History of the Railroad

History of the Railroad


The Chihuahua al Pacífico —«El Chepe»— railroad is the only railroad that has been international in its vision since its inception. This engineering marvel took almost 90 years and 90 million dollars to complete.

The Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad ‘Chepe’ – as we know it today, was first the dream of Albert Kinsey Owen, a member of the Utopia Socialist Colony of New Harmony, Indiana. In 1871, Owen arrived in Mexico and started down the Pacific Coast in search of an ideal location for a new socialist colony.

He selected a site at the Bay of Ohuira [Topolobampo] and organized a Mexican-American company that — among other projects — desired to build a railroad that would connect his new colony with the mid-eastern section of the United States.

In 1880, General Manuel Gonzales, President of Mexico; granted Owen a concession to build a railroad between Piedras Negras and Topolobampo, with side trunks to Mazatlán, Alamos and Ojinaga. The contract specified that the project would be completed within ten years.

In 1886, Owen established a new colony at Topolobampo with some 600 people from New Harmony, but sickness, poverty, lack of organization and communication soon reduced this number to 150.

In 1890, dissension divided this group into three colonies. That year, Owen secured a more favorable contract from the government and organized a new company, but this venture was also doomed to failure. In 1894, the colonists returned to Indiana, and Owen accepted defeat. His contract was cancelled in 1899. At that time, no track had yet been laid.

Other efforts to connect Chihuahua with the Pacific were begun as early as 1887, but after some construction and a series of mergers, these attempts also proved to be unsuccessful. In 1899, realizing the railroads to be of first importance to the Nation, the government enacted the Railroad Law of April 29, 1899.

An earlier contract to a group headed by Enrique Creel and Alfredo Breedlove now came under this authority and were subsidized under a contract to complete a section of 124 miles from Chihuahua City to Minaca within two years.

These rights were later sold to a new company founded by Arthur E. Stillwell, who — along with his partners — operated the Chihuahua-Minaca line until late 1906. In 1900, Stillwell and associates also acquired a concession to build a line between Ojinaga and Chihuahua.

Chepe railway and train station

By the end of 1910 there were three lines in operation; Chihuahua to Marquez, 87.5 miles; Minaca to Sanches, 83.7 miles; and Topolobampo to Hornillos, 85.5 miles.

Even with the government subsidy, these isolated operations brought Stillwell to bankruptcy. However, under a new administration, Stillwell’s company, the Kansas City, Mexico y Oriente, completed the line between Ojinaga and Chihuahua between 1910 and 1914. Due to the high cost of construction and the technical difficulties encountered, construction in the mountainous areas was never undertaken. In 1940, the Federal Government bought the Kansas City, Mexico y Oriente. A route through the difficult portion of the mountains from Creel to Hornillos was designated and construction was started in 1943.

In 1952, the Federal Government acquired the Mexican Northwestern Railway Company, Ltd. and this, along with the Kansas City, Mexico y Oriente and the Ferrocarril del Rio Mayo, were merged to form the Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacifico. The various links were finally completed and joined in 1961 and Albert Owen’s dream was finally a reality. The completion of the ‘Chihuahua al Pacifico’ brought about significant changes in the northern section of Mexico.

Chihuahua Pacifico luxury train travel

Tremendous changes were brought about in the social-economic fields in the area. Population quickly increased far above the national level.

The effect on the economy increased educational levels and brought about greater prosperity to the people.

Accessibility into the previously unreachable portions of the Sierra Madre Mountains expanded the mining activities in an area rich in minerals of all descriptions, and added stimulus to the tourist industry, which is one of the largest factors in the Mexican economy.

• Privatization of Railroad

In 1998, the private rail franchise Ferromex took over the railroad from the Mexican government. The government had operated all the railroads since 1940. Ferromex has made a significant investment in a total modernization program.

A thorough renovation of the train stations is taking place in Los Mochis, El Fuerte, Cerocahui, Posada Barrancas, Creel, and the old train station with murals in Chihuahua City.

The train stations have a new look with an emphasis on comfort and cleanliness. The newly painted structures have refurbished entrances and clean, fully-functioning bathrooms. The train track has been repaired and brought up to industry standards. This assures added security, comfort, and speed for the passenger trains.

Twelve remodeled El Chepe passenger cars are on first-class express service. Soft southwest hues dress up the elegantly upholstered car interiors and comfortable, reclining seats. New air-conditioning and immaculately clean windows and bathrooms complete the fresh decor. The smartly uniformed personnel are ready to meet your every need.

deluxe copper canyon train cars

It is a pleasure to dine in the new dining car freshly decorated with the same elegant upholstery and carpet of the passenger cars. An excellently equipped kitchen serves delicious breakfasts, lunches, and dinners daily.

The deluxe lounge cars offer all varieties of drinks and a place for close camaraderie on the trip. Happy hours and cocktail parties enliven everyone’s spirits. Both the dining cars and the lounge cars are completely air-conditioned and are welcome additions to every train.

Ferromex is to be commended for undertaking the extremely challenging task of offering first-class train service for tourists on this extraordinary, remote route. This places the railroad in a unique world class. The unforgettable sheer pleasure of riding this new train on the most dramatic rail journey in the western hemisphere across 39 bridges and through 87 tunnels is a dream which has become a new reality.

This tour is particularly for rail fans, but the fabulous scenery and the Tarahumara Natives make the trip enjoyable for non-rail fans as well.

If you decide to take a train ride to another world:

U.S. Toll Free: 1-800-896-8196

Balderrama Tours staff will tell you everything you need to know about accommodations and will offer to make all of your travel arrangements, including all associated plane, train and car reservations.

If you choose to make your own plane reservations, you’ll need to get yourself first to Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson, Tijuana or Las Vegas.

Bring along clothing appropriate for both Fall and Summer. This means you’ll want everything from a jacket for cool evenings to shorts for hot days — including a bathing suit for the hot springs.

As for gear, make sure you bring hiking boots, a daypack, water bottles, a sun hat, plenty of suntan lotion, and more camera film/digital memory than you think you could ever use in eight days!