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Sunday, November 27, 2022

Mérida’s railway museum goes full steam ahead

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
A US-built steam locomotive Model 270, commissioned in September 1903, but dating back to the last decade of the 19th century. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

As locals and visitors to Mérida already know, the city is chock-full of museums, art galleries, music venues, and all sorts of attractions. 

While some of these draw hundreds or thousands of visitors a day, others seem to slide under the radar, even for those in the neighborhood.

A sign welcomes visitors to Yucatán’s Railway Museum located near La Plancha Park. Photo: Carlos Rosado vand er Gracht

One of these under-visited attractions is the Museo de Ferrocarriles de Yucatán, Yucatán’s Railroad Museum. With all the talk surrounding the Mayan Train, we thought it was about time to bring you a tour of this tremendously underrated attraction.

serve as a bathroom. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

This outdoor museum located just across from La Plancha Park features a great number of train carriages and locomotives spanning Yucatán’s railway history. Most of the wagons and locomotives on display date to the late 19th century through the 1980s.

Walking through the rows of slowly rusting wagons and locomotives is great fun and really feels like an experience from a bygone era of Yucatán’s past. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Railroads were key to Yucatán’s development in the 19th century as they connected the Peninsula’s many henequen plantations with ports such as Sisal.

Many of Mérida’s most spectacular mansions, such as el Minarete, were build during Yucatán’s henequen guilded age. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

While most newcomers to Mérida have no memory of passenger trains running through the Peninsula, only a few decades ago rail was a common form of transportation from Mérida to destinations such as Progreso and Izamal.

The author’s father, Jorge Carlos Rosado Baeza (center), aboard a train to Progreso with his brothers in the 1960s. Photo: Courtesy

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the museum is that visitors are allowed to explore virtually all of the carriages and locomotives. 

Keep in mind that some of the ladders at the Railway Museum are not exactly sturdy, and require a modest degree of strength to climb. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

One of the first things you are likely to notice when visiting the museum is the wide array of colors used to paint the wagons, which create quite a contrast when set against Yucatán’s often clear blue skies.

One of the more modern locomotives on display is an Electric Model S-BC2204, which moved passengers and cargo from Sonora to Baja California until 1980. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht. 

On most days the museum does not receive that many visitors. According to administrator Pedro Garrido, it is not unusual for the museum to not attract any visitors at all during weekdays, so with good timing, you could have the entire place to yourself.

A brightly colored blue-and-red locomotive that saw action in Yucatán during the 1960s and ‘70s. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The rail museum is particularly ideal for children, as its wide-open spaces and ample opportunities for climbing the trains are sure to get them excited. 

The interior of early 20th-century carriage at Yucatán’s Rail Museum, complete with a bar for serving drinks. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The future of the museum was called into doubt earlier this year, as support from the rail union for the museum dried up. But union employees decided to take on the task of cleaning up the park themselves after a nearly 20-month closure caused by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The private rail car of José Rendón Peniche, one of Yucatán’s most rememered rail entrepeneurs of the early 20th century. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

“This is a very special place and it would be a shame to let it die after 20 years, that’s why we are continuing to fight to keep it open,” said Pedro Garrido. 

A passenger car is framed through the window of an old locomotive across the grounds of Yucatán’s Railroad Museum. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The rail museum is now also pivoting towards hosting more events as a way to collect funds. A good example is the upcoming Festival del Taco, to be held next weekend. 

The Yucatán Railroad Museum, on Calle 43 near 48, Centro, is open from Tuesday to Sunday between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. General admission for 30 pesos for adults and 15 for children. 

A caboose often served as accommodations for the train’s crew and was typically attached to the end of the train. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
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