1861 railroad in Paraguay rolls again

SAPUCAI, Paraguay — In this rural town, people rushed from homes along a once-dilapidated railroad and began waving in disbelief when an English-built locomotive clacked by, spewing smoke and steam again.

Motorists screeched to a halt, and some honked their horns to greet the revival of the Carlos Antonio Lopez Railway.

Residents of Sapucai celebrated like a national holiday with traditional music and dance over the return of the steam trains once run by two former British-owned companies, Central Railway Co. Ltd. and Perry Cutbill De Lungo.

The railway carried cargo and passengers from its official opening on Oct. 21, 1861, until it finally shut down 140 years later.

Now it’s back as a tourist attraction in Sapucai, which is about 56 miles from Paraguay’s capital, Asuncion. The town has been home to old locomotives kept as museum pieces.

Railway President Marcelo Wagner says foreign investors are interested in revitalizing the railroad commercially with electric powered trains. Until that happens, the steam railway will continue to transport tourists along short distances.

“We’re helping the steam train move again, and for me it’s like helping 150 years of history move along,” machinist Lidio Martinez, 58, said aboard a heavy, black locomotive traveling along at six miles an hour.

When the railroad shut down, “my world plummeted, because the train was my life,” said Martinez, who has worked for 34 years in the railroad workshop in Sapucai.

He was rehired four years ago when the idea arose to resurrect the steam trains.

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