The Tramways of
Yucatán

BY
Allen Morrison

 

This chapter is divided into five parts.
Go to
Part 1: Introduction, Urban Lines
Part 2: Intercity Lines
Part 3: Plantation Railways
Part 5: Bibliography

 

 

Part 4: The Last 50 Years

 

As the henequen plantations began to close during the Depression, some of the narrow-gauge lines that connected towns and railroad stations were taken over by the steam railroad companies or other entrepreneurs. The 1947 Enciclopedia, which describes operations in 1936 [see BIBLIOGRAPHY], states: "Some lines use small passenger coaches, carritos, which were once reserved for the proprietors. Today they carry anybody who pays the fare." The Enciclopedia found 287 km of narrow-gauge lines that charged fares.

Later, many of the little railways were abandoned altogether and their tracks became public property at the disposal of anyone who had a vehicle with flanged wheels. The planet's largest and strangest tramway network was born. With most rural roads still unpaved, resourceful yucatecos made good use of discarded carritos and plataformas that ran on rails.

U.S. tramway enthusiast Earl W. Clark was the first to explore this situation in 1956 and has made numerous visits to Yucatán ever since. In an article published in Modern Tramway in 1962 [see BIBLIOGRAPHY] he observed: "In many small towns, the tracks run through dirt roadways and the little cars are seen parked in front of each home . . . They are taken off the track when not in use, and are re-railed again when father goes to work or the family goes to market. Each family living on the tram track uses it as if it were a public highway."

He took the photograph below at Yuncú railroad station, 50 km south of Mérida, in 1962 [see map]. The steam train on the left is sitting on 914 mm / 3 ft gauge track. The rails under the plataformas on the right are of 500 or 600 mm gauge. The nature of their cargo and the whereabouts of their animal power are unknown [Earl W. Clark]:

Here is another color slide taken in 1962 at Yuncú station, which seems to have been served by two narrow-gauge railways (not confirmed by the map, which is based on data from 1931). Note lettering "UNIDOS DE YUCATAN" on the railroad coach. A family awaits departure on its plataforma, as their mule grazes nearby [Earl W. Clark]:

Another family uses Yucatán's free public transportation system near Motul [see map]. Date is 1962. There were not many passing places: when two plataformas met going in opposite directions, the driver with the lighter load lifted his vehicle off the rails so that the other could pass [Earl W. Clark]:

Presumably this large group traveling in the opposite direction removed their vehicle from the rails when they met the family above. Despite the heavy load, the mule seems to be pulling with ease [Earl W. Clark]:

The family below has a fancier plataforma with back-to-back benches. This wonderful image was reproduced (in black and white) in Mr. Clark's Modern Tramway article of 1962 [see BIBLIOGRAPHY]. Location is Temozón on Unidos de Yucatán's Muna line [see map] [Earl W. Clark]:

Thirty-seven years later, in 1999, Englishman Andrew Beech and his wife visited the Hacienda Temozón and found the vehicle below – which seems identical in every detail to the plataforma that the family above rode in 1962! Mr. Beech and his wife placed this car on 500 mm gauge track that they found on the hotel grounds and took a ride [Andrew Beech]:

Here is another extraordinary vehicle that the Beeches found at Hacienda Temozón in November 1999 [Andrew Beech]:

Back in 1962 Earl Clark photographed this scene near Motul [see map]. Note his camera bag, the unused plataformas lined up on the left, and a second vehicle approaching in the rear. This photograph was reproduced in my 1996 book, Latin America by Streetcar [Earl W. Clark]:

A closeup of the second mule train. Who would not want to live in this cozy thatched-roof house? [Earl W. Clark]:

In Chichén Itzá, famous for its Mayan ruins, 35 km east of Sotuta [see map], Mr. Clark encountered this gasoline-powered tram on a farm. The line is isolated, 20 km from the nearest steam railroad. The function of the log was at first puzzling, but reader Michael R. Pearson has suggested that it was probably used to maneuver the vehicle back onto the tracks should it derail [Earl W. Clark]:

Andrew Beech and wife encountered this seemingly derelict car at Chichén Itzá in 1999. It looks like it might have been used not too long ago [© Andrew Beech]:

On a 1973 visit, Mr. Clark took this photograph a few miles south of Mérida International Airport, which is southwest of the capital. Note empty plataforma on the left, removed from the track so that the larger vehicle could pass [Earl W. Clark]:

Three years later, in 1976, Mr. Clark found rail activity on a remote ranch near Umán [see map]. Note the unused Decauville track piled up on the right [Earl W. Clark]:

In November 1999 the Beeches from England found a henequen factory still in operation at Hacienda Uayalceh, a short distance east of Timozon [see map]. Tiny flat cars still transported hemp along 500 mm gauge track around the yard. No motive power was seen, but apparently mules were summoned when needed [Andrew Beech]:

Special work just outside the Uayalceh factory. Like Hacienda Temozón, parts of Hacienda Uayalceh date from the 17th century [Andrew Beech]:

Some of Yucatán's narrow gauge lines have survived into the 21st century. But they are disappearing fast. During a visit in 1984 James Terrell observed tramway activity around Motul, Tixkokob, Tekantó and Acanceh [see BIBLIOGRAPHY and map]. But two aficionados de tranvía could not find anything in those places in 1993. They saw track alongside the highways between Cucá and Tixpehual and between Cuzamá and Homún, but it seemed out of use. The photograph below was taken at Dzununcán plantation 4 km east of Motul in January 2000 [Museo de los Ferrocarriles de Yucatán]:

The Dzununcán plantation and its tramway, unfortunately, were destroyed by Hurricane Isidore in September 2002. In 2004 hacienda lines are rumored still to be in operation at Ticopó, southeast of Mérida, at Suma, east of Motul, and perhaps around Izamal.

One place where it is still possible today to ride a tram in Yucatán is at the Hacienda Katanchel 10 km south of Tixkokob [see map]. The 17th century plantation was restored as a luxury resort in 2000 and Margarita the Mule escorts guests about the grounds over the original Decauville track. Room rates are USD $220-825 per night [New York Times]:

 

P L E A
The author would like to have more information about - and illustrations of - the tramways of Yucatán! If any reader can comply, or has any suggestions or comments about this website, please contact
Allen Morrison!

 


Go to
Part 1: Introduction, Urban Lines
Part 2: Intercity Lines
Part 3: Plantation Railways
Part 5: Bibliography

 

 

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