When efforts to obtain permission to build a railway line commenced, Peru had existed for less than thirty years. It was the origin of both the sovereignty and a very spectacular route in the Andes. For more than a century Ferrocarril Central del Perú was the highest route in the world. Only in 2006 did the Tibet Train break this record. Despite this fact, it has been one of the highest railway routes ever leading through six climate zones! In addition, no other train has conductors who pull special curtains in order to protect the interior of the carriage from falling pieces of rocks. The route is close to our hearts because of its designer - Ernest Malinowski, a Polish engineer and a merited Peruvian national hero. The purpose of the construction was very pragmatic - it was needed for the fast and easy transport of natural resources from the Amazonian jungle situated at heights (in particular copper and zinc from the Andean mines and agricultural products from local valleys) directly to the port on the ocean. British engineers claimed the project was unfeasible but anything was possible for Ernest Malinowski.
Although the train loaded with one hundred tonnes of cargo ran at 16 km/h, it was a success! Today that speed is amusing rather than amazing, but when in 1878 the train travelled 141 km in 10 hours, people were impressed. It must be remembered that it was the age of steam engines. Today the carriages of the Trans-Andean Railway are pulled by a gas-driven locomotive and the train runs much faster.
At present, the route extends more than 346 km and leads from the port of Callao in Lima through the Andes to La Oroya. Then it goes either right to Huancayo or left to Cerro de Pasco. In total, the route from Lima to La Oroya has 63 tunnels, longer than 6,000 m, and 61 bridges and viaducts. The most famous structure is the Verrugas viaduct at an altitude of 1,800 m above sea level connecting the edges of the gorge of the same name. Parts of the structure were lowered on ropes by experienced sailors and Indians who were capable of building suspension bridges over precipices.
Work commenced in 1870. Huge amounts of the necessary equipment, tools, dynamite and food were transported to the mountains on the backs of mules, llamas and workers. Several hundred people died as a result of the very harsh working conditions - avalanches, blizzards, explosions, and rock slides, as well as diseases and epidemics. The first section commissioned in 1878 was an instant hit and called the 19th century technology wonder.
The train departs from near the presidential palace in Lima. The departure is signalled by three gongs. The capital city of Peru is huge and it takes a long time to get out of the metropolis. Initially, the landscape is dominated by the poor housing districts of Lima running for kilometres — noisy, full of garbage, surrounded by concentrations of small dilapidated cottages, reaching far into the local hills. Rural land begins outside the city. Rugged stone mountains appear.
The greater the height, the fewer buildings can be seen. The train starts passing through tunnels drilled in rocks and sliding over precipices. The locomotive travels up quite quickly. As soon as after 126 km the altitude is 4,781 m above sea level. The amount of oxygen in the air gradually decreases, which can cause breathing problems, headaches and nausea. Luckily, in the event of problems an onboard nurse will quickly provide an oxygen bag or perform first aid procedures.
After some time the route runs at a lower altitude and through extensive fields of puna (assemblages of dry grasses and dwarf shrubs). During short stops souvenirs can be bought from the local Indians. One of the key points is La Oroya - a gloomy grey lead works city surrounded by stony hills with a harsh climate. Regrettably, it is the second most lead-contaminated place in the world.
Today the Malinowski Railway is used mainly for freight transport. Tourist journeys are only organised in the dry season, that is, from April to October, once a month and on religious and national holidays. The price of a two-way ticket is not very expensive, which encourages tourists from all over the world to discover picturesque Peru.