South Viet Nam: The Rail Splitters

With a chuff of steam and a skirl of wheels, the aged black locomotive pulled out of Danang, carrying 500 passengers bound for Hue. Soon it began to climb toward the mist-shrouded Ai Van Pass. As the train reached the crest and began its freewheeling descent, the passengers relaxed—prematurely. Suddenly the rails snapped like broken rubber bands as a Viet Cong pressure mine exploded. When the smoke cleared, the passengers—fortunately uninjured—clambered wearily through the brambles to nearby Route 1 and thumbed or hiked their way into Hue. It was business as usual on South Viet Nam's French-built, American-supported, Red-racked railroad.

Costlier...