diesels couldn't cope with this. They were still in service when the system closed in 1982. They are:

  • No. 81 (BLW 62444/1940 which is now displayed in a park next to the municipal offices at Golfito, the line's port;

  • No. 82 (BLW 62445/1940 which was stored in working order in the engine shed at Golfito when the line closed and in theory could still be steamed though quite a number of the cab fittings have been vandalised;

  • No. 84 (BLW 72669/1946) on display at Palmar Sur, the line's northern terminus a good 80 kilometres or so away from Golfito.

Although the Ferrocarril del Sur was isolated from the main Costa Rican railway system it was built to the same 3ft 6in gauge. No. 81 is on the westside of the road through the town in the town centre. No. 82 is about 1km north of the park and again can be seen from the main road on its western side though it's some distance back. No. 84 is in the centre of Palmar Sur. To get there when heading south turn right immediately after crossing the bridge over the river just after the junction of routes 2 and 34. The turning isn't signposted. The loco is on the right hand side after about 1/2 km. Just before it, and just after the church, there's an old grounded steel carriage body which is in quite good shape. On display with no. 84 is an oil tank wagon built for the US military during the Second World War which is still in its original wartime paint scheme and in quite good shape considering its age.

There's a truly delightful 22" gauge 0-4-0 tank loco which is in fairly skeletal condition but still carries a works plate ALCO (Dickson) 30196/1904 on display at Las Juntas de Abangares, just off route 1, the Pan-American Highway in the north west of the country about 145km away from San Jose. It's sometimes marked as "Las Juntas" or just as "Juntas" on maps and signposts. It's reported variously as having come from a gold mine or from United Fruit. It's displayed with two mining skips so maybe the gold mine origin is more likely. It's supposed to weigh only 6.5 tons and the works plate looks as though it's an especially small version! You can get an idea of just how small it is from the small children playing on it. The loco is in a park in the town centre, just to the right of the main road as you head east. Late in the afternoon is the only time to see this loco in the sunshine.

Two locos are on display outside the works at the Pacifico station in San Jose. One is 2-4-0 no. 1 (Dickson 1020/1898), the country's first loco and a really delightful one as well.

The other is 0-4-2ST no. 14, builder unknown as is much of its history though it is said to have been captured from the Panamanians after they built a line on the Costa Rican side of what was then a disputed border. It ended up as the Pacifico shops shunter in the early 1970's.

Morning is the best time for photos of these two in the sunshine. Also at the Pacifico station is electric no. 3 (AEG 4081/1929).

At the Atlantico station in San Jose is Costa Rican Northern Ry 2-6-0 no. 59 (BLW 31880/1907). There's been some discussion on your site about the extent to which the loco is accessible. It lives under a shelter and is surrounded by chain link fencing next to the southern (roadside) boundary of the station site. The fence is set well back on the northern side, next to the tracks. The station itself used to be the site of a museum but this closed some years ago and it's rumoured that the building, a historic structure, is now intended to form the gatehouse of a new presidential palace which is yet to be built. It's now well boarded up though the platform is still in use as a station for the morning and evening commuter trains. The rest of the time the site is locked and secured. Access is probably easiest from the level crossing at the eastern end which is close to the loco though this, too, is closed and locked once the morning trains have finished. The head-on view is possible from the road if you have a point-and-shoot camera with a small-diameter lens which fits through the wire mesh fence. I applied for a permit to photograph at the two stations and this worked very well though I might have had difficulty getting into the Atlantico station if I'd left it any later as the guard was about to lock up for the day when I arrived.

Finally there's a picture of two of the GE diesels, no's 81 and 87, in the yard at the Pacifico station. There are now quite a number of commuter trains running into both stations and over the line through the streets which connect them. Some of these are made up of traditional coaching stock, some of which looks quite elderly, worked by the GE locos, and others are worked by "Apollo" diesel railcars acquired second-hand from FEVE, the Spanish narrow gauge operator, and regauged from metre gauge.

I'm very grateful to Ana Cecilia Fernandez Cede at Incofer, the state railway, for her help with my photo permit.


Rob Dickinson

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