Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ride the train

There's a tiny passenger rail ine which runs between the city of Apopa north of San Salvador and the capital city. My friends David and Nancy recently took the trip and described it in their blog:

Join us for a ride on the local commuter train, but first a bit of history. The current railroad company is the result of a merger between two companies, one of which is the International Railways of Central American, a former subsidiary of the infamous United Fruit Company (of Banana Republic fame).

Thousands fled El Salvador during the civil war, hopping on freight trains headed out of the country. After the war, passenger traffic declined as the trains were routinely held up and passengers robbed. In October 2002, all rail transportation was suspended.

With El Salvador the most highly populated country in Central America and with a severe shortage of land, the former right-of-ways were settled by squatters.
In 2007 the rail company resumed limited service and required all squatters off their tracks. Thousands of people were forced to move. Hundreds of others merely shortened the size of their homes, allowing for passage of the train.

We arrived at the downtown San Salvador train station at 4:20 in the afternoon. At the platform we saw a modern diesel engine with two tanker cars and five antique passenger cars. We boarded and started our journey to Apopa about 20 miles away. The train traveled two blocks and made its first stop. In all we must have made 30 or 40 stops, each one about 15 seconds as people climbed on and off.

If the windows were without wire screens, we could have touched the homes, clothes lines, children playing and people walking along the tracks. The train rolled by their front doors, over their driveways, across patios and play areas. One can look into many homes, wave to the residents, see what they’re eating and what’s on the television.

As we picked up speed, the passenger cars heaved left and right and then across a ridge with a fantastic overview of the valley below. The steep hillsides are populated with homes and the country side is bright green reflecting the lush vegetation that grows wild in Central America. The Apopa train station was a 4-pole metal roofed open air structure with no amenities.

The whistle blew for 2 hours warning all that the train was coming. There are no street signals or crossing guard arms. The tanker cars wet the rail bed to prevent a cloud of dust from choking the passengers and the residents. Each passenger car has a National Police man on guard. The return trip back to San Salvador went a little faster because it was mostly downhill. Our 2 hour train ride cost 20 cents round trip. It was a great experience to see another view of the city and the country side.


To add to this great verbal picture of the ride, you can watch the photos in this recently posted Youtube video:



David and Nancy are in El Salvador as volunteers with the Volunteer Missionary Movement, which sponsors volunteers who work as educators, engineers, youth workers and more in Central America and throughout the world. You can learn more about VMM and find out how to support its work at www.vmmusa.org.

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