Guayaquil-Quito Railway

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Guayaquil-Quito Railway

Guayaquil-Quito Railway. During the late nineteenth century Ecuador sought to emulate the success of other nations that had used railroads to create commercial opportunities and to spread modernity. However, railroads are a technology poorly suited to Ecuador's rugged Andean topography. Under the initiative of President Gabriel García Moreno (1861–1865, 1869–1875), in the 1860s Ecuador began construction of a rail line from the port of Guayaquil to the mountain capital in Quito. Work went forward haltingly. The line, completed in 1908, proved an astonishing engineering feat, rising some 10,000 feet in but 50 miles, crossing the Chan Chan River some twenty-six times. The 281-mile line reduced travel time between the coast and the capital from two weeks to about twelve hours. Unfortunately, the railway proved as expensive to operate as it had been to build, and the enterprise almost never showed a profit. The high hopes for it proved unrealistic: The sierra remained economically isolated. Worse, servicing the foreign debt incurred in building the railroad became a bitterly contentious issue.

Ecuadorian railway workers, as was frequently the case elsewhere in Latin America, spearheaded the nation's small labor movement. In October 1922 the railwaymen of Durán (near Guayaquil) won a stunning victory over the U.S. company that operated the line. Support for the workers' position by President José Luis Tamayo (1920–1924) proved decisive. Guayaquil workers soon followed the railwaymen's lead, launching a general strike in November 1922. This popular movement, however, was not successful, ending in a government massacre of the strikers.

See alsoAlfaro Delgado, José Eloy .


Dawn Ann Wiles, "Land Transportation Within Ecuador, 1822–1954" (Ph.D. diss., Louisiana State University, 1971), provides extended treatment of this topic. On financing, see the enormously valuable study by Linda Alexander Rodríguez, The Search for Public Policy: Regional Politics and Government Finances in Ecuador, 1830–1940 (1985). On the labor movement, see Richard Lee Milk, "Growth and Development of Ecuador's Worker Organizations, 1895–1944" (Ph.D. diss., Indiana University, 1977). On events in 1922, see Ronn F. Pineo, "Reinterpreting Labor Militancy: The Collapse of the Cacao Economy and the General Strike of 1922 in Guayaquil, Ecuador," in Hispanic American Historical Review 68, no. 4 (1988): 707-736.

Additional Bibliography

Brainard, Elizabeth Harman, and Katharine Robinson Brainard. Railroad in the Sky: The Guayaquil and Quito Railway in Ecuador, 1897–1925. Marion, MA: Atlantis LTD. Partnership, 2003.

Clark, A. Kim. The Redemptive Work: Railway and Nation in Ecuador, 1895–1930. Wilmington, DE: SR Books, 1998.

Maldonado Obregón, Alfredo. Memorias del Ferrocarril del Sur y los hombres que lo realizaron, 1866–1958. Quito, Ecuador: Talleres Gráficas de la Empresa de Ferrocarriles del Estado, 1977.

                                        Ronn F. Pineo

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