The Devil’s Nose – Alausí, Ecuador

Ecuador’s Trans-Andean railway links the capital, Quito, to the shipping port of Guayaquil on Ecuador’s Pacific coast.

It wasn’t an easy railway to build, because to get from sea level to Quito (altitude 2840 metres), meant finding a path through the Andes mountains, which made construction of the railway a major engineering challenge. Generally, even modern railways need to work with grades of 1.5% or less – which means climbing no more than 1.5 metres in every 100. 

That’s why constructing railway lines in mountainous terrains is so difficult.

In this video we visit the Devil’s Nose – possibly the most challenging section of Ecuador’s Trans-Andean railway to construct. The geography meant that the trains needed to descend (and climb) 150 metres in barely 1.5 kilometres. A 10% slope is way too steep even for modern tarins, let alone the steam locomotives back in 1900. 

And to complicate the problem, the terrain was steep and made of hard basaltic rock – far too hard for the tunnel technology of the day. 

So dynamite and human labour became the principal earthmoving tools when constructing a switchback around the mountain. It was a very dangerous construction project and an estimated 2,000 workers – almost half of the total workforce – were killed in accidents or died from disease during the construction! 

Such workplace fatalities are impossible to comprehend today…, but that’s why this place was given the name – the Devil’s Nose.

Today, this section of the Trans-Andean railway is open for tourist trips from Alausi.

If you have an opportunity to visit Ecuador, a visit to Alausi to take the ride on the Devil’s Nose train is well worth the experience, and if you have the time, Alausi itself is well worth exploring.

(The video of this story has captions in both English and Spanish – click on the YouTube cogwheel icon to activate them).

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