The International Steam Pages
The F.C. Militar de Quintana Roo, Mexico 2016
Earlier Thomas Kautzor reported on his November 2012 visit, it included steam locomotives, stationary steam and railway cranes.
Together with Baja California and Guerrero, Quintana Roo is one of three Mexican federal states with no links to the national railway network. Quintana Roo’s best known railroad was the ‘F.C. Militar de Q.R.’ from a wharf at Vigia Chico to the small town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto (formerly Santa Cruz de Bravo and initially Chan Santa Cruz). The railway is briefly mentioned in Gerald Best’s “Mexican Narrow Gauge” and has been the subject of more profound research by Mexican railfans such as Juan Celorio, Eugenio Baltazar, Carlos Alberto Thompson Lenz of Cancún and Juana María Rangel Vargas, who wrote a Master’s thesis on the subject in 2005.
The 600mm gauge line was built by the Mexican Government as an effort to provide the army with quick transportation inland from the mangroves of Vigía Chico on the Bahia de la Ascension to the interior, where there had been frequent uprisings by the indigenous Cruzoob Maya tribes against Mexico’s colonization attempts since the mid-19th century “Guerra de Castas” (The Caste War). A first attempt to reach Chan Santa Cruz, then the capital of the rebel territory, was the 19th May 1897 concession by the Porfirio Díaz government for a 145 km railway from the ‘Unidos de Yucatan’ railhead at Peto to the ‘Compañia Ferrocarriles Sud Oriental de Yucatán’, a line which was never built.
The final attempt at pacification was led by Ignacio Bravo, a general close to Porfirio Diaz, who had been assigned to the area in October 1899. After the capture of the Chan Santa Cruz on 3rd May 1901, studies conducted by Colonel Alejandro Ordorica, head of the department of engineers of the Secretary of War and Navy started on 3rd June to build a military railway. Thus on 13th December 1901 a total of 60 km of track (in five-meter sections with 6 metal ties), eight points, three locomotives and 24 wagons were purchased in New Orleans for the total sum of US$ 239,967.59. In addition US$ 8,622 were spent on tools and construction costs. 250 tonnes of Decauville equipment was landed on 16th April 1902. Construction was completed at the end of 1904, but the official inauguration only took place on 4th September 1905. A telegraph line ran along the railway.
The line, known as both ‘F.C. Militar de Quintana Roo’ and ‘F.C. del Norte de Quintana Roo’, covered a distance of 57 km, with five intermediate stations:
The military also operated a short line between Xkalak and La Aguada, which had been built by the Secretary of War and Navy.
F.C. Militar de Q.R. locos and rolling stock consisted of:
Photos of the ‘furgones’ have appeared in O&K promotional material at the time.
As the Mayan rebels carried out constant attacks between 1905 and 1912, operation of the railway is said to have been short-lived. In 1915, the revolutionary government decided to return Santa Cruz to the Mayan leaders and General Bravo and his troops were recalled. In 1915, the Mayans decided to destroy anything which reminded them of their oppression, so the locos and water tanks were destroyed and the rolling stock burned down.
In 1918, a peace agreement was signed between President Venustiano Carranza and rebel leader Francisco May Pech. May was granted 20,000 hectares of jungle to be exploited by his people and the right to use the what remained of the railway for the transportation of chicle gum, which saw a boom for the production of chewing gum. On February 1, 1927, the government granted a 50-year concession to Miguel Angel Ramoneda to rebuild and operate the former military railway. On August 7, 1929 this concession was cancelled on the request of General Francisco May. The need for chicle gum declined and reached its lowest point in 1932, and the line is said to have been abandoned by 1939. The track was illegally sold by a local politician named Ramirez and lifted between 1950 and 1955. The Vigía Chico stone pier and what remained of the Central workshops were destroyed by Hurricane Janet in 1955.
Some researchers, including Gerald Best in his 1968 book, have stated the ‘F.C. Militar de Q.R. was turned over to the Laguna Company in 1908 and used as a forestry line known as the ‘F.C. Forestal de Q.R.’ from 1908, but in view of historical evidence this is very unlikely that this was the case. The F.C. Forestal is rather known to have operated from 1908 as a separate two-foot gauge line in the southern part of the state, between Chetumal and Bacalar along the border with British Honduras (present-day Belize).
Best has published the following roster for the Laguna Co.:
Later gasoline locos were also used. The railway was reported as still in operation at least until 1967.
The entire right-of-way is still used as a dirt road from Felipe Carrillo Puerto to Vigía Chico. This area is now part of ‘Reserva de Biosfera Sian Ka’an’ and until recently access used to be restricted, requiring registration.
In 1999 Juan Celorio reported finding the remains of two locos. He failed to reach Vigía Chico due to two flat tyres on the dirt road.
In 07.2001 Eugenio Baltazar reported the remains of two locos (1 Porter and 1 Shay) at the local museum in Felipe Carrillo Puerto, as well as photos, a section of track and the derelict remains of a Shay at the history museum in Chetumal.
In 09.2005 Juan Alvarez reported the remains of a total of 10 steam locos and some diesels in Q.R., including two Shays and some locos in parks in both Chetumal and Felipe Carrillo Puerto, as well as two steam locos and some diesels at the Forestal shops in Chetumal.
In 09.2005, during field research for her Master’s thesis, Juana María Rangel Vargas reported finding eight items linked to the railway along the former right-of-way, including the remains of the steam loco at Vigía Chico, as well as the remains of three locos at Felipe Carrillo Puerto: loco 1 a Krauss or Decauville next to the public library; loco 2 part in the main plaza and part in the Hotel Ezquivel.
The locos listed on the two “steamlocomotive” website appear to be an attempt to list what has been reported above.
http://steamlocomotive.com/lists/searchdb.php?country=MEX&state=ROO lists a total of seven surviving locos in Q.R.:
http://www.steamlocomotive.info/mexico.cfm lists a total of four locos:
The only photographic evidence on these pages and online are those of a Couillet boiler + firebox and of a frame + cylinders + two wheelsets at Felipe Carrillo Puerto, of a boiler + firebox and a frame + two wheelsets at Vigía Chico, as well as of a wheelset in the jungle.
March 2016 Visit:
At the end of the 2016 Central American tour, with Torsten having already flown back a few days earlier in time to return to school, the exploration of the remaining Yucatan henequen tramways already completed and two days to spare before my flight home from Cancun, I decided to head back south into Quintana Roo (which we had crossed by bus a few days earlier on the way from Belize City to Cancun, where we picked up the rental car) and look for possible remains of the railways.
On the first day, after a mid-day mule-tramway charter at one of Yucatan’s resorts south of Merida, I drove down to Chetumal, the state capital for Q.R., where I first stopped at the ‘Payo Obispo Zoo’ to photograph the extremely ugly-looking park railway train built by Expreso Fantástico J.K., Mexico, D.F. in 2015 (1.1 km loop including 45-meter tunnel, gasoline loco + 3 20-seater coaches). This was the latest in an attempt to replace the original train built in Dayon, Ohio which operated from 1980 to 2008, with all of the previous attempts having been failures. The previous one had been built by Chivosa, S.A. de C.V. of Chetumal in 2011. In fact I’m not even sure that this one was operating correctly, as the zoo was closed on that day.
I did research, but could find no clues as to the possible location of either the Laguna Co./F.C. Forestal workshops with the reported stored locos or the Laguna Co. Davenport 0-4-4T which is shown as preserved in a park in Chetumal. I’ve never seen any photo of the loco.
I then crossed back into Belize to spend the night in the small northern border town of Corozal. The following morning, after witnessing the daily 7 am departure of the speedboat to San Pedro (Ambergris Caye), I crossed back into Mexico and returned to Chetumal to visit the ‘Museo de la Ciudad’, which has a narrow gauge truck from one of the state’s numerous ‘chiclero’ tramways on display. I could find no evidence of the reported Shay parts reported here and according to the employees present the truck was the only railway item at the museum.
On the way out of town I stopped at the Sintra office to photograph petrol roller “La Rafaelita” (Kemna, Breslau roller Nr. 2200, on display since 12.1990) before driving to Felipe Carrillo Puerto.
My first stop was at the industrial ruins behind the municipal library, where the Couillet-type boiler and the loco frame were previously located. Apart from two stationary petrol engines or pumps, I found what look to me like a loco tender.
Click the picture for a larger version.
Next stop was the town’s main plaza, which is just across the road from the Hotel Ezquivel. The ‘Museo Maya’ which opened in 2011 occupies part of the building next to the plaza, and the items from behind the municipal library were moved here around that time. Here I found:
The only railway item on display inside the museum was a steel sleeper. The caretaker at the museum did not know anything about the history of the railway items.
IMG_1038-1063: to get to Vigía Chico, I did not drive along the former right-of-way, which was said to be very rough, but took the longer route, first north along highway MX-307 (49 km) to the turnoff at La Esperanza and then 30 km along a dirt road which joins the former railway 9.1 km before getting to the pier. The entrance gate to the Biosfera Sian Ka’an was abandoned and I did not meet anyone else inside the park. At Vigía Chico, next to the lighthouse, I found some track remains as well as the cut-up frame + two wheelsets of another six-wheel loco (the centre wheel being flangeless, as for the loco in Felipe Carrillo Puerto). About 200 meters of the stone pier remain in place.
Other railways in Q.R.:
At least seven other light railways are known to have existed in the state, including:
Compañia Colonizadora, forestry and chicle line between Puerto Morelos and Santa Maria:
Cia. Agricola, El Cuyo (Yuc.) – Solferino or El Cuyo – San Benito – Chiquilá, forestry and chicle mule tramway.
Leona Vicario – Chiquilá, 24-inch gauge, German locos:
If you have any clue as to the identity of the locos, please let me know. My guess is that the frames and the wagon frame are all O&K.