The International Steam Pages

Steam in Colombia, December 2011

James Waite reports on a visit to an under-reported steam attraction. Click here for an update with extra items (19th December 2011).

It was a great trip in every way, excellent sunny weather (why did I believe the weather forecast and fill up my precious hand luggage space with waterproof trousers?!), truly delightful and helpful people, good food and beer and excellent trains! Bogota really is one of the most enjoyable places I've ever visited. Definitely a place to go back to for a family holiday, something we've already been invited to do by the new owner of loco no. 8, see below!

The first two pictures are of the stored locos at Bogota station. The 4-8-2 (no. 114, Baldwin 71973/1944) is one of a class of several of these locos built between 1944 and 1947. They were the largest and most powerful non-articulated steam locos ever to run on the 3ft gauge. The others are 4-8-2 no. 109 (Baldwin 70893/1944), 2-8-2 no. 44 (Baldwin 60009/1927) and 2-8-2 no. 48 "Carlos S. Cuartes" (Baldwin 60570/1928). It's possible that the latter may move to the Georgetown Loop RR in Colorado. Parked nearby is 2-6-2T no. 16 (BMAG 9547/1929) which moved back to the station after many years on display in a park in the city and which still belongs to the city government.

This shows 4-8-0 no. 76 (Baldwin 73095/1947) leaving Bogota station just after sunrise with a chartered train for La Caro, about 20km away.

The next two pictures show the train running through the Simon Bolivar park in the north west of the city and the third shows it climbing a fairly steep bank a little outside the city limits. These 4-8-0's are a classic Colombian design which dates from the 1920's although no. 76 wasn't built until 1947. The rear axles have Cartazzi slides and the locos were built to have high adhesion and a low axle loading as well as a flexible wheelbase, important features on the steep, sharply curved and lightly laid Colombian tracks.

Here the loco turns on the wye at La Caro, something of an unusual event as trains don't normally terminate there. 

This shows the train leaving La Caro on the return trip to Bogota not long before sunset.

The next set are all at the engine shed at Bogota early the following morning. The three other working locos are all 2-8-2's, no. 72 (Baldwin 73056/19470, 75 (Baldwin 73059/1947) and 85 (Baldwin 73051/1947).

The small loco being overhauled is 2-6-0 no. 8 (Baldwin 54816/1921), Steve Cossey's loco. He seems to have a love affair with Bogota as he's currently on his 26th visit! The loco will stay in Bogota for use on specials once its restoration is completed, something anticipated for 3 months time. It's much smaller than any of the Turistren locos.

This is a view of no. 76 shunting at Bogota station before the start of its run, taken from the top of the controller's tower building. 

Here is the train at Usaquen station in North Bogota, the affluent part of the city as you can see from the flashy modern buildings. The chap standing next to the cab talking to the engine driver is Dr. Rodriguez who owns the Turistren operation. He's a really helpful and kind person who gave up his Sunday to ride on the train with us and to entertain us. He used to be the assistant general manager of the Colombian railways until they were declared to be insolvent and closed down in 1991, after which he bought the tourist locos and train from his own resources in order to keep them going. The tourist operation was begun by the state railways in 1982 and quickly became a much loved institution in the city. Sunday's train loaded to 14 vehicles and was sold out. The passengers were mostly people from Spanish-speaking America. In addition to Bogotanos there were visitors from Argentina, Chile, Peru and Guatemala riding in our coach. Colombia is a land of music and travelling on the train were no fewer than three groups of musicians to entertain the passengers. They seemed to know all the tunes by heart judging by the high level of audience participation!

The lady in the restaurant car is serving up tamales, a popular Colombian breakfast dish made from chicken, vegetables and rice steamed and served up in a wrapping of banana leaves. Delicious! 

Here the loco is being turned at Zipaquira, the terminus of the normal Turistren run.

I was given a cab ride on the return trip, a real treat! Here's the driver in action, note how he's keeping his lunch warm - eating is a very serious pastime in Colombia!

Colombia - a postscript

The railway interest in and around Bogota isn't confined to the Tren de la Sabana. There's an old-established funicular which climbs up the hills to the east of the city from the old historic centre up to Monserrate. This is the home of a church, completed in 1657, which describes itself as Colombia's national shrine and which takes its name and dedication from Montserrat, the celebrated mountain monastery near Barcelona. There's a spectacular view over the city from the church. The two cars which now operate the funicular date from 2003. The original cars from the opening in 1928 ran until 1964 and one of them is now preserved at the base station. The gauge is 1 metre. Above the passing loop the line runs in tunnel right up to the summit station. On weekdays the funicular runs only between 7.45 and 11.45am. From 12.00 noon onwards the service is provided by a more recent cable car which follows a similar route though on Sundays and religious holidays both the funicular and the cable car run all day. See for some history of this system.

Once you're back down at city level call in for a little R&R at the Cafe de la Estacion nearby at Calle 14, No. 5-14. This is housed in an old, wooden-bodied coach in an excellent state of preservation which stands on its short length of track next to a small car park (

There are also several plinthed locos around the city; of these FC de la Sabana 0-6-0ST no. 1 (HK Porter 319/1878) at the Railway Pensioners Club at Carrera 62A No. 18-00, on the access road to the big freight yard 5km out from the station where the lines to Facatativa and to Zipaquira diverge) is much the oldest and probably the most interesting.

Ex-FC Antioquia 2-8-2 no. 62 (Baldwin 71587/1945) at the Museo de los Ninos in the northwest of the city. With Santa being so busy maybe we didn't choose the best time of the year to visit this loco!

We spent our final afternoon at El Corzo works, out in the countryside near Facatativa around 30km from Bogota. With so little traffic on the railway in this part of the country it's no surprise that the works sees little activity nowadays. It's home to two steam cranes and another of the 4-8-2's which has been set aside for preservation. It's probably Pacifico no. 82 (Baldwin 73354/1947).

All around were numerous elderly wagons and vans in various stages of dereliction and some interesting, though decayed, wooden carriage bodies. Inside the works building one of the former FCN Bo-Bo diesels built by Babcock & Wilcox in Bilbao in 1969 was under repair. Nearby stood one of the country's only two GM Bo-Bo diesels (FCN no. 502) which is also now earmarked for preservation. Back in the privatisation years of the early 1990's which followed the insolvency of the state railways five of the White Pass & Yukon's Alco/Montreal Loco Works Co-Co's, no's 101, 103, 104, 106 and 107) spent a seven year extended tropical holiday around El Corzo before moving back to colder climes at Skagway in 1999.

A brilliant weekend and a fun railway in every way. I hope this comes across from the photos. Colombia doesn't seem to have a high profile in the gricing world. I can't recommend a trip here too highly.

Cartazzi, F.I. taken from

Formerly of the Great Northern Railway in England, in 1866 Cartazzi (Cortazzi) became locomotive superintendent of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway. In general, Indian locomotive superintendents or, as they were later called, chief mechanical engineers, had little scope for initiative in locomotive design, which was the concern of each company's consulting engineers in London and the British locomotive builders. Cartazzi, however, made his mark by the invention of the Cartazzi radial axlebox for trailing carrying wheels. This, which was adopted throughout the world, rested the axleboxes on inclined planes, so that excessive sideplay tended to push the axle-boxes upwards as well as outwards. The weight of the locomotive, tending to press the axlebox downwards, was thereby utilized to return the wheel and axle assembly to its central position. Previously the sideplay allowed to the trailing axle as a means of negotiating curved track had caused in many designs an excess of side-swing. Subsequent designers improved the Cartazzi principle with new spring arrangements.

Rob Dickinson