Railroads evoke iconic images of days gone by and leave one pondering the romance of traveling in a different era.
Yet still today, travel by railroad allows us to enjoy the trip in a relaxed way while watching the countryside go by. Without the added pressure of driving, or navigating airports, travel by train is a fast, efficient, and comfortable way to travel to your vacation destination.
But some railroads add stress to your trip. From precarious heights to perilous bridges to purloining pickpockets and worse, some railroads are an adventure in and of themselves due to their dangerous past, and present.
Here’s our list of the world’s most dangerous railroads.
1. Nose Of The Devil, Ecuador
Driving up the side of a mountain isn’t unusual. But climbing more than 500 meters in less than 12 kilometers is a hike. With no side rails to keep the cars from falling off the nearly vertical inclines to the valley below, the Nose of the Devil train in Ecuador is a perilous trek. The track consists of switchbacks — where the train goes past a junction, then backs down the next section before heading forward again — the only way engineers were able to get the train up the mountainside known as The Condor’s Aerie that connects the towns of Alausi and Sibambe.
Building the train track was as treacherous as traveling it. About 3,000 Jamaicans and 1,000 Puerto Ricans came to the country to work on the project. About 2,000 of them died.
Still, the Devil’s Nose is one of the country’s most popular sections of track, visited by tourists who come to ride the train each year.
2. Minami Aso, Japan
While the train itself isn’t all that dangerous, the terrain it crosses can be deadly, for the Minami Aso Railway travels through the base of an active volcano.
The train also traverses the Tateno bridge, a wood and steel overpass high above the water below it. TripAdvisor calls the trek on the Minami Aso a pleasant 30-minute ride with a view to the lovely scenery Mount Aso has to offer.
But we’re still thinking about that fall from the bridge.
While part of the line is closed due to damage it received in the 2016 earthquake, the train still runs; as of 2018 costs about ¥1,400 (approximately $13 USD) to ride. Visitors recommend showing up about an hour to two hours before departure to get a good seat, as they are assigned when you buy your tickets.
3. White Pass And Yukon Route, Alaska
Aside from the frozen landscape, the White Pass and Yukon Route is dangerous thanks to its 3,000-foot climb up the mountains.
Once used as a route for miners to get to gold-rich Yukon, the train travels up that 3,000 feet in less than 20 miles. (In its day, the train cut down the travel time for miners to get to the Yukon from three weeks to three hours.)
But building the train wasn’t easy. Men hung from ropes on the craggy sides of mountains to drill holes in them so the crews could place dynamite in the to blast through the mountains. The trail, which once killed horses as they tried to navigate the pass, winded up the face of the mountain, at one time using switchbacks in order to navigate the steep terrain.
4. Pilatus Railway, Switzerland
The steepest cogwheel railway in the world, the Pilatus Railway in Switzerland has a gradient of 48 percent as you travel to the station at 7,000 feet above sea level. Near Lucerne, the train goes from Alpnachstad to the Pilatus Kulm, traveling through alpine meadows and mountains.
The 30-minute ride leads to an alpine peak noted for its amazing vistas. Once you’ve finished the ride, you can stay at the Hotel Pilatus Kulm and enjoy a welcome aperatif before a four course gourmet meal, and then spend the rest of your evening in the cozy accommodations surrounded by snow in the winter and beautiful views of the stars during the spring and summer.
5. Chennai Rameswaram Route, India
Spanning the channel that separates the island of Rameswaram from the rest of India, the Chennai Rameswaram Route in India runs across the Pamban Bridge which was built over the Indian Ocean. Opened for traffic in 1914, the bridge gets flooded by seawater occasionally, and high winds across the water mean the train can only travel 15 miles an hour as it travels from the mainland to the island and back again.
Rameswaram is considered to be one of the most holy places in India and is a tourist destination for that reason. But visitors say getting there by train, and crossing the ocean, is an harrowing experience. Still, they say, because of the rough waters and frequent storms in the area, it is still preferable to going by boat, if you can imagine that!
6. Maeklong Railway, Thailand
The Maeklong Railway doesn’t just get close to people, it runs right through the middle of a market.
The Maeklong Railway is known mostly for its market, the appropriately named Maeklong Railway Market, that sprang up on the railway line. One of the largest seafood markets in Thailand, it is nicknamed Talat Rom Hup — “the Umbrella pulldown market.” When the train approaches, the vendors along the rail lines pull up their awnings and move their shop fronts back from the rails and the train passes right through the middle of the market. Once the train has passed, the vendors lower their awnings and go back to their business.
The train is one of the slowest in Thailand, going only 30 kilometers per hour, and the train, maybe because it is so slow, has no signals along its line.
7. Mexican Railways
Mexican railways are not dangerous for their routes, but for the troubles that can befall the passengers who ride them.
Passengers on Mexican railways are more likely to be victims of robberies and assaults — or even murders. In 2017, the trains in Mexico saw a 475% increase in robberies, amounting to 720 that year or nearly two per day. Additionally, there were 38,000 assaults and murders between 2007 and 2017, or 9 every day. The number of onboard crimes rose 52% between 2011 and 2015.
8. Death Railway, Thailand
This railway in Thailand is known as the Death Railway for tragic reasons. Besides the fact that trains traveling on this treacherous, mountainous route are fully exposed, with no real protection from falling off the tracks into the valleys below, there is a much deeper and more disturbing history that legitimates the name.
During the Japanese takeover of several countries during World War II, the Japanese Military Administration was left with many prisoners of war. To aid in the Japanese war efforts, these men were shipped to work on various projects. One of the projects included the building of the Thailand-Burma Railway that would connect Yangon with Bangkok. The railway was later dubbed Death Railway because of the thousands of prisoners who died from disease, overworking, poor sanitation, and starvation while slaving over its development. By the time the railway was completed, approximately 100,000 prisoners of war and other Asian laborers died due to harsh labor conditions.
Far beyond this railway having hazardous tracks, the fact that thousands of men were worked to death to construct it makes it one of the most frightening routes in the world.