SPAIN'S UNFINISHED (RAILWAY) SYMPHONIES (3)
"Cartagena to Totana, La Pinilla to Mazarrón"
This was another Plan Guadalhorce project, 44 km from the suburb of Los Dolores in Cartagena (the junction with the line to Murcia and Chinchilla) to the mineral port of Mazarrón, and 20.3 km from the junction at La Pinilla to Totana on the line from Murcia to Lorca and Águilas. Construction was across easy but sparsely populated terrain, and the trackbeds were practically completed, together with some of the station buildings, by the time work came to a halt in the early 1930s, with ballast in place in some locations, such as at Totana. Today the ‘Y’-shaped network is being developed as a 'Vía Verde'.
"Alcoi to Agost"
The branch line from Xátiva to Ontinyent and Alcoi, high in the mountains to the north of the Costa Blanca, was completed on 15 April 1904, and belonged to the Compañía de Caminos de Hierro del Norte. It was logical that it should be extended south to Alacant, as a much shorter alternative to the route via La Encina, on the main line to Albacete and Madrid. The Plan Guadalhorce provided the catalyst for construction to start on this 67 km railway. The trackbed was completed prior to the start of the Civil War, and some ballast was laid by then, too. However, the post-war period saw very little further work done, in spite of the fact that the cost of completion would have been relatively modest. During the 1990s the route was resurrected as the Vía Verde de Maigmó. The first 3 km out of Alcoi are a surfaced road, passing through three tunnels; short sections of 2 and 6 km respectively at the summits of Malany and Maigmó have been lost to road construction, but the remainder, down to the junction with the Madrid to Alacant railway at Agost, is intact, and very scenic indeed, with seven magnificent viaducts and 21 tunnels in total.
"St. Girons to Lleida, Albacete and Linares"
In our anti-clockwise tour I have left as penultimate the jewel in the crown of Spain’s incomplete railways. This great northeast to southwest axis of over 800 km merits a complete holiday for exploration, by car, bike, train and on foot. It was originally conceived by the French government as a means of improving communications with Algeria and Morocco, and the first surveys of the crossing of the Pirineos, via the Noguera-Pallaresa valley on the Spanish side, were made in the 1860s. Four decades were to elapse before the French government took up the initiative, in 1903, and started work on the extension of the 33 km Boussens to St. Girons branch southwards through the Ribaouto gorges to Oust. The Spanish government, taking advantage of the Secondary and Strategic Railways Act of 1908, decided to finance construction of the 28 km section from Lleida to Balaguer, inaugurated on 1 February 1924 and operated by EFE. Two years later the Plan Guadalhorce enabled work to start in earnest.
From Balaguer the line was extended north through the spectacular gorges of the Noguera-Pallaresa, reaching La Pobla de Segur, 89 km from Lleida, on 13 November 1951. Between there and Oust no further work was done, although 1435 mm gauge electric tramways ran from St. Girons to Sentien (1914 to 1937) and from Oust to Aulus-le-Bains (1914 to 1934). Three routes on the Spanish side were surveyed, involving summit tunnels, near Areu and the Coll de Salau, of 4550, 8400 ore 14,500 m in length. The trackbed from St. Girons to Oust is now a surfaced road. Since 2005 train services between Lleida and Pobla have been operated by FGC, much track renovation has taken place, a concerted effort is being made to promote what must be one of the most spectacular railways in Europe, and there is even talk by the Catalan government of extending northeast to Sort, La Seu d’Urgell, Andorra and Puigcerdà.
Between Lleida, Caspe and and Alcañiz (117 km) a complete engineering survey was made, but very little work was done on the ground, though some long retaining walls survive near Torrente de Cinca, on the Fraga to Maquinenza road. The 170 km section between Alcañiz and Teruel was divided into four parts (Alcañiz to Alcorisa, Alcorisa to Escucha, Escucha to Perales de Alfambre, Perales to Teruel), and by early in 1936 the trackbed on the first of these was practically complete, as were the stations. There was practically no work done between Alcorisa and Escucha, but thence to Teruel the trackbed crosses the Sierra de San Just in magnificent fashion, reaching an altitude of 1452 metres. If the line had been completed it would have been the second highest 1,668 mm gauge railway in Spain after that from Ribes de Freser to La Tour de Carol. The whole route is closely paralleled by the N 211 and N 420 roads., and runs through some grand highland scenery. Typical of railway construction of that some bridges were built before the earthworks on either side of them were realised!
Between Teruel, Ademuz and Utiel (117 km, with 12 intermediate stations) there was no work done whatsoever. On the Utiel to Albacete section (117 km, 12 intermediate stations)construction started on 8 July 1927. About half the trackbed was levelled, six of the 11 major bridges or viaducts were built, and 21 of the 29 tunnels completely bored. While the tunnels were single track, the viaducts and earthworks were sufficiently broad for two tracks. No stations were built. The contractor backed out in 1940; in 1946 a project was prepared for completion of the work, but no more was done.
It was on the westernmost part of the line, from Albacete to Linares – Baeza (250 km) that progress was most spectacular. By 1955 the section from Albacete to Villarrodrigo, on the Albacete/Jaén border, was ready for tracklaying, and this was done using continuous welded rail and concrete sleepers with steel tie-bars. Unstable land conditions on La Loma prompted the revision of original projects, and a considerable increase in the number of tunnels required. By 1966 the trackbed was complete throughout, with 25 viaducts totalling 3176 m, and 28,111 m of tunnels. 80 km of track had been laid, to the southwest of Albacete. Signalling systems and electricity power lines still awaited completion. Then came the Soferail report . . .
In 1984, 20 years after the decision was taken to abandon the Albacete to Linares- Baeza section of the scheme (the remainder had by then slipped into oblivion), RENFE and Public Works agreed that the track should be dismantled. This did not take place until 1990/1, and since then various parts of the route, which is closely followed by the N-322 main road, have been rehabilitated as a 'Vía Verde'.
"La Casilla to Mirabilla (Bilbao)"
This is the only instance of an unfinished railway in Euzkadi! Sometime early in the twentieth century the FC de Bilbao a Portugalete started building a branch from its Abando to Olabeaga freight line (round the south side of the city centre, from February 1999 used by all local passenger trains to Santurtzi and Muskiz as well), to serve iron ore mines in the Mirabilla district. The objective was to eliminate the need for the ore to be moved down the Nervión river by barges to Olabeaga, where it had to be manhandled, or hoisted by floating crane, into ships for export to northern Europe. Just over a kilometre of line was built, on a rising gradient of 1 in 42, through one 312 m long tunnel (Urizar) and into a gallery 314 m in length whose boring was never finished, the upper end being at an altitude of 47 m. In an area which has been subjected to some radical urban development over the past century, remains are highly unlikely!