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The Panama Canal Railway – Yet Another Panama Surprise

Panama Canal Railway CompanyIf you like traveling by train, the Panama Canal Railway is a unique day trip offered nowhere else in the world. The line was built by the U.S. in order to transport miners to the California gold mines and was completed in 1855 – making it the world’s first transcontinental railway. Passengers are transported 47.6 miles (76.6 km) across Panama from the Balboa area on the Pacific to Colon on the Atlantic.

The Wall Street Journal describes the rail experience this way. “A single daily trip in each direction on five restored wood-paneled coaches and a remodeled 1930s Dome Car purchased from America’s Southern Pacific line. The 7:15 a.m. departure is timed to accommodate workers commuting between Panama City and Colón, home to Panama’s lucrative [Colon] free-trade zone. The return train departs promptly 10 hours later.

Panama Canal Railway Dome Coach

The ride itself, though just over an hour, is almost cinematic in its breadth and beauty, and forms an adventure-like alternative to conventional boat tours of the canal. Pulling out of Corozal station, the train quickly leaves the [Panama City] capital behind and enters the Canal Zone, where it hugs the canal en route to Colon. Crested by rain-forest-covered hills, the landscape pairs verdant jungle with the massive apparatuses that power the canal’s intricate operations. At the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks, the train chugs past leviathan-like vessels being raised from or lowered toward the Pacific as still-sleepy passengers revive with freshly brewed coffee.

Further on, the train glides through the Culebra Cut, a major waterway linking the Pacific Ocean to Gatun Lake, the 430-square-kilometer artificial lake that dominates the Canal Zone. Crossed via a slender causeway, the lake is a surprisingly pristine ecological wonder despite its man-made origins. Dotted with forest-rich islands, it is a favorite spot for tropical-bird-watchers and anglers. Before reaching Cristóbal port in Colón, the train passes the three-chamber Gatun Locks.”

The railway was turned over to the government of Panama in 1977 as a result of the terms of the Carter-Torrijos Reversion Treaty. It was then ignored so service stopped and the rails grew covered with weeds and rusted. In a 1998 privatization initiative, the government of Panama  turned over control of the tracks to the Panama Canal Railway Company, a joint venture between the Kansas City Southern Railroad and Lanigan Holdings, LLC. In 2001, the railroad received a rebirth and was reopened after a major railway upgrade. The famous railroad has been running successfully ever since.

Panama Canal Railway Station

If you want to follow history, the Panama Canal Railway Company offers daily service (Mon–Fri). Business commuters can purchase a monthly pass that provides them with an assigned, reserved seat in one of the line’s executive-service cars. Walk-up passengers do not need to make reservations in advance. Tickets are sold at the passenger stations before departure or at the railroad’s offices. For groups larger than 10, it is recommended that you contact the marketing department ahead of time. Rates are $25 one way for adults, $15 for children ages 2 -12 and $17.50 for seniors and retirees.

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