Ferrocarril 8

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

For Christian Díaz (Third Part)

IV. Honors to El Eléctrico

For the inauguration of the Los Altos Railway a piece was composed in marimba that later has been transported to many more version such as piano, violin, guitar, percussion, flutes, etc. the melody was called “Ferrocarril de Los Altos” a foxtrot composed by Domingo Bethancourt, from Quetzaltenango. 

Today this piece of music still continues as one of the most famous of the time and is a reminder of the glorious golden age of Quetzaltenango and Los Altos. 

What few people know is that this iconic song has lyrics that are practically unknown to the most. 

In video: version of the musical piece “Ferrocarril de Los Altos” by the Marimba de Bellas Artes under the direction of Alfonso Bautista. Check the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0VGODoRy9o

In image: Los Altos Railway as it passed through a platform station (possibly through La Dicha Station)


V Decline of the Railway

Until 1933, Los Altos Railway did not present any damage to its mechanics, it’s electrical or rail system since it was of the highest quality. However, the powerful winter of that year managed to cause some collapses in the railroad tracks, which made its use impossible for a brief period. The government of that time, headed by Jorge Ubico, viewed with total disapproval the repair of the rails ruined by the storms, arguing that it was not a of public necessity. 

Faced with this, the residents of the city of Quetzaltenango and from the Village of San Felipe joined together and suggested paying the expenses of the railway repair by themselves, however the government flatly denied it and as if that were not enough, Jorge Ubico demanded immediate dismissal to all the staff that worked on Los Altos Railroad, the only one of its kind and if this railway would remained today, it would continue to be an impressive economic engine for the region. 

Let us remember that Jorge Ubico was one of the most centralist dictator presidents in the history of America. He tried to stop the development of Quetzaltenango and the region, because even without government support, the region was stood out throughout the national and international territory. Even at that time, the economic capital of Guatemala continued to be Quetzaltenango without the need for central support and with its own merits; but Jorge Ubico, in his eagerness to stop its progress decided not to support the reconstruction (which would not have been very big or expensive and were totally remediable in a short term). 

In image: The Central Station with the Los Altos Railway sheltered from the storms, time before Jorge Ubico forced its decline.

 A great offense for Quetzaltenango and Retalhuleu for being deprived of their inherent right to economic progress in the winter of 1933, if Los Altos Railway would survive today, it would continue to be an essential economic engine for the region. The municipalities that were benefited from this project have never received another benefit of this category from the central government and Los Altos Railway would have already expanded to all the other Altense departments, including Soconusco. 

The modern era in which Quetzaltenango began as a pioneer of Central America was overshadowed by the envy of a tyrant and its unjustified evil actions, Jorge Ubico who deliberately hated Quetzaltenango, and he made known in his speeches and public actions.

In 1933 the railway dream ended in Guatemala, because to date has never been seen in the national territory a project as innovative and impressive as the Electric Railway. The rails of the Los Altos Railway were detached and used as power poles and the wagons were sold to Argentina who reuses them because of their invaluable quality. 

Of the rest there are still some vestiges kept in the heart of Quetzaltenango and in its museums, but above all the ideal still persists of wanting to stand out on their own without waiting for help from the central government, who have already shown countless times how they are not interested in the rest of the departments more than to produce the riches that are found here without returning anything. 

In image: A photograph of Angel Prado dating from 1930 in which the Los Altos Railway is seen as it passes through one of its stations: “Los Pirineos”.

 VI Railway Vestiges 

El Eléctrico will never be forgotten by the Altense people, who fulfilled the dream of development for their region with union and dedication between the departments of Retalhuleu and Quetzaltenango who joined in mutual development and thus their trade could consolidated as never before seen and still today does not happen again. (1)

Nowadays, it remains in our hearts the memories of an unprecedented work and still in our time continues to be a pride, as well as a beautiful melody of that time that reflects the notable railway symbol that exclaimed for the progress of Los Altos. (2)

 As for the material remains of the railway, the old Central Station located in zone 3 of Quetzaltenango city was converted into a military base of great importance for the country until 1996. Then it was finally destined to become “The Intercultural Center of Quetzaltenango” in which large national events are taking place today. 

The Los Altos Railway Museum was thus also inaugurated, which currently contains some pieces that were rescued from El Eléctrico and valuable photographs and documents of this work. (3)

What would it be of Los Altos if even in our time the railway continued to run through our departments, promoting our culture, economy and identity as Altenses for progress and eagerness to development! 

Let us never forget our history, let us never forget the Eléctrico, the glorious “Los Altos Railway”, may our hope continue in our convictions of reopening it someday in the future. 

In image: One of the first class wagons of the Los Altos Railway in which its name is read, courtesy of the newspaper “El Quetzalteco”.  


(1) The historian Francisco Cajas Ovando related that the Los Altos Railway was supported by only one president of the Republic of Guatemala in all of the history, and he was Manuel Estrada Cabrera (who born in the city of Quetzaltenango considered himself to be Altense to the bone) who supported and approved this project without conditions.  

(2) Named “El Ferrocarril de Los Altos” a beautiful and cultural piece of music created by the Master Domingo Bethancourt. 

(3) This museum is located in zone 3 of Quetzaltenango city, in the old Central Railway Station and is called “Museo del Ferrocarril de Los Altos, Octavio Ciani” who is one of the forerunners of preserving the memory of the railway.