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The Chihuahua al Pacífico (Chepe) Railroad

Chepe History:

The Chihuahua al Pacífico (Chepe) railroad, which celebrated it 50th anniversary in 2011,  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 Reader’s Digest has called it “the most dramatic train ride in the western hemisphere.” The first Mexican train to traverse the complete route was in 1961. The route is through 5 climatic zones from sea level to 8,000 feet elevation.

The original route of the Kansas City Mexico Orient Railway (forerunner of the Chepe) was 1600 miles long. It ran from Wichita, Kansas, through Oklahoma and Texas, crossing the border at Presidio, Texas and Ojinaga, Chihuahua. It continued on to Chihuahua City, then went west across the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountain Range, ending up at Topolobampo Bay on the Sea of Cortez, near Las Mochis, Sinaloa. The purpose of the KCMO Railway was to shorten the shipping route to the orient by 400 miles.

Since the Chepe was privatized in 1998, it is one of only two passenger trains left in Mexico – the other being the Tequila Express out of Guadalajara. The Chepe tourist line presently is the 400 mile route between Chihuahua City, Chihuahua, and Los Mochis, Sinaloa. The Reader’s Digest calls it the “the most dramatic train ride in the western hemisphere.” To enjoy the most scenic part of this route during daylight hours, S & S Tours always begins our tours in Los Mochis.

The Chepe engineering challenges include 37 bridges and 89 tunnels on the route. At one point the train does a 180 degree turn inside the mountain, and at another point loops over itself. The longest tunnel in Mexico, over a mile long, is on this route. In the mountain region, there is a drop of 7300 feet elevation in 122 miles.

Two Americans were directly involved in the conception of this railroad. Arthur Stilwell of Kansas City, Kansas, was responsible for completing 1000 miles of the total 1600 miles of track built. (Note: My name is Sue Stilwell. We are in the family line of Arthur Stilwell, so this history is of great personal interest to me.) Albert Owens, a Pennsylvanian railroad engineer, surveyed the western end of the line.

Chepe Train

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 has taken place in Los Mochis, El Fuerte, Bahuichivo (Cerocahui), Posada Barrancas, Creel, and the old train station with murals in Chihuahua City. 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, air-conditioned Chepe passenger cars are on first-class express service.

It is a pleasure to dine in the new dining cars 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.

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.

Each spring, S & S Tours has a special tour which travels the whole 400 miles by train between Los Mochis and Chihuahua City over a period of a week.  Rail fans particularly enjoy this tour, but the fabulous scenery and the Tarahumara Indians make the trip enjoyable for non-rail fans as well.

GEOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION

NAME OF CANYON                    
DEPTH IN: 

METERS FEET
LOCATION
Urique Canyon 1879 6136  10 km S. of Urique
Sinforosa Canyon 1830 6002 Canyon de Guerachi
Batopilas Canyon 1800 5904 10 km N. of Batopilas
Copper Canyon (Barranca de Cobre) 1760 5770 at Urique
Guaynopa Canyon 1620 5313 15 km N El Paraja Bridge
Grand Canyon 1425 4674 Hopi Point

RAILROAD SCHEDULE

CITY (westbound) DEPARTURE TIME CITY (eastbound) DEPARTURE TIME
Chihuahua 6:00 AM Los Mochis 6:00 AM
Cuauhtémoc 8:15 AM Sufragio 7:43 AM
La Junta 9:15 AM El Fuerte 8:26 AM
San Juanito 10:49 AM Loreto 10:15 AM
Creel 11:26 AM Temoris 11:11 AM
Divisadero 2:05 PM Bahuichivo 1:12 PM
Posada Barrancas 2:15 PM Cuiteco 1:24 PM
San Rafael 2:30 PM San Rafael 2:15 PM
Cuiteco 3:20 PM Posada Barrancas 2:25 PM
Bahuichivo 3:32 PM Divisadero 2:55 PM
Temoris 4:30 PM Creel 4:14 PM
Loreto 6:30 PM San Juanito 4:51 PM
El Fuerte 7:16 PM La Junta 6:25 PM
Sufragio 7:59 PM Cuauhtémoc 7:25 PM
Los Mochis 9:50 PM Chihuahua 8:50 PM

NOTE: Railroad schedules are subject to frequent changes. Hotels have the most current train schedules and should be able to reconfirm arrival and departure times. This is considered a mountain railroad, which operates on a single track through rugged terrain. Track conditions often cause delays of up to 2 hours along the way, which may alter arrival and departure times without prior notice. Remember, be flexible and keep your sense of adventure.

FIRST CLASS TRAIN:

It leaves everyday from Chihuahua to Los Mochis and from Los Mochis to Chihuahua at 6:00 a.m.  It stops only at the tourist destinations of Cuauhtémoc, Creel, Divisadero (a 15 minute stop to admire the Copper Canyon), Posada Barrancas, Bahuichivo/Cerocahui, Temoris, El Fuerte and Los Mochis.

The train features a Dining Cara, a Smoking Bar Car and runs with 2 to 4, 68 passenger-cars. Fully carpeted, a/c and heaters, reclining seats, panoramic windows and restrooms for men and women.  The Dining Car opens from 7:30 am to 8:00 pm serving breakfast, lunch and dinner with menu a la carte. No food and beverages are allowed in the passenger cars.  Bar is open from 10:00 am serving different cocktails and liquors. Cards and domino games available.

Both trains operate with an ecological disposal of water. The running water doesn’t flush to the ground, but it is taken to special sewage in Chihuahua or Los Mochis.

In every car a helpful Porter travels helping passengers with their luggage and to assign seats.

If you have time, it is advisable to stop at least in the stations of Creel and Divisadero to spend a night there.

From May to the end of June everything is very dry and you might find some mountain fires. Rainy season is between June and late October. It is the best season for traveling because the landscapes have brighter colors. From November through February the temperatures are low and you might have some snow.

Train Riding Tips:

When the trains run on time, it really doesn’t matter whether you travel westbound or eastbound, as the most spectacular points (Divisadero, Témoris) are reached in mid-afternoon in either direction. If the westbound train (No. 74) is running late, however, you risk not seeing Témoris – which is scheduled for a 4:30 p.m. arrival going west, 11:11 a.m. going east – in the winter when the sun sets early. Hence if your main objective is the train ride itself (as opposed to stopping over in the Sierra Tarahumara for a few days), the journey is best taken from the western end. Although many people start the trip in Los Mochis, it is just as well begun in El Fuerte since the scenery isn’t that spectacular until well east of El Fuerte.

Overall, the best views are seen from the south side of the train, i.e., the left side westbound or the right side eastbound. Since the train windows are rarely kept clean enough for an unobstructed view, passengers often crowd onto the small platforms between cars for a look at the passing scenery.

Wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty if you anticipate standing between cars – the dust and diesel soot outside may not be noticeable at first but they have a definite cumulative effect.  There is no checked baggage for personal items (unless you’re dealing with FNM’s cargo department), but overhead space is ample for most bags. Seats – arranged four across in pairs – usually recline in first-class cars and there’s plenty of leg room.

If the train isn’t full, you can easily change cars when necessary (e.g., when the a/c or heating system in your car isn’t working properly).

Food service is available in the dining cars on the first-class express trains. Drink are served in the bar cars. Snacks are for sale on the second-class trains.

CHEPE-Train Station Description

1. Chihuahua: Chihuahua: Capital of the State of Chihuahua, the biggest state of Mexico. Colonial City with a big industry and maquila development. Modern commercial and residential areas. Pancho Villa’s House and Museum, baroque styles Cathedral, Religious Art Museum, Quinta Gameros Art Museum, Government Palace, City Hall, University and Sports City, etc.

2. Cuauhtémoc: Biggest Mennonite community in the world (German descendant farmer with strong religious traditions). main apple producer region in Mexico and famous cheeses and creams are produced.

3. Creel: Main town in the Sierra Tarahumara. Handicrafts Museum, Indian stores, Danish style church. Starting point for many excursions to beautiful landscapes like the Lake of Arareko, Mushroom and Monks Valleys, San Ignacio Mission, Recohuata Hot Springs, Cusarare Waterfall and full day excursions to the Canyon of Batopilas or to the almost 1000 foot Basaseachi Waterfall (tallest waterfall in Mexico).

4. Divisadero: Station right at the rim of the Copper Canyon. Handicrafts and Mexican fast food. Impressive views and starting point for many easy walking trails along the rim and look-out points like Piedra Volada, La Escalera, Tarahumara boarding-house, inhabited caves, etc.

5. Posada Barrancas: Only 6 kms. from the previous station. Also, excursions to many viewing points. Nice hotels on the rim or close to the rim of the canyon.

6. Bahuichivo/Cerocahui: This station is 45 minutes from the small town of Cerocahui. Jesuit Mission, waterfalls and beautiful valleys. Departure point of the Urique Canyon (the deepest of the system) and the Cerro del Gallego viewing point.

7. Train Ride Between Bahuichivo and El Fuerte: The most impressive portion of the trip. Canyons, cliffs, waterfalls, bridges and tunnels. Three different levels of tracks, bridges and tunnels at Temoris.

8. El Fuerte: Colonial town. An important mining center of the last century where the wealth of the region can still be seen on the former mansions now turned into boutique hotels. Central plaza, cathedral, flowers, lush vegetation and fishing.

9. Los Mochis: Agricultural and industrial city. Excellent seafood. Visit the Topolobampo Bay and make a boat ride through smaller bays, estuaries and mangroves. Many dolphin families can be seen during the ride.

FAQ’S

How often does the train operate?
One first class & economy class train runs daily in each direction–westbound from Chihuahua City to Los Mochis, and eastbound from Los Mochis to Chihuahua City. Their scheduled itinerary leaves at 6:00 am and arrives approximately 9:00 pm. Each train runs with 3-4 passenger cars and one dining room and one lounge car. The cars are equipped with reclining seats, large viewing windows, bathrooms and have air conditioning.

Can one get on and off the train easily?
Yes you may get off at any scheduled stop, however, once off you cannot re-board until 24- hours later when the next train passes through, which obviously requires overnight lodging at the respective point. The only exception is the Divisadero tourist shop. This is the closest that the rail line actually comes to a rim of the canyon system. Each train stops for approximately 15-minutes at Divisadero to allow passengers to walk the 150 yards to the edge of the canyon for picture taking.

When is the best time to travel to the Copper Canyon?
It is a year-round destination. The various seasons offer distinctive delights. The highest occupancy times in the hotels are Fall and Spring, due to group travel bookings. July and August mean fewer people, great mountain temperatures and lush greenery. Fall is the most popular, and is still green with a multitude of flowers. Spring is the Tarahumara plowing and planting season, with the trees blooming in fall colors. May and June are the driest months of the year.

What is the best part of the Copper Canyon train ride?
Undoubtedly, the most dramatic part of the train ride is the western end of the line between El Fuerte and Divisadero. The elevation change on this portion of the rail line is 7,000 feet, from close to sea level and semi-tropical, semi-deciduous forest, to oak and pine conifer forest in the mountains. For this reason, during the late fall, winter and into early spring, it is recommended that you have at least one segment of the train ride beginning from Los Mochis or El Fuerte in order to guarantee morning light through this portion of the line, since it has the most masterful part of the engineering feat. Most of the 39 bridges and 86 tunnels are on this portion of the line.

What is the elevation during the trip?
Los Mochis– sea level; El Fuerte –400 feet– and warm year- round; Cerocahui and Chihuahua City–5000 feet and Divisadero Area– 7000 feet—are moderate year-round with occasional snow in winter; Creel-8000—is sweater or jacket weather in the evenings year-round.

How does one get to Chihuahua City or Los Mochis to begin travel on the train?
This will depend upon which end of the line (Chihuahua City or Los Mochis) one chooses to begin the trip. International gateways such as Phoenix, Los Angeles, Houston and Tijuana offer air service to both Los Mochis and Chihuahua in order to begin a tour.

What documents are required to enter Mexico?
Foreigners entering Mexico as tourists must have current passport or pass card with at least 6-months before the expiration date.