Train driver Simon Davies, who usually drives the high speed Pendolino between London and Manchester, faces one of the highest railway lines on earth in Peru.
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Three British workers -
a train driver,
a bin man,
and a fisherman.
They've all accepted the challenge
to do their job in some of the toughest conditions on the planet.
How safe is it to go through the breakers in the boat?
If I said it was tough before,
you could probably times that by 100.
I'm so upset at what goes on here.
I'd like to go and knock them out, to tell the truth.
Simon Davies is leaving his home
and his job as a train driver
to work in Peru
on one of the highest and most dangerous railways on Earth.
He'll have just ten days to learn the ropes,
living and working with the world's toughest train drivers.
What's in it?
I don't suppose they do jam and toast here either, do they?
In the high Andes, he encounters a mining community devastated by pollution...
..before taking his life in his hands driving a 2,000 tonne train
down the steepest railway in the world.
I'm just sort of figuring out which brakes are which.
It's not a case of just passing a test and jumping in a train
and driving off.
Simon Davies drives the Manchester to London Pendolino,
one of Britain's fastest trains.
I've got 450 people, passengers, sat behind me, you know,
and it's my job to get them from A to B safely.
Pendolino is a, you know, very advanced train.
It's a driver's job to carry out a pre-journey preparation,
much like a pilot checks a plane before it takes off.
Driving the Pendolino puts Simon amongst the elite
of British train drivers.
He has to constantly monitor the train's complex computer systems,
and the trackside signals, while travelling at up to 125mph.
If you weren't on the ball for, say, only a few seconds,
something could happen.
You could miss a signal, you know, anything like that,
so you have got to be concentrating 100% all the time.
If there's the slightest hint that safety's going to be compromised,
you know, well, the risk isn't taken.
Simon lives in Derbyshire, just outside Manchester,
with his wife, Joanna, three children and nine chickens.
Well, we've had chickens now for quite a few years.
We hatched a few chicks out, you know, a couple of week ago.
I just think it's nice for the kids to see stuff like that.
In a few days' time, he'll leave all this behind
to travel 6,000 miles to South America.
SPANISH TUITION CD PLAYS
Apply the brake.
That's important, that one.
In preparation, the Peruvian train company has sent over
some key Spanish phrases that Simon needs to learn.
The only one I've been learning at the moment
that I can remember is "para", and that's "stop".
That's the one that I think I'll need, stop.
I think he'll be a bit apprehensive, try not to show it,
and he'll probably just put out of his mind the fact
that he's so far from home and has never been that far from home,
and that we're all here on our own.
What do I know about Peru?
Er...I know the Andes mountains are there.
I know it's South America...
..and there's quite a lot of llamas there and they spit at you.
That's about it!
Peru, a country defined by the longest mountain range in the world.
They hold some of the richest reserves of copper, zinc,
lead and silver on Earth.
Getting these valuable resources from the mountains to the port
depends on an extraordinary train
and extraordinary drivers.
This is the Ferrocarril Central Andino,
"The Railway Of The Central Andes".
At heights of up to three miles above sea level,
these train drivers work on the steepest tracks in the world.
There are few signals, or even safety barriers.
Descending with massive loads,
drivers struggle with overheating brakes
and the constant risk of derailment.
Look like the Lego houses the kids have at home.
Bit nervous, I think, just because of the language barrier.
Yeah, I think it's going to be a bit awkward to start with.
I'll have to use my hands quite a lot, I think.
Yeah - happy,
no - sad.
Simon will be working with Daniel Garcia, a senior train driver.
Nice to meet you.
How long have you lived here?
Ah, right. Can I not roll around in the dirt a bit,
just to make it look like it's used?
Daniel has a short journey to work.
It's time for Simon to see the train he'll be expected to drive.
TRAIN HORN BLARES
Did sound quite big, but when you look at the track and everything,
I didn't think it'd be this big.
But, yeah, I'm a bit nervous now actually, yeah,
because it sounds meaty as well - sounds like there's loads of power.
Yeah, we'll give it a go.
Initiation Stage One.
It's got a bigger horn than my train!
To be honest, like, the view's a bit more restricted,
because the windows are tiny.
And it's a lot slower.
It's a long way from Simon's Pendolino.
You can tell it's quite rickety -
some of the sleepers look like twigs, some of them.
You go past some parts,
there's nothing underneath the track holding it up,
it's just the rail going across!
And we're just going over one of them bits of track,
that looks like it's going to bend as you go over it.
The line begins at the port of Callao in the capital, Lima,
before heading up into the Andes and on to the mining districts,
ending at the city of Cerro de Pasco, 1,400 feet above sea level.
The metals and minerals carried by this train
have brought new wealth to Peru,
and make up 60% of the country's exports.
But this is a divided society with millions living in poverty.
Passing through one of Lima's largest slums,
the train's regularly attacked
by people venting frustration at growing inequality.
Daniel just said that this is where they throw stones and catapults -
throwing stuff at the train.
He actually said we need to keep a look out.
I think he was trying to say keep my face back from the window as well.
There's someone having a shit up on the side of the hillside here!
The train company's headquarters is based on the outskirts of Lima,
at Chosica station.
First stop, the control room.
How do they control the trains then?
Primitive, ain't it?
A control centre, I imagine to be controlling signals and everything,
but it's just basically like a couple of guys sat at a couple of desks,
with a radio controlling all the trains.
It looks more like a store room than a control centre.
Daniel's about to put Simon through his paces.
He's beginning his training as a brequero - a brake man.
The brequero does the tough physical work of the running of the train -
connecting the brakes and changing the points.
I do everything.
I'm waiting for him to give me a carrier bag -
a bin bag - and send me collecting rubbish or something next.
Brequeros usually work for three years
before they can learn to drive the train.
Simon's got just days.
Compared to my job at home, yeah, it's a lot more physical,
and it makes it doubly worse because of the altitude.
It just saps all your energy straight away.
Yeah, I thought that meant push.
I'm the only one pushing!
I'm out of breath.
Yeah, all my chest feels dead tight - it must be the air,
and the fact that I just pushed that turntable round on my own!
Yeah, I'm sure I did.
I'm just going straight to bed, I think.
Won't even have a shower, I don't think,
I'll just get up tomorrow dressed like this! Yeah.
Daniel's extended family all live close to the tracks.
So this your daughter?
Oh, Leonardo, hello!
Is this your son? Hello, nice to meet you.
Daniel, I've got some pictures of me in my train, sat in the cab.
That's the cab of my train.
That type of train
actually tilts as it goes round the corners to let it go faster.
Yeah, yeah, it does, yeah.
No. Only tilts, doesn't fly.
Yeah, yeah, that's my uniform.
Ha, ha! Elegant!
That's the first time I've heard that.
You could have said dashing!
'I wouldn't normally admit this
'but a lot of people that know me would just probably think
'I'm quite confident and be able to do anything,
'but at the moment I wouldn't dream of driving the train on my own.'
I'm off to bed because I think we've got to be up again
at about six in the morning.
I'm not sure about the plan tomorrow,
but I think we're going down to the local station
to pick up a train or something.
Next morning over breakfast,
Simon is beginning to wonder if he has the stomach for the job.
What's in it?
It's a Latin American speciality called mondongo -
I was told to eat this because it's going to make me run faster.
I don't see how - if I eat all that and it's sat in my stomach,
it'll all be coming back up when I start running!
Today, Simon and his crew are heading up the mountain.
Is it? Right.
I don't suppose they do jam and toast here either, do they?
The line from Matucana to the summit
includes the steepest stretch of railway track in the world.
This is Simon's first glimpse
of one of the most spectacular train journeys on Earth.
Basically, the track is just right on the edge of the cliff,
about four foot the other side of the track is just nothing.
What would happen if you let the speed increase too much
going round one of these bends?
Ameliano, the brequero,
understands the risk of runaway trains only too well.
What caused that, Ameliano?
The biggest problem's the view down there - the drop. Aah!
This section of the line tests the drivers to their limits.
Simon will be going solo here in just a few days' time.
The way he described it was like when you treat a woman,
I think that's what he was saying. Be soft and gentle,
try and make a woman fall in love with you,
instead of rough and banging it about everywhere.
To enable the train to get up the steep gradients,
the crew negotiate a system of switchbacks, or zigzags.
These allow the train to criss-cross its way up and down the mountain.
The train is so long, the driver can't see the back.
As the brequero, it's Simon's job to tell the driver when to stop.
Then they change the points and switch tracks,
and the train reverses onto the next zigzag.
And then, when we get a bit further up,
we're going to zigzag again to go back again up the mountain.
When reversing, it's vital Simon gives precise instructions,
as all of the zigzags end up in dead ends.
The Central Andean Railway is an amazing feat of civil engineering.
-Cameramen are used to soaring to great heights,
but they usually go by the more modern means, aeroplane.
This time, it's a climb by train
up the Peruvian Andes by the highest railway in the world.
The first track was laid in 1870.
Many at the time believed such a line was simply impossible.
The engineers had to endure freezing temperatures,
and dangerous altitude sickness.
At nearly three miles up,
our cameraman shot, with his camera of course,
a llama herd browsing by a lake perched on the top of the mountain.
Daniel's just given me the altimeter,
and, at the moment,
it's 4,650 metres, so...
..you can tell that, you know, just breathing -
you have to really breathe quite heavy.
You can tell with the altitude.
The line climbs to the same height as Montblanc,
Western Europe's highest peak. At this altitude, the air is so thin
it affects both humans and machines.
It keeps coming up with a warning about the high altitude.
It's not just me that's overheating, it's the engine as well.
Just tried starting it again, but it won't start.
The massive diesel engine has stalled in the thin air.
Daniel, what happens now?
In technical terms, I would describe this predicament as...
The crew have to stay with the train.
It could be hours until help arrives to get them back down.
The next section of the railway, and the next stage of Simon's training
is on the other side of the highest railway tunnel in the world.
From Galera station, the line continues along a plateau
to the mining cities of La Oroya and Cerro de Pasco.
Eloy Galvan is going to teach Simon
to drive the train up here on the plateau.
Let's go. Vamoose!
Simon will meet up with Daniel again on the way back down,
once he's practised driving with Eloy.
This is the Altiplano -
a vast wilderness that spans four countries.
There have been mines up here since the time of the Incas.
La Oroya is known as the metal capital of Peru. At its heart
is a huge industrial lead smelter,
which turns the ore from the mines into the valuable metal.
Eloy was saying that the mining industry's the heart of everything,
the economy, because everything's connected to it.
The railways, the people that make the covers for the railways,
you know, for the wagons, everything.
Everything's connected to mining.
La Oroya is a troubled city.
It's been classified as one of the most polluted places on Earth.
Over decades, the smelter has contaminated the environment
and poisoned the population.
The last few days on the train,
all I've seen is the minerals in the wagons.
I've not seen where it comes from,
the effect that it has on the people that live here.
The state of the houses and the landscape,
and even the colour of the roofs, you can see, you know,
like a silver grim deposit on top of the roofs.
I presume that's the pollution, but...
Yeah, it has opened my eyes big time.
A recent study found that 99% of children in the city
had abnormally high levels of lead in their blood.
The smelting process has released cadmium,
manganese and arsenic into the surrounding area.
Simon is meeting Pablo Fabien, a school caretaker
who has brought up his family in La Oroya.
Several years ago, the Peruvian government recognised the problem.
They insisted that the new American owners of the smelter
clean up the operation.
The company, Doe Run, has spent millions on decontamination,
but they claim the government should play a bigger part in the clean-up.
In the meantime, the smelter is closed and thousands face
losing their livelihoods if it doesn't reopen.
With so many jobs in the balance,
Pablo's vocal campaign against the pollution has made him many enemies.
It takes someone really brave, like yourself and your family,
to put up with all the abuse, you know, the attacks,
and also to sort of challenge a big company.
It's like a catch 22, you know, because the miners need their jobs,
people need the jobs.
At the same time, the pollution is killing the place and the people.
I'm not one that sort of shows my emotions a lot,
but it did upset me a lot
to see another guy, you know, crying in front of you
because of the situation he's in.
I found that...
you know, really hard.
The next morning, Simon and Eloy are clocking on for work.
Ah, this is it, where they keep the trains.
The train drivers believe
that the Virgin of Cocharcas will keep them safe.
Shall I do this?
We have a railway vicar,
but we don't really do this before we take a journey, no.
You close the doors?
Makes you think, you know, these guys are obviously aware
how dangerous this job is, and how dangerous the route is.
Today is Simon's first chance to take control of the train.
Time for Eloy to pass on some more Peruvian driving tips.
You like to take the lead with your women!
Oh, we're up to eight.
First time I've been in eight!
Simon Davies from Derbyshire is finally driving
the 3,900 horsepower train across the high Andes.
He's showing me his style of driving now,
which I like because I went to eight!
He doesn't hang about.
Eloy only sees his family for two days each fortnight.
This weekend he is heading home.
This is your home. This is your home.
Eloy and his family used to live in La Oroya,
but they were driven out by the pollution.
It must be, obviously, worth it then, you know,
to only see your family every two weeks,
but the benefits of living here outweigh that because of the health.
Oh, guinea pigs.
I've got chickens at home.
Can I hold one?
Oh right, are they better tasting, the black ones?
There's another local custom that Simon has to sample up in the Andes.
Oh, that little bit.
Do you swallow it? Er, no, no.
Do you swallow it?
Too late, I've already swallowed it!
I can see why you live out here, Eloy,
because, you know, it seems pretty laid back,
and we're sat here chewing coca leaves, having a smoke.
Coca leaves are the raw material of cocaine
but up here they're chewed to relieve altitude sickness,
as well as for a little pick-me-up before work.
What's... Is that a weed?
Oh, I threw that one then.
You get that.
Every year, Eloy throws a fiesta for his family and neighbours.
For Simon, it's his first chance to relax since he's been in Peru.
You with him?
It's a varied menu but Simon's sampling the liquid refreshment.
-You can have it back!
It's a night of pure Andean hospitality.
I wasn't expecting the reception I got.
Everybody was really welcoming.
In a way, you know, his family reminded me of my family,
you know, welcoming, friendly.
I know at one point, I sat there and wished my family were here now
so they could join in,
and meet Eloy and his family.
I think this has been the best day I've had since I've been here.
I think there's a leak in the roof. That was the only downside,
but apart from that, you know, what a fantastic day.
Next morning and it's time to head back to the railway.
So, you won't see them again for another two weeks now?
Two weeks... Dos weeks?
Then come back here.
Simon's got just five days before he'll be driving down
the steepest train tracks in the world.
In the UK, train drivers take regular breaks.
Fatigue is a major cause of accidents.
In Peru, drivers keep going until they reach their destination.
Five hours, I hope he was joking then!
Finally, they arrive at the mining city of Cerro de Pasco.
After seven hours sat there,
my arse is killing me,
my feet are numb from holding the pedals down.
You just can't... It's not like in the UK where we get breaks,
and not as long journeys - you've just got to sit there and carry on.
Simple dormitories like this are Eloy's home for most of the year.
Do we have a fire or heater or anything?
And it's cold now, ain't it?
You get up here and realise just how hard things are.
We have to stay over here.
And I tell you now, it's freezing cold.
I'm leaving my hat on.
I've got all my clothes on because it's absolutely freezing
and we've only got these, you know, like llama blanket things.
I'm usually pretty good at staying awake and...
..working - hard work, but this is something else.
This is more than hard work.
Cerro de Pasco,
one of the highest cities in the world.
This is the end of the line.
Here, thousands of tonnes of mining ore are loaded onto the trains
before heading back down the mountains.
Walter is a local driver who works in the depot.
Bloody hell, I didn't realise it was that deep.
The centrepiece of Cerro de Pasco is a big hole, over a mile wide.
This huge open-cast mine is getting bigger every day.
If you look at the wagons compared to the lorries...
The city of 70,000 people
is built on top of some of the country's largest deposits of lead,
zinc and silver.
But Cerro de Pasco is slowly eating itself.
A city that relies on the mine is also being destroyed by it,
as the giant hole expands, devouring roads and buildings.
On this wild frontier, nothing stands in the way
of the mining industry.
I'm starting to realise
that the main thing is to get this valuable mineral to the port,
to ship them off
to other countries - rich countries like America and China.
That's all they're bothered about,
and especially so when you see the state of the track.
People living next to the track, you know, the crap everywhere,
the way people are living - they're not bothered about anything,
other than getting this stuff to the ports and on the ships.
Simon has mastered driving the train
on the gentle plateau - now it's time to head back down the track
for another lesson with Daniel.
But today I might be back as a brequero.
Si?! Oh, thanks a lot!
You're supposed to say no.
Controlling this massive train as it descends from the mountains
depends on keeping to a precise speed.
Simon has to work a system of four different brakes,
all the time communicating with his crew,
who are his eyes and ears at the back of the train.
As well as the technical demands,
train driving Peruvian-style is an art.
Yeah, well, I was a bit rough at the start.
I can see how easy it is to, like, you know,
because of the weight and the gradients, to let it run away.
You know, as soon as you take the brakes off, it moves...quick.
TRAIN HORN BLARES
I'm just sort of figuring out which brakes are which, and then...
URGENT VOICE ON RADIO
Hang on a minute.
If going too fast is dangerous,
so is going too slowly.
The plumes of smoke mean the brakes are overheating.
I can smell them now.
I feel a bit confident, most of the time,
but as soon as we start to go downhill, on the bends,
that's when I start shitting myself.
The job that you do,
some of the dangers and the risks that you take,
do you still enjoy the job?
Obviously you must think it's worth it,
because it provides for your family, but do you think about that?
After today, I've realised that I've been dropped in at the deep end,
As you're driving along, you know,
and you look over the side of the track and it's just sheer drops,
and you realise that you really need to be on the ball
and keep control of the train.
That's my main objective, just to keep control of the train.
It's Simon's last chance to practise driving the train,
but the odds against him are stacking up.
In difficult conditions, Simon makes another mistake.
In giving the train full throttle in the thin mountain air,
the engine has stalled.
Being stuck there in them sort of conditions, with no heat,
no power, nothing,
I could see panic.
I think they were trying to hide it a bit,
but I could see a bit of panic on their faces.
And luckily, it started up again.
But starting the engine hasn't solved the problem.
The wheels are just spinning.
With the weather closing in,
Daniel decides drastic measures are called for.
After leaving several of the wagons behind on the track,
the train can just about move.
That must be the guys at the top asking where we are.
It's not the day Simon had hoped for.
Tomorrow is crunch time.
Simon has to drive down the mountain by himself.
The best thing that came out of today for me,
even after my major balls-up of stalling the engine
and, you know, the potential there that I could have left us all stuck
up the side of the mountain in that weather...
was the fact that, you know, Daniel...
..came up to me...
..at the end of the day and said, "Don't worry about it".
He's still, you know...
He's still confident,
and so are the rest of the lads,
with me driving the train on my own.
He told me that but, at the moment, I don't feel that confident
and I don't share their optimism.
Dawn at the second highest station in the world.
Today, Simon Davies,
who usually drives a passenger train out of Manchester,
will attempt to guide a 2,000 tonne mining train
down the steepest track in the world.
I'm not going to go out there and let, you know,
Daniel know I'm worried,
but I'm going to walk out there and, you know,
let him know that I'm confident.
Which is the dangerous bit again?
Si. Now I'm ready.
Simon has to stop the train running out of control
and manoeuvre his way through the complex system of zigzags,
all the time working hand in hand with his Peruvian crew.
It's 15 hours and downhill all the way.
If I said it was tough before, you could probably times that by 100.
I feel under pressure to do it right, mainly for all these guys,
and for Daniel,
and, obviously, I've got a wagon full of minerals in the back.
I'm just coming up to a crossing there. It went quite a lot steeper.
TRAIN HORN BLARES
Here, it's a bit of a game of chicken.
As lorries ignore the oncoming train,
it's Simon's call whether to stop,
or simply hope they get out of his way.
If you take your eyes off the gradient or the speedo,
or stop concentrating on how much brake...
..you know, it runs away with you straightaway.
Simon has to be constantly wary about the state of the brakes.
The wheels are starting to overheat.
It could get that hot, you know, set fire to something,
or it could derail.
Just got to my first zigzag,
so we've just gone past the changeover where you change track.
Simon's successfully negotiated his first zigzag
when a call comes through from the control centre in Chosica.
There's another train waiting to come up where we've just come from,
and we've got to go back into the tunnel.
Getting out of the way is a very difficult manoeuvre.
He has to reverse into a dead end tunnel
with only Ameliano, his brequero, to guide him.
Now they've changed the points at that end for him, he can go up now.
Simon is through the zigzags, and he's on the home straight.
In the past two weeks,
he's experienced the tough, physical job of the brequero.
He's learned how to drive a mining train weighing over 2,000 tonnes,
and now he's successfully brought the train down some of the steepest
and most difficult track in the world.
Quite chuffed that I've nearly done it now, you know.
At Chosica, Daniel's family and workers
from the station have gathered to welcome them back.
To be honest, I never thought I'd do it on my own,
because the first go I had, sort of had a few mishaps,
and got a bit too big for my boots, I think.
I've never done a journey that long and that difficult for 15 hours -
really chuffed that I've done it, and not made any mistakes.
Every day, every hour that they're working
there's potentially, you know,
a major danger there, and that camaraderie's there,
that teamwork's there -
you know, they look after each other,
so, yeah, I'd describe them as warrior-type drivers.
Really take my hat off to them.
To be honest, when I came back,
even how tough it was and hard it was,
you know, I actually missed the place and I missed the people.
And I actually started joking.
I said to my wife, you know, that I didn't want to come home.
Back at home, Simon's trying to see if he can help the drivers in Peru
and improve the conditions that Daniel, Eloy and the crews work in.
You know, even if it's just something small,
if I can do that through a bit of awareness over here,
through my union, and the company I work for,
hopefully, that'd be, you know, at least it's a step.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Train driver Simon Davies usually drives the high speed Pendolino between London and Manchester, but now he faces a very different challenge as he travels to Peru and one of the highest and steepest railway lines on earth.
Mining is the life blood of Peru and every day trains carry thousands of tons of metal ores down from huge mines in the high Andes. Coached by some of the toughest train drivers in the world, Simon has just days to learn how to handle a massive train down the spectacular and terrifying slopes, risking derailment and death on train lines at an altitude higher than Mont Blanc. He also discovers a community in crisis, where pollution from mining is poisoning the population.