All Aboard El Chepe – Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico


This post is part 2 of 9 in the series Copper Canyon, Mexico

It’s easy to get swept up in the awesome mountain scenery that reveals itself around every bend, but the train that takes you through the Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre in Spanish) is a marvel in and of itself: 408 miles of track with 86 tunnels and 37 bridges (one spans a chasm at more than 1,000 feet above the canyon floor). During one unbelievable eight mile stretch the train make a series of three 180 degree turns (one over a bridge and two in tunnels) in order to change altitude by more than 1,000 feet–a mind-blowing rate for a train.

No wonder it took 100 years to build the Chihuahua Pacific Railroad (Ferrocoarril Chihuahua al Pacifico in Spanish) which everyone now calls El CHEPE.

All Aboard!

All aboard!

 

El CHEPE runs between Chihuahua and Los Mochis through the Sierra Madre mountains and the Copper Canyon (which is really a series of canyons, not just one canyon, which creates a system that’s  four times larger than the Grand Canyon) stopping at some or all of the 13 stations along the way. We spent two weeks visiting dozens of places both on and off the rail line as we explored and investigated the area with Dave Hensleigh of Authentic Copper Canyon. We’ll be posting the highlights in the next few days.

Two classes of travel are offered on CHEPE trains: yellow Primero Express cars and the red Classe Economico cars. Honestly, the seats, windows, bathrooms, heating, cooling and luggage storage areas are pretty much the same in both classes. Primero, however, has a dining car and a bar car (economico travelers get just a limited snack bar) and staff members on Primero class trains tend to be more professional and accommodating–alerting passengers to particularly great vistas, for example.

A recent schedule change has also cut the number of Classe Economico trains that run each week from seven to three but when we were on the train this did not seem to have resulted in any overcrowding at all.

The Copper Canyon from the CHEPE train.

The ever-changing Copper Canyon as seen from the CHEPE train.

 

Whichever class of train you’re on the scenery steals the show as you travel up, down and around some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Rocky peaks and cliffs, rivers,  waterfalls, tropical vegetation (at one point we expected to see monkeys frolicking in the jungly trees amidst the banana and papaya groves) and  high desert all pass by your window as the train travels from 8,000 feet to sea level.

We also traveled past tiny villages inhabited by native Tarahumara–some perched on impossible steep and isolated slopes–and saw fields of sesame being farmed (a first).

The Copper Canyon from the CHEPE train.

Yes, that’s a boulder right by the tracks. CHEPE recently ramped-up anti-rock slide efforts by adding chain netting and layers of cement over particularly at-risk hillsides.

 

It’s a beautiful landscape, but there are dangers too. A couple of weeks before we took the train a rock slide closed the tracks stranding passengers on a train for 17 hours. They (and El CHEPE staff) reportedly made the best of it with free meals and a kind of dormitory sleepover atmosphere until the tracks were cleared by work crews who constantly ride and monitor the rails.

Accidents happen, but luckily usually to the freight trains.

Remnants of accidents like this derailed freight car are reminders of just how close to the edge this train is.

Local Tarahumara women and children sell baskets and other hand crafted souveniers on the San Rafael train station.

A Tarahumara woman selling baskets and other handicrafts at the San Rafael train station.

The Copper Canyon from the CHEPE train.

The dramatic Copper Canyon as seen from the CHEPE train.

 

 

Passing over the Temoris bridge.

Passing over the 266′ long Temoris bridge.

The u-shaped temoris bridge where the train make a 180 degree turn.

Just past the U-shaped Temoris bridge the train enters a nearly half-mile long tunnel which allows it to make a 180 degree turn inside a mountain.

Wo says trains aren't romantix.

Who says train travel isn’t romantic anymore?

The Copper Canyon from the CHEPE train.

The jaw-dropping Copper Canyon as seen from the CHEPE train.

Passing over the Rio Fuerte on the CHEPE train.

Passing over the Rio Fuerte on a 1,638 foot long bridge–the longest on the CHEPE line.

The Copper Canyon from the CHEPE train.

The Copper Canyon as seen from the CHEPE train.

Karen enjoying the view from the back of the train.

Karen enjoying the view from the back of the train.

 

By sunset the train leaves the Copper Canyon and the Sierra Madre mountains behind and heads to El Fuerte.

Sunset light washes over the Sierra Madre mountains as the train leaves the Copper Canyon and heads to the town of El Fuerte.

Light at the end of the tunnel.

Light at the end of one of the 86 tunnels that  had to be blasted through the Sierra Madre mountains to build the rail line.

 

The Copper Canyon from the CHEPE train.

The Copper Canyon as seen from the CHEPE train.

 

The CHEPE train passing through Areponopichi.

The CHEPE train passing through one of many level crossings–this one in the town of Areponápuchi.

More Copper Canyon train videos available on our YouTube page.


Series Navigation:<< WAY Off the Train – Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, MexicoWorld’s Best Blue Corn Tortillas – Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico >>

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