The Tequila Herradura Express, one of Mexico's tourist trains. The Tequila Herradura Express, one of Mexico's tourist trains.

A rosy future seen in railway tourism

Passenger numbers have doubled on the four existing tourist trains

The heyday of Mexico’s railway system may have passed but tourist trains are expected to play an important role in the future of the tourism sector, with new services being considered as passenger numbers continue to grow.

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Last year, 76,000 people traveled on four tourist train systems, equivalent to fewer than 5% of the 1.6 million passengers who traveled on a single tourist service to Machu Picchu in Peru.

However, travel experts and representatives of companies that operate in the sector believe that the potential for growth is enormous and statistics show passenger numbers have already doubled in the past five years.

“These railways are consolidating and have the potential to be tourist gems,” said Excel Tours president Agustín González.

The marketing director of Ferromex, a company that operates thousands of kilometers of tracks and two successful tourist trains, also believes that the future looks bright.      

“The railway, as well as tourism, is a pillar of national economic development. The combination of both in tourist trains is a successful formula that sets off economic growth and positions a region as a must-see place,” said Alberto Vergara.

Railway tourism was worth 101 million pesos (US $5.7 million) to the company in the first half of 2017 and is expected to continue to grow.

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There are currently five tourist services in operation in Mexico, representing a total public and private investment of around US $480 million.

The Chepe connects Chihuahua to Los Mochis, Sinaloa, and is popular with tourists because it runs via the Copper Canyon while the Tequila Express is another popular route between Guadalajara, Jalisco, and the birthplace of the national tipple.

The Tren a Tecate runs across the north of Baja California from Tijuana to Tecate while there is also a short tourist service from Puebla to nearby Cholula.

The newest addition, launched in March, is another service that takes advantage of tourism in tequila country. The Tequila Herradura Express links Guadalajara to the town of Amatitán where the Herradura distillery is located.

More trains that provide unique experiences and promote Mexico’s Pueblos Mágicos and cultural attractions are also being explored.     

A tourism service to link Mexico City to the Teotihuacán archaeological site is currently in development while federal Tourism Secretary Enrique de la Madrid indicated to the newspaper El Financiero that a tourist train between San Luis Potosí and Real de Catorce could also be a possibility.

Other potential services include a pulque route train in Hidalgo linking Pachuca to producers of the pre-Hispanic beverage and a train that crosses the northern part of the Yucatán Peninsula from Mérida to Cancún.

An analysis by El Financiero found that Mexico’s tourist trains are very competitive compared to similar services in other countries, often costing less than half the price on a per-kilometer basis.

Mexico formerly had an extensive passenger rail network but state railway company Ferrocarriles Nacionales suspended service in 1997.

In 1970, over 37 million passengers traveled by train but by 1997 that number had dwindled to just under 6 million, according to statistics from the Transportation Secretariat (SCT).

Source: El Financiero (sp)

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  • Michael C

    Great news, I love train travel…..even the short runs! However, a friend recently told me that the El Chepe operation has been taken over by a Japanese firm, and that the quality of service has plummeted! Anyone have information on this?

    • Christopher Cox

      I don’t know where the idea that El Chepe has been taken over by a Japanese company came from or that service quality has plummeted. Sounds like a spurious rumor or an alt fact.
      I took El Chepe from Los Mochis to Chihuahua on a 7 day trip in September 2016 along with many other people. The service was fine and the seats were very comfortable too. There was a restaurant car that served breakfast and lunch that was nice too. An outstanding trip with great scenery and highly recommended.

      • Michael C

        Thanks for the update and good news, Christopher! I am eager to return and enjoy El Chelsea!

  • Kirk Wilson

    Probably safer than the Luxury Busses, since highway bandits can’t flag down and stop a train… or can they?

    • Crewlaw

      Do you consider “the Luxury Busses” unsafe due to instances of them being flagged down, stopped, and robbed by highway bandits? I’ve been down here a long time and I didn’t know that was a thing.

  • jdwfinger

    another story the same day on this site had this noted. Another crime saw a massive increase during the second quarter of the year. Train robbery soared from 125 cases from April to June of 2016 to 331 this year.

    The agency responsible for train transportation said 217 cases were robberies of goods from trains — principally corn, cement, containers with various merchandise, metal products, vehicles and others — while the others were thefts of track or signal components.

    How soon to robbing passengers and tourists?

  • Robin Roy

    I think this would be fantastic I hope it happens.

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