Anthropology and History

The Train Boneyard: Where Locomotives Go To Die

Image by: netwalker It’s like a trainspotter’s sick dream. In southwest Bolivia lies a place where it looks as if all the country’s ailing old locomotives have rolled into the w

posted on 02/04/2009
Karl Fabricius
Scribol Staff

3Photo:
Image by: netwalker

It’s like a trainspotter’s sick dream. In southwest Bolivia lies a place where it looks as if all the country’s ailing old locomotives have rolled into the wilderness to chug their last chugs – or been struck dead on the spot at the hand of the evil stationmaster in the Earth’s furnace. If the sight of decaying trains doesn’t give you the creeps, take a tour through this South American train cemetery. We dare you.

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Image by: Taylor Weidman

This gigantic train graveyard – chock-full of the hollow husks and skeletal remains of long forsaken steam engines – is situated on the deserted outskirts of the small trading post of Uyuni, high in the Andean plane some 3,670 m above sea level.

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Image by: Natmandu

Uyuni has a history as an important transport junction, connecting key cities in the region, but plans to turn the town into an even greater railway hub evidently died an early death. Construction on the network was started in the late 19th Century but abandoned before work was completed, leaving the train lines to fall into disrepair.

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Image by: Natmandu

Technical and geographical difficulties, disputes with neighbouring countries over lost territory, and more recent Western interests have all taken their toll on Bolivia’s rundown railways.

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Image by: Natmandu

The locomotives in Uyuni are thought to date from the early part of the 20th Century; mainly imports from Britain, which controlled the development of Bolivia’s railway system as it did so much of the country’s industry. Now, graffiti – some sharp, some banal – marks the rusted and disintegrating train carcasses. Time has worn on.

roundclose1Photo:
Image by: Natmandu

Dust devils and the unforgiving sun have done their work, eating away at the shells of these once proud mechanical beasts. But it’s the spectral salt winds from the nearby Salar de Uyuni, the world’s vastest salt flats, that have had the most keenly corrosive effect.

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Image: Natmandu

This wasteland – bereft of guards or fences – is the cemetery where Bolivia’s once proud locomotives have found their final resting place.

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Image by: R Lowseck

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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Karl Fabricius
Scribol Staff