Ferrosur - Apizaco to Orizaba; Distrito Acultzingo

Linea SC
Ferrosur's Linea S reaches its highest elevation of 8,235' along the sides of La Malinche, near Huamantla. From this point, it's 180 miles to sea level at the port of Veracruz. With this in mind, it is clear that building a railroad between these points would require some impressive feats of engineering. When the FC Mexicano built into the Sierra Madre Orientals from Veracruz, their original alignment through Orizaba, Maltrata and Esperanza featured 4.7% grades and many incredibly sharp curves. Most of the FC Mexicano's original alignment became NdeM's Distrito Maltrata, their mainline between Veracruz and Mexico City. In the 1920's, FC Mexicano electrified the line from Paso del Macho (on the coastal plains) to Esperanza which was the bulk of the climb into highlands of central Mexico. General Electric box cabs hauled passenger and freight trains up through the mountains until heavier duty diesel locomotives from Alco started to arrive on property. Although the toughest parts of the climb through the sierra were bypassed in the 1980's by Linea SC, parts of the FC Mexicano's original alignment are still in service today as Ferrosur's mainline.
Distrito Acultzingo - Linea SC
In the 1980's, the Mexican government funded the rebuilding of many rail lines throughout the country as part of a massive public works initiative. In many places, complete new alignments were built, by-passing difficult terrain. Between Jesus de Nazareno, Puebla and Mendoza, Veracruz, Linea S was completely rebuilt utilizing a neighboring valley to the south of the existing allignment. This huge progect was done to bypass the 4.7% grades and extreme curvature of Linea S's Distrito Maltrata. The new line, designated Linea SC - or Distrito Acultzingo - features a ruling grade of 2.7% and some impressive engineering. Although Linea SC is a huge improvement over the original line, it still poses an operational challenge.

Now in the highlands of Puebla state, this northbound manifest train is stretching out on the flatlands near Esperanza as it runs on the last few miles of Distrito Acultzingo. Lying ahead is the connection to Linea S at Jesus de Nazareno, and the run to Apizaco. Pico de Orizaba dominates the skyline throughout this region of Mexico.

Having crested the summit of the Sierra Madre Oriental, this northbound manifest train is passing through San Antonio de Soledad. From the high valleys of Puebla, the mountains do not look to impressive. However, the long climb from the coast of Veracruz lies on the other side.

At 18,500', Pico de Orizaba is the highest mountain in Mexico (third highest in North America behind McKinley and Logan). From the west, the peak doesn't look that impressive because the valleys are already so high. This southbound manifest is climbing toward the summit of Distrito Acultzing near San Antonio de Soledad with Pico de Orizaba standing in the distance. Once reaching the summit, the descent into the Orizaba Valley and to the Gulf Coast begins.

At 9,752 feet, "El Mexicano," Mexico's longest tunnel, carries Linea SC under the summit of the Sierra Madre Oriental. Since it is on the east side of Linea SC's summit, it is all up hill though the tunnel for northbound trains. According to the FNM 1994 Timetable, the grade is a steady 2.5% northward, requiring a ventilation and door system at the north portal. This northbound train is emerging from the north portal at Puente Colorado.

High above the Rio Blanco Valley and the town of Acultzingo, a northbound train begins climbing after meeting a southbound at Vaqueria.

A southbound train rolling through Vaqueria.

A southbound manifest train is winding down into the Rio Blanco Valley below Vaqueria. On clear days, the peak of Pico de Orizaba is visible from the higher parts of the valley walls. Usually coastal moisture keeps the mountains of Veracruz covered in fog and drizzle, hiding the peak.

A single engine is returning to Orizaba after spending the day on a work train. The higher elevations above the valley host a small lumber industry. A small mill is visible to the left of the engine.

Looking down at the village of Vaqueria, a northbound unit grain train is looping around the narrow valley as it climbs toward Vaqueria siding. After looping around again, the train will pass through the tunnels visible above the train as it continues to climb toward "El Mexicano."

Approaching Huaxtitla, this southbound train passes under Puente Vaqueria.

A heavy northbound train is down to a crawl in the village of Vaqueria.

Below Huaxtitla, the line loops back again and enters the town of Acultzingo. This northbound grain train is passing through a spot of sun on an otherwise cloudy day in the mountains of Veracruz. (Unfortunately, I missed the engines in the light)

On a sunny afternoon, a northbound grain train is climbing toward Huaxtitla.

Above Acultzingo, this southbound is passing a set of GE trucks, and other reminders of a recent derailment.

Another southbound passing by the derailment site below the loop at Acultzingo. Notice the right of way on the hillside above the train.

A northbound grain train meets a southbound manifest at Acultzingo. Immigration has a very visible effect on the railroads in southern Mexico. Especially on trains coming from Linea G (Tierra Blanca), it is very common to see groups of people riding on northbound trains. Most trains now also carry security guard on them, not to remove the riders, but to protect the crews and freight.

Until recently, manned helpers were still common on Ferrosur between Veracruz, Tierra Blanca and Jesus de Nazareno, Puebla. Now, DPU's are the norm on Distrito Acultzingo, distributed though out a train in many different variations. These helpers are returning light to Orizaba after helping an early-morning northbound. They are passing the DPU's on a heavy northbound on the main track at Acultzingo.

South of Acultzingo, a southbound is passing above the many small farms on the valley floor.

After passing through a chain of small tunnels, this southbound as approaching the loops at Mezquite. The tracks ahead are visible at two levels in the lower right.

As the sun breaks through the clouds, this northbound climbing out of the loop at Mezquite.

A small work train is climbing through the loop above Mezquite.

C30-7's lead a northbound through Mezquite.

The Orizaba Valley is visible in the background as this loaded grain train climbs through the curves at Mezquite. The DPU's are then passing below. Linea SC makes two reversing curves here to cross to the opposite side of the valley while still gaining elevation.

During the usual cloudy and foggy weather in the mountains of Veracruz, the sun will occasionally break out in the afternoons. This southbound cement train is passing through the sunlight at Mezquite. The moisture that rolls off the gulf coast cools when it presses against the mountains creating the usual fog and clouds that can bee seen in the distance.

Two trains that met at Mezquite siding can now be seen on opposite sides of the valley.

Above Tecamalucan, this northbound train is climbing out of the Orizaba Valley.

A northbound above Tecamalucan.

A southbound exiting a tunnel at KM 307.

This work train is approaching the first tunnel of Distrito Acultzingo as it leaves Tecamalucan. In the background is a high-wide detector that protects the many tunnels ahead.

At Encinar, Linea SC reconnects with the original Linea S right of way. When Lineas SC was completed, a former NdeM GE box cab locomotive was put on display at the junction as a monument to the new line through the mountains. This southbound (above) is curving onto the original right of way while passing the old GE locomotive. The formerly electrified Distrito Maltrata continued straight at this point, to the right of the train.

A northbound passing Encinar as it begins its trip up Linea SC.

Approaching Orizaba, a leased TFM AC44CW leads this short southbound down the grade on a rainy morning.

In Orizaba Yard, a southbound train eases toward the mainline to begin a trip to Coatzacoalcos. Double stacked containers - as well as a few in gondolas - are waiting in the yard while a switcher approaces on the mainline.

Late at night, this yard crew is walking into the towns streets for a quick meal as a southbound train pulls into the yard. Once the southbound is done with a setout, the crew on the mainlne will houl the cars into the Cuauhtémoc brewery for spotting.