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Peruvian Central Railway

Date of Submission: 05/08/2019
Criteria: (ii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Culture
State, Province or Region:
Lima and Junín Regions, Huarochirí and Yauli Provinces
Coordinates: S12 02 39 W77 01 43; S11 31 22 W 75 54 33
Ref.: 6416
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The Peruvian Central Railway is an extraordinary railway construction that started in the second half of the 19th century (1869-1893) and concluded in the first decade of the 20th century. It was destined to connect the port of Callao and Lima, the capital of Peru, with towns, cities and mining centers located in the Central Mountain Range of the Andes, at altitudes higher than 4000 m.a.s.l. until reaching the rich Mantaro valley. It constitutes a testimony of the capitalist time in the formation process of the Peruvian National State, identified as the "Guano Era", of the "Apogee of the Republican Party" or of the "False Prosperity". Moreover, it was the wish expression of the first generations that lived the origin of the Republic and that saw in the railways an instrument to liberate the country from the geographic isolation and to integrate it to the world, incorporating it in the progress and modernity path.

The work, initiated during the government of President José Balta y Montero, was designed by the Polish engineer Ernesto Malinowsky (1818-1899) who had been living in Peru since 1852, with the collaboration of the members of the Central Board of Engineers of the State (Junta Central de Ingenieros del Estado) to which he belonged. The American builder Henry Meiggs carried out the first part of this work until 1877. Moreover, Peruvian technicians and workers, including others from different parts of the world (English, North Americans, Spanish, Chileans, Chinese coolies immigrants, etc.) participated in it.

The first projected section was supposed to connect the port of Callao (located on the coast line at 03 m.a.s.l.) with Lima, the capital of the country (there was already an existing line for passengers inaugurated in 1851 that connected these points). Then, this section would extend to La Oroya, an important mining center located at 3750 m.a.s.l., following the course of the Rímac River. The construction started on January 1st of 1870. The next year, on February 9th of 1871, the rails had been laid up to Cocachacra station (at 1450 m.a.s.l.) and in September of the same year, they were laid up to San Bartolomé (1600 m.a.s.l.). From this point onwards, the land starts to acquire the characteristics of a high mountain, with strong gradients that made it necessary to drill the rocks to lay the rails and build tunnels. In 1878, the railway was built to Chicla, a station located 142 km from the port of Callao and at an altitude of 3740 m.a.s.l. The War with Chile or War of the Pacific (1879-1883) paralyzed the work and produced the deterioration and destruction of part of the railway infrastructure. Once concluded the war, the Peruvian State signed the Grace Contract, by which it handed over the administration of the trains for 66 years to The Peruvian Corporation with the commitment to repair and continue the construction of the Central Railway. In 1890, the railway reached Ticlio, the highest point above sea level reached by a worldwide railway at the time inside the Galera Tunnel (4781 m.a.s.l.), arriving in 1893 to La Oroya. From this point the railway forks in two big branches, towards the north until reaching the mining city of Cerro de Pasco, which was reached in 1904, and another one towards the south, towards the cities and towns of the Mantaro valley, arriving in 1908 to the city of Huancayo.

It is about a coast-highland insertion railway with standard gauge or international width (UIC) of 1,434 m, with a total extension of 489, 6 km of longitude.  The Lima – La Oroya section (3750 m.a.s.l.), of 222 km of extension, is the most important in terms of the effort and technology used to overcome the technical challenges imposed by harsh Andean Mountains, especially if talking about the kilometer 54 where it starts to have the characteristic of a mountain railway, with strong slopes of 4.7% average and minimum curve radius. The route of this section has a series of extraordinary complementary works of railway engineering, such as the 61 iron viaducts, 66 tunnels and 6 zigzag zones whose longitude limits the composition of the trains to 1 locomotive and 16 wagons. Those complementary works have made it possible to save, in a relatively short section, heights ranging from sea level to 4781 m.a.s.l. of the Galera tunnel, of 1177 meters long (the second in length of the route) at the kilometer 172 of the railway track. The point “La Cima” is located in the northern branch Ticlio – Morococha, with an altitude of 4.835 m.a.s.l., but it is about an adjacent branch to the original one, that is currently unused This altitude was for many decades the highest railway point in the world that just a hundred years later, was surpassed by the Chinese railway Qinghai-Tibet "Road to Heaven" inaugurated in 2006, considered as "the Miracle of modern Chinese engineering". The difficulty of this construction also was reflected in the cost per kilometer of track: 124,324.3 Soles compared to other Peruvian railways averaging 71,801.67 Soles.

Furthermore, there is a set of material and immaterial elements along the way, in addition to the properly notable technical railway components (railway line, viaducts, tunnels, turntables, etc.), are part of it a set of stations that constitute diverse expressions of the characteristic railway architecture of the end of the 19th century and first years of the 20th century of rational, industrial, symbolic and artistic nature. Among the most important of them, it is the old central station, located in the Historical Center of Lima city, registered in the World Heritage List, inaugurated in 1912 with an eclectic style building and an Art Nouveau style decoration. Another associated expression of the architecture to the railway belongs to the Chosica station located at 800 m.a.s.l., that emerged as a countryside villa with a picturesque style to house Peruvian Corp. directors and members of the national elite to 1894. The other existing railways along the way are Monserrate, Chinchán, Casapalca, Ticlio, Rio Blanco, San Bartolomé, Matucana, Tamboraque, La Oroya.

The Peruvian Central Railway has invariably worked for almost 150 years and constitutes nowadays a permanent commitment to a sustainable transportation for the country. Since 1999, the Central Railway is managed by the private enterprise “Ferrocarril Central Trasandino” for having a contract with the Peruvian State, this enterprise transports minerals prevenient from the most important mining centers located in Lima and Pasco departments. The transport service of passengers stopped working in the year of 1995, but nine times a year, tourist trips are developed, allowing to appreciate the extraordinary and diverse landscapes of the harsh Andean geography which provides remarkable visuals that arise from the geography, railway technology and industrial art.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Peruvian Central Railway constitutes an exceptional expression and testimony of a crucial  in the human development: The Industrial Revolution, which from the middle of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th century, transformed the way in which men produced, communicated and lived, from the use of steam as a new source of energy, and the technological development of iron and steel applied to accelerate the communication between communities and exchanges.    

This is about a true technical achievement of the railway engineering that emerged during the Second Industrial Revolution (1850 - 1914), and constitutes a true technical achievement that allowed, between 1870 and 1890, to overcome the huge challenges that the harsh geography of the Central Andes imposed on its designers and builders. That manage to cross the mountain range through tunnels, iron viaducts and zigzags or sections of countermarch, reaching the highest above sea level in its time. It is the first among the "standard" line railways or normal gauge of 1,435 m that in 1890 reached an altitude of 4781 m.a.s.l. in the Galera tunnel, the highest altitude in the world in its time, whose marks kept for more than 100 years until the present century in which the use of new technology has allowed to surpass those heights.

It has a complex railway system that uses remarkable engineering works that allow to save the obstacles generated by the complex geography of the area; for example, the 61 iron viaducts, from which the Infiernillo bridge (1908) stands out. That is located in the kilometer 97 of the way, at 3300 m.a.s.l. with a short elevation, which joins in a very short stretch two tunnels, of 72,78 meters long, saving spectacularly the narrow canyon of the same name; or  the viaduct of Verrugas (Warts) or Carrión, of 218 meters long and 80 meters high, where it is remained the human costs generated during the work by the wart disease, a disease that affected frequently in the area, and that gave way to intense scientific research as well as the construction of 66 tunnels, 13 zigzags, turntables, etc. Part of the infrastructure of the old passenger service is represented by several passenger stations, built between the late 19th century and the early 20th century. Some of them are located in urban areas of great urban importance, such as Lima city, where the Central Station is located, known as the Desamparados Station, or the old Chosica village located at 850 m.a.s.l. that was planned at the end of the 19th century for housing railway directors and the national elite.

The Peruvian Central Railway is the exceptional result of the integration of continuous technical and human efforts, in which many people and human experiences from diverse precedence (Peruvians, Europeans, North Americans, Chinese coolies, Chileans, etc.) were involved both in its planning and in its execution. Some of them succumb to the onslaught of the wart, endemic disease in various sections of the route, and others had occupational accidents.

Criterion (ii): The Peruvian Central Railway is an exceptional example of the development of railway technology and engineering emerged in Europe during the Second Industrial Revolution, applied in Latin America to solve the communication and exchange of goods problems in a context of huge geographic difficulties.

The Peruvian Central Railway is the exceptional result of the integration of continuous technical and human efforts, in which many people and human experiences from diverse precedence (Peruvians, Europeans, North Americans, Chinese coolies, Chileans, etc.) were involved both in its planning and in its execution. Some of them succumb to the onslaught of the wart, endemic disease in various sections of the route, and others had occupational accidents.

Criterion (iv): The Peruvian Central Railway is an exceptional example of technical achievements reached by the railway engineering in the world during the 19th century, associated with the steam and iron development corresponding to the Second Industrial Revolution. 

This railway achieved, from a refined and precise design, to do an extraordinary planning of the work using all the advances and technical experiences of the time, as well as design and execute the construction of viaducts, tunnels and zigzags to reach, after an approximate route of 08 to 10 hours through a very complex geography, the highest above sea level reached by a railway at that time. Thus, it achieved to rise from sea level to 4781 m.a.s.l. in the Peruvian Andes in less than 180 km of travel. This technical achievement would not be reached again until a hundred years later, with the new railway technologies of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


This important railway track has been matter of multiple repairs and even reconstructions due to its location and continuous usage, a consequence of diverse circumstances: the simple usage deterioration; the Pacific War when the track suffered the sabotage from groups of the Peruvian resistance of Andrés A. Cáceres. Also, the presence of recurrent natural disasters in the area such as earthquakes, landslide and avalanches resulting from El Niño phenomenon that periodically strikes the Central Andes, as well as from some railway accidents. That is the case of the known Verrugas bridge in the kilometer 84, which due to rock avalanches was lost twice, so it had to be totally rebuilt with a new design by The Peruvian Corporation in 1934. Another example is the case of Chaupichaca bridge, rebuilt in 1909 after its partial destruction caused by a train derailment in 1908.

The stage of greater interventions in the Peruvian Central Railway corresponds to the decade of 1890, in which The Peruvian Corporation had to repair the deterioration suffered by the track during the war with Chile that occurred from 1878 to 1890, and to continue until concluding with a few kilometers the first great section projected Callao - Lima - La Oroya. For this reason, a part of the infrastructure of iron viaducts and stations correspond to this time or to the early years of the 20th century.

Although this modifications, the Peruvian Central Railway keeps its exceptional attributes intact, because it totally keeps its design and original layout, as well as the major part of the infrastructure developed during its major construction stages (1870-1878 y 1989-1908). Therefore, the Central Railway we see today is the same one designed by the Engineer Ernesto Malinowski almost two centuries ago, except for small improvements in some tracks or curves and changes in some viaducts.


The railway line with civil engineering works has been in permanent operation from its initial development to the present day, except for some years of intermittent stoppages as a result of the Pacific War from 1878 to 1890. The continuity in the operation of the line testifies to the preservation of its integrity in spite of partial interventions due to maintenance operations, spare parts, changes and replacements of components because of natural abrasion caused by continuous usage and by the weathering of its components, as well as occasional accidents and landslides. The most important stages of interventions were around 1890 after the war with Chile and in the early years of the 20th century, when small sections of the track and viaducts had to be replaced by natural factors.

According to its old and characteristic passenger stations built in the last years of the 19th century and the first years of the 20th century, as well as its complementary installations such as water tanks, warehouses, turntables, etc., an important part of them is conserved without relevant modifications, being the majority of them currently useless and in a regular state of conservation due to the fact that passenger transport is not operative.  

The landscape environment has had a diverse behavior along the 183 km of the track, since it presents important modifications in the periurban area of the time, due to the urbanization process suffered by the city of Lima in the second half of the 20th century to the present. As the railway ascends the Andes, the associated rural and urban landscape appears conserving its original values.

Although the route of the Peruvian Central Railway lacks of recognition as Cultural Heritage of Peru to  date, many of the passengers stations are declared like Monument by means of Supreme Resolution No. 2900 dated on December 28th of 1972 (Station Desamparados), Administrative Resolution No. 515 dated on August 11th of 1989 (Monserrate Station) and Administrative Resolution No. 704 dated on September  15th of 1992 (Chosica, Chinchán, Casapalca, Ticlio, Rio Blanco, San Bartolomé, Matucana, Tamboraque Stations); they are also legally protected by the State through Law No. 28296 General Law of the National Cultural Heritage, its Regulations (Supreme Decree No. 011-2006-ED) and by the Political Constitution of Peru, in addition to other complementary norms. The protection and supervision of these components of the Central Railway is in charge of the Ministry of Culture, which shares responsibilities with local governments (municipalities) and the Regional Government of Lima, in accordance with Law No. 28296, Law No. 27972 Organic Law of Municipalities and Law No. 27867 Organic Law of Regional Governments.

Comparison with other similar properties

There are several Latin American States Parties in the Tentative List, a series of goods of railway origin with which it is possible to compare the Peruvian Central Railway. An important part of these corresponds to individual components of railways, as in the case of the Malleco Viaduct in Chile built in 1889-1890, which has a length of 347.5 m and 102 m of elevation which was considered the highest in the world in its time, also in Chile is located the Locomotive Depot of the Temuco Railway Station, which has conserved its original configuration of 1893. The Cultural Landscape of Paranapiacaba in Brazil, includes a funicular with rack and pinion system and the Paranapiacaba Villa, urban core of the second half of the 19th century of great English influence located in the mountainous chain of Serra do Mar in São Paulo, which is part of the Natural Park Nascentes de Paranapiacaba. There is also the Railway Complex and Villa Inglesa of Sapucai in Paraguay, built between 1887 and 1894, which includes the passenger station, a workshop, office buildings and warehouses, as well as a factory where the trains were repaired and assembled. To accommodate the community of British railway engineers, the Villa Inglesa was built, being a set of houses near the railway complex.  

The difference between these cases and the Peruvian Central Railway resides in this last one corresponds to the set of the original railway system developed between 1869 and 1893, being only comparable in Latin America with the Trans-Andean railway of Ecuador, which has a narrow-gauge (106,7 cm) and is registered in the Tentative List of the aforementioned State Party as “Cultural Itinerary of Ecuador’s Trans-Andean Train”. Its construction started in 1873, but it was effective since 1897, almost thirty years after being started and concluded the Peruvian Central Railway in its original Lima – La Oroya section. The Trans-Andean railway is approximately 450 km long, reaching a maximum height of 3600 m.a.s.l. against the 4781 m.a.s.l. of the Central Railway. Moreover, in the 172 km of approximate extension of the Lima – La Galera section of the Peruvian Central Railway, there are 58 viaducts, 66 tunnels and 6 zigzags, while in the 78 km of the Alausí – Naríz del Diablo – Bucay section of the Trans-Andean Railway of Ecuador proposed in the Tentative List, there are 16 viaducts and 4 tunnels built in the 20th century as well as the remarkable zigzag of the Naríz del Diablo, which ascends 150 m in barely 1,47 km on an 800-meter-mountain of solid rock, this gives an idea of the technical challenges present in both cases. 

Other comparable railways in the field of properties inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List is the Semmering Railway (Austria), the first standard gauge railway in Europe developed between 1848 and 1854, being 41 km long, reaching the height of 895 m.a.s.l. at the Semmering pass crossing 16 viaducts and 14 tunnels surrounded by an extraordinary mountain landscape. It is important to mention that just 15 years later, in 1871, the Central Railway reached the 1400 m.a.s.l. in Cocachacra (kilometer 54 of the track) and shortly after, in 1878, it ascended to the 3793 m.a.s.l. in Chicla.

Another similar example is the Rhaetian Railway (Italy – Switzerland), built between 1899 and 1913, with a longitude of 128 km (divided in two sections: Albula section and Bernina Section), and a set of engineering works conformed by 55 tunnels and covered galleries and 196 masonry bridges and viaducts of great technical and architectural quality, associated with a landscape of spectacular beauty. The highest altitude of this railway is 2253 m.a.s.l. The Central Railway differs from this system by its higher altitudes along the track, as well as in the metal factory of the viaducts and the geography characterized by its great austerity and roughness.