History of Copper Canyon Train

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The Copper Canyon train construction was one of the great engineering works of the 19th century and the 20th century.

The Ojinaga-Topolobampo Railroad line has been of great importance for Mexico’s development. The geography of Sierra Madre was a real challenge for the Mexican engineers that proved their capacity to resolve problems of development, construction and location.

The Ojinage-Topolobampo Railroad Line satisfied the goal the Federal Government had to connect two important regions with the increasing demand of product shipments for long distances and in large quantities. The Copper Canyon train connected indefinitely the northeast region of Mexico to the Pacific coast as of 1961.

Since the end of the 19th century many thought of the importance of a railroad line in this region. An engineer from the U.S. called Albert Kinsey Owen in 1861 was the first to start promoting the idea of a railroad that. He travels the Pacific coast to the Ohuira Bay, called “Enchanted Place” in the Cahitan language, or what is known today as Topolobampo Bay. He saw the advantage of forming a Mexican American company to accomplish his goal and build a railroad that would unite the Midwest United States with his most recently discovered bay. In 1863, in a conference with governors and members of the U.S. Congress, he disclosed his idea, but he did not succeed with his endeavor.

From 1875 to 1879, Owen dedicated himself solely to the task of promoting his plan and proposing various social service projects to the Mexican Government. He finally was granted a concession to build a railroad between Piedras Negras and Topolobampo, with branch railway lines to Mazatlan, Alamos and Presidio del Norte, which is the city of Ojinaga, Chihuahua, today.

American Foster Higgins was the first to obtain concessions to build the railroad in the region. His company name was the Railroad of Rio grande, Sierra Madre & Pacifico Company. This company built the stretch between the city of Juarez in the north of Chihuahua and Corralitos in 1879. The following year they had built a total of 259 kilometers and a line all the way to Casas Grandes.

The real challenge was building the rail between the station of Creel in Chihuahua and San Pedro, Sinaloa, those were the most complex 258 kilometers or railroad tracks.

Today when you pass through this area in one of our Copper Canyon tours you will understand why it was so difficult to construct a railroad there. The railroad would cross the bulk of the Western Sierra Madre Mountains.

The railroad was inaugurated with the help of the Mexican Federal Government on November 24, 1961 as the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad known today as El Chepe.

The construction and reconstruction of the railroad costed a notable investment of $1,104,600 pesos ($92,050 US dollars) on June 30, 1961. It was a lot of money in that year. It also took a great amount of human and technological effort in order to overcome all the obstacles presented by the Sierra Tarahumara

On June 11, 1987, in accordance with a new presidential decree, The Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad became part of the national railroad organization, National Railroads of Mexico.

Today the Pacific-North Railroad is better known as “El Chepe” has become a very important transport for commerce in Mexico but also one of the most wonderful train rides in the world.


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