Transportation in Panama is crucial. If you want to get around, it’s best to find the best way for you to move around. Your transport options can be anything between a land vehicle, a boat, or a plane. One of the most efficient public transportations in the world is railways, but is there one in Panama?
The Panama Canal Railway is the only functioning railroad in Panama. This railway system is under the control of the Panama Canal Railway Company. This is the successor of the original Panama Railway that linked Central America to the US West Coast. The railway runs to and from Panama City to Colon and can cost $25.
If you’re curious if you can still get on this historic tour, give it a look below. We’re sure you’d like to experience it at least once in your life.
History of the Panama Railway
The history of the railway in Panama goes as far back as the early 19th century. By 1846, the United States acquired Alta California. Two years followed, and they also got the Territory of Oregon in 1848 from the Mexican-American War.
During this time, most of the United States West Coast are wildlands, in the middle of discovery. There are still pioneers and prospectors trying their luck in the badlands of California.
During this time, overland travel coast to coast in America was very dangerous. The typical merchant or traveler will experience not only bandit raids but ambush from natives too. The United States was looking for a faster, safer route for merchants and people moving to these new lands.
During this time, Simon Bolivar, the then-President of Gran Colombia that included Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, and Colombia, mulled over connecting the country via railway. While the idea listed as possible, nothing came out of it.
By 1846, the US signed the Bidlack Treaty with New Granada (now Colombia). This treaty assured them of the neutrality of the isthmus. In exchange, the United States asked for a right of way through the isthmus.
In 1847, the United States Congress started to run two lines of steamships. These lines took care of mail and passengers, putting one in the Atlantic and another in the Pacific. The east line started from New York City to Panam’s Chagres River. The west line goes from Panama City to Oregon and California.
For the distance that covers the east to west in Panama, the primary transport came via canoe. This route was through the Chagres, which was a danger to everyone. The overland trail was as treacherous because of the roads going into extreme disrepair. Couple the route with a week’s work of dangerous roads and disease-ridden paths, you have a mix of disaster.
William Aspinwall, who won the bid for the steamer lines, thought of a railway line from the isthmus to California. Aspinwall registered the Panama Railway Company, raised some funds, and started engineering of the line. By a stroke of luck, the discovery of California Gold started a year after in 1848, creating demand.
Construction and Closure of the Panama Railway
The construction of the Panama Railroad began in 1850. Its first day of operation on its first complete trip was on January 28, 1855. The first-class fare for one way was $25, which is around $740 in today’s money. This fare was among the most expensive tickets ever for a 47 mile (76 km) trip.
The Panama Railroad kept running since 1855, undergoing reconstruction in 1904 – 1912. Most of its use came through the building of the Panama Canal. Many other routes came as an addition to help with the earthmoving like sand and boulders.
The railroad itself underwent many different route changes. The final route went through the Gatun Lake and received some additional improvements. The railway declined after it the US handed it over to Panama in 1979, which prompted a reconstruction in 2001.
The entire railway came to reconstruction in 2001. Its primary job was to complement the canal and carry shipping containers in parallel. The container terminals are near Colon’s Manzanillo International Terminal and Balboa’s Pacific Intermodal Terminal. The passenger terminals are the Atlantic Passenger Station in Colon and the Corozal Railway Station, 4 miles (6km) from Panama City.
The Panama Canal Railway Today
As of this writing, Panama has no other railway route except Panama to Colon. This point to point service costs $25 and operates five days a week, Monday to Friday. Much of the job of the Panama Canal Railway is cargo transport rather than passenger transport.
At the moment, Panama is in negotiations with the China Tiesiju Civil Engineering Group. They’re trying to build a high-speed railway that goes from Panama City to David, Chiriqui. The entire travel has a distance of around 243 miles (391 km). The whole line distance will include the elevation and underground networks for the railway.
The proposed new railway system will cross Panama, Cocle, Herrera, Veraguas, and Chiriqui. The expected use of the train will be solid materials transport and for passenger use. The passenger cars will go around eight train cars, with a capacity of 750 people.
The freight train will run up to around 50 mph (80 km/h), using up to 21 stops. The passenger train will run as fast as 100 mph (160 km/h), which will take 2.5 hours from Panama to David. The entire process will take about six years minimum, costing the government some 4.1 billion dollars.
This construction will generate around 6000 jobs for local Panamanians. The railway’s upkeep after would need somewhere around 2900 people, from conductors to engineers. They’re also looking for a transnational connection, planning to connect to Costa Rica in the future.
What To Expect When Touring Via Panama’s Railway
If you’re a tourist or an expat, the railway connection from Panama City to Colon is crucial. It’s one of the most critical transport options for those visiting the country. Not only is the entire route cheap, but it also lets tourists see many locales you won’t see on tour.
The entire trip can be around an hour on a one-way route. The first route goes from Panama City to Colon at 7:15 am every weekday. The return trip from Colon to Panama City goes at 5:15 pm (17:15).
Ticket prices go for $25 for adults and $15 for children aged 2 – 12. To buy your tickets, you would need to visit the train station and pay for it in cash. If there’s more than 10 of you in the group, you can try to send an email or call for a reservation.
If you plan on riding, it’s best to go to the Corozal Passenger Station. You can find this near Albrook Mall and accessible via taxi. It’s crucial to get to the station around 6:30 am or earlier to get proper seats. One of the best locations on the train is the dome car with glass roofing.
During the trip, it’s best to sit around the left side of the train itself. It gives you the best view of the locale that you will pass-through. If you want, there are open-air observation areas where you can enjoy the view.
When touring, take advantage of the entire hour for sight-seeing purposes. There are a variety of sights on the way, from jungles to small towns. The rail cars are comfortable and only have enough tourists without making the trip a chore.
The entire trip will have some complimentary snacks and some coffee or tea. Expect the journey to last an hour at most. The first-class accommodations will not feel like an actual commute, but rather a scenic city to city tour.
When coming back from Colon, you can take the return trip of the train at 5:15 pm. If you don’t want to take the same train back to Panama City, you can also take the bus. Visit the Colon Bus Terminal, but it will take you around 1.5 hours to get there without traffic.
If you are going by bus or car, expect some traffic when moving around. If you want to get back to Panama without much trouble, it’s best to take the returning train. The trip will be a unique experience if you like learning about the history of Panama. The sight of the horizon will also look majestic.
Does Panama have a train? Yes, Panama has a single train route that goes from Panama City to Colon and vice versa. In the future, expect to see more ways around Panama via railway due to their future railway projects.
Panama has one of the oldest, most beautiful sight-seeing trains in the world. The country is rich in history and natural allure that the train ride can make you appreciate some more. If you’re looking for something to do around Panama, a train ride from the city to Colon should give you a wonderful time.
Are you planning to ride the Panama Canal Railway? Experience the beauty of Panama through the privacy of this beautiful route. Enjoy!
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