Devil’s Nose Road – “The Most Difficult Railway in The World”
When Ecuador President General Eloy Alfaro took office in 1895, he announced that a new railway line would be built in the Andes — connecting the coastal city of Guayaquil with the capital, Quito, in the highlands. Fierce opposition arose as people at that time thought the Andes could not be conquered by rail.
Despite protests, General Alfaro hired a couple of US contractors to build the “most difficult railway in the world.”
A partnership between the government and a North American firm was forged leading to the foundation of the Guayaquil and Quito Railway Company, and construction of the historic line began in 1899.
Building a railroad in the highlands was not an easy task. Frequent seismic activity, heavy rainfall, wild animals, malaria, dysentery, and yellow fever delayed progress.
The most technically challenging part of project, however, was a sheer rock face known as the Devil’s Nose, or Nariz del Diablo, that stood between Alausi and Sibambe.
To ascend this 800 meter cliff, the engineers carved a series of steep switchbacks that allowed the train to climb at a gradient of 1-in-18 by alternately advancing and reversing up the tracks.
It was said that the Devil’s Nose was damned by the Satan because he didn’t want a railway to be built there. And acts that goes against the Devil’s wishes are paid for in human lives.
By the end of construction of the Nariz del Diablo portion of the track, more than 2,000 workers had died from disease, labor, or the climate. Among the casualties were workers brought from the English colonies in the Caribbean, mostly from Jamaica, hundreds of prisoners who were forced to work with promises of freedom, and Major John Harman, the chief engineer of the project himself.
Nevertheless, the completion and the first ascent of Nariz del Diablo in 1902 was one of the most incredible feat of railway engineering at that time.