Ferrocarril 5

“LOS ALTOS RAILWAY” The Altenses dream that became a reality

For Christian Díaz (Second Part)


Thanks to the excellent German planning on March 30th of 1930 excitement, joy and rejoicing broke out throughout the region, as Quetzaltenango received the first trip of Los Altos Railway from the initial station in the village of San Felipe, department of Retalhuleu until culminating with honors, party, music and solemnities in the city of Quetzaltenango.

It was made known as the Los Altos Railway a new railway concept, being the first in Latin America and the second in all America. Only a year ago in Vienna (Austria) a railway of the same type as Los Altos Railway had been inaugurated, so the region was placed among the highest in the vanguard of electric rail transport worldwide.

The Railway of Los Altos was a great economic engine for the region because its production capacity was high and exceeded the expected profits, causing the rise in trade and production for both San Felipe and Quetzaltenango, as well as the towns where the railway stations were located. 

In image: part of the rails of the initial station of the Los Altos Railway located in the neighborhood La Democracia and Terminal de la Villa of San Felipe, department of Retalhuleu.

On March 30, 1930 was the historic first trip of Los Altos Railway that left San Felipe to Quetzaltenango, [in those days] president Lázaro Chacón inaugurated the Railway and in several occasions Marimba music were played, outstanding the piece of “El Ferrocarril de los Altos” (Los Altos Railway) of Domingo Bethancourt. Likewise, Correos de Guatemala (Mail Service Office) issued three postage stamps with images related to the Los Altos Railway. 

The same day the railway brakes were put to the test on the slope near to Los Pirineos station, under the gaze of the Minister of Public Works and members of the Congress. 

The route of Los Altos Railway passed through a tunnel (Santa María de Jesús) (1) 9 and through eight bridges that were built for this purpose. Its journey began in the coast and ended in the highlands.

The historical stations of the Railway were 10 located throughout the whole travel, in addition, those townships that had a station denoted that its trade and economic level also increase, wherefore the entire region was getting benefited. The stations were: 

  1. Central Station San Felipe (Initial) 
  2. Los Encuentros Station 
  3. Los Pirineos Station 
  4. La Dicha Station 
  5. Santa María de Jesús Station 
  6. Las Cuevas Station 
  7. Zunil Station 
  8. Cantel Station
  9. Las Rosas Station 
  10. Central Station of Quetzaltenango (Final)

On round trips.  

In image: Main and guide coach of the Los Altos Railway


Los Altos Electric Railway was a modern, technological marvel. It had excellent service and promised a more important advance to the region than was expected. 

It had 14 passenger and cargo wagons (2), well equipped and detachable for their particular accommodation11, (3) they had great travel comfort and exclusively services, however these had differences according to the value of the passage that could be high, medium and low class and were intended as follows:

  • 6 passenger coaches of 4 axles.  
  • 9 wagons with 4 axles of 15 tons and numbered from 101 to 109. 
  • 1 inspection coach of 2 axles numbered with 7. 

Although they total 16 for all, it is very likely that it could only travel to the maximum with 14 wagons, with 2 being spare or simply waiting at some station for their use. (There is no clear information on whether they were actually 16 or 14 wagons but most likely they were 16 but they were traveling at most 14 at the same time).


  • The guide coach was the main one that contained the most important engine and impeller, the control cabins, etc. 
  • Coach 1 and 2 were first class. 
  • Coach 3 and 4 were second class. 
  • Coach 5 and 6 were third class. 
  • The rest of the wagons were destined to transport different materials and products. 

The Railway had its Central Station of Quetzaltenango in the North center side of the city (a little far away at that time) since it was intended to increase the routes and travels to the departments of San Marcos and Totonicapán, promising even more economic advance to the region of Los Altos. 

In image: Model of a third class coach(4)

Los Altos Railway was the only electric railway of any kind in Guatemala and one of the few genuine interurban power lines in the world at that time. It was also an innovate means of communication that set a world mark for trains in Latin America.  

It climbed regular slopes of up to 1,723 meters (5652 ft.) at a speed of 44 km/hr and its highest point was at 2,400 meters (7874 ft.)  above sea level. 

En imagen: Uno de los viajes del Ferrocarril de Los Altos en los que solamente transportaba el vagón guía y 3 de los 6 vagones de pasajeros, pero ninguno de los vagones de carga.

(1) The tunnel was completely dark and has a length of 250 meters (820 ft.), so the entire Railway was completely under the mountain for a moment when it was passing through that tunnel.

(2) Each wagon had its own independent engine and although they looked the same on the outside, inside they had circumstantial differences depending on whether they were for passengers for example, first, second and third class, etc. and for load depending on the products that would be transported inside. 

(3) The 14 wagons were purchased from the Belgian Company “Famillerureux de La Louviére”, renowned for their high quality.

(4) In the image the translation of the French quote says: “Electric car for third class for the Los Altos Railway, Guatemala”.