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Model railroading convention excites young fans

Two small trains run in opposite direction on rails laid side to side. When they cross paths, a small crowd of children cheer.

It’s Sunday morning at the model railroading convention in Guadalajara. Behind their excited and fascinated kids, parents look on with a tinge of nostalgia for bygone times. For their children, however, these machines belong to the reign of fantasy – they have probably never boarded a train and maybe never will.

Between the last decades of the 19th century and the middle of the 20th, Mexico created an important railway system. From the very first line finished in 1872, which ran from Mexico City to Veracruz, to the impressive work of engineering of the Chihuahua-Pacifico line, running along the Cooper Canyon and in service since 1961, the construction of every kilometer of railroad cost the country a high price in money and human life.

In 1997, after years of government neglect had rendered passenger service as poor at best, it was suspended for good, except for the Copper Canyon line, where tourism and private European investment keep the service running.  (Several other tourist lines have since been established, including the Tequila Express and Maya Express.)

Mexico’s government and business sector wanted more highway construction and taking the poorly run federal railroads out of the transportation business made toll road investment more attractive. The national railroad network was divided into four sectors and sold to private companies. They are now used solely for cargo – mainly by the Cemex cement company, which purchased the main rail lines to move their product.

The lack of a national passenger railway network is one reason why Mexicans may hold a certain fascination for all things related to trains — evident during the three days of the National Ferroconvencion held last weekend at Expo Guadalajara.

An average of 1,600 people visited the show each day, admiring four large models filled with landscape detail – one for each of the main scales of train models available for collectors and fans. A variety of trains from different eras and styles, mainly customized to represent actual or defunct train companies, were in perpetual motion during the convention.

The Guadalajara convention was already acclaimed as the best one of the 17 held in Mexico, according to Javier Martinez, one of the four members of the Maquina 501 Tapatio Model Railroading club in charge of the organization.

Only six clubs from Mexico, and some devoted independent aficionados, attended the convention, making a total of 150 ferromodelistas, as they call themselves.

Model railroading is not a popular hobby in Mexico, understandably due to its high cost. A basic starter-kit made of plastic offered by one of the exhibitors at the convention was priced at more than 3,000 pesos, and a single metal wagon of much better quality can cost as much as 2,000 pesos.

Martinez says the main reason is because all materials, parts and base models are imported.

The magic of the activity is to customize every element of the Mexican trains’ features — elaborate work with impressive results. The smaller scale models, called N, permit more rich and detailed landscape modeling, displaying animals, signs, nature elements and bucolic scenes. While the G scale, with bigger trains, show more of the wagons, with illuminated interiors and realistic and detailed passenger models. The most popular, the HO, now considered the Mexican standard, has the perfect balance of size to create amazing scenarios.

Different activities prepared for the attendees included conferences and workshops, but the big moment was the awarding of prizes. Customized locomotive and wagon models in different scales and constructions, such as buildings and bridges, were voted as favorites by the public. Enrique Reyes Vela was the winner of the main contest for Mexican train photos.

Next year’s convention will take place on the first weekend of August 2014 in Acambaro, Guanajuato.

People interested in joining the club in Guadalajara can contact Javier Martinez and the Maquina 501 Club at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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