Tag: Basque railroads

June 1, 1882: Bilbao-Durango railroad opened

Who doesn’t like trains? Well, ok, let’s put it another way: whatever your opinion of trains, in today’s tech-savvy communication obsessed world, let’s remember that railroads once represented the latest in communications technology. With this in mind, on June 1, 1882 the beloved (for some at least) duranguillo, the Bilbao-Durango railroad line, was opened to the public for the first time. It had the distinction of being the second metric gauge railroad line, a narrower gauge than those established previously, constructed in Spain to serve public transport needs.  And its successful implementation, both from an engineering and an economic point of view, established a model of narrow gauge railroad lines for the whole Cantabrian zone. And despite being a mere twenty miles in length, it still serves as an important route today.

After an inaugural run on May 30, trains started circulating on the line on June 1. The line, run by the Compañía del Ferrocarril Central de Vizcaya (Central Railroad Company of Bizkaia), passed from the Bilbao terminus in Atxuri through the stations of Bolueta (Bilbao), Galdakao, Bedia, Lemoa, and Amorebieta before arriving at Durango. On that inaugural run, a giant banner was unfolded in the station at Amorebieta that read “Amorebieta-co erriyac pozes bateric Biscaico burdiñ bide erdigoarrari” (the town of Amorebieta elated at the central railroad of Bizkaia”). This was a true glimpse at the future, at the impact of an amazing new form of technology and communication.

April 23, 1911: Inauguration of “El Irati” railroad

On April 23, 1911, what came to be known popularly as the “El Irati” railroad in Navarre–a 36-mile-long railroad connecting Pamplona-Iruñea to Zangoza and Agoitz (Aioz)–was inaugurated. It was the first electrified railroad in Spain, and indeed among the first in Europe, and it would operate until 1955.

It was conceived originally as a means of aiding development of the lumber industry in the Irati Forest (today a major tourist destination in Navarre) and in particular the major sawmill in Ekai de Lónguida/Ekai-Longida. However, it also became an important passenger line, especially for people traveling between Zangoza and Agoitz. Although plans to develop a railroad in the area went back as far as 1868, it was not until 1900 that they were taken up again seriously–this time concerning an electrified railroad–by local entrepreneur Domingo Elizondo, the principal developer of the lumber industry in the Irati Forest. With the support of the Provincial Council of Navarre, Spanish government approval was conceded to the project in the years 1907-8, and the El Irati company was created to oversee the project. The railroad itself was subsequently constructed between 1909 and 1911.

Domingo Elizondo (1848-1929)

For the next thirty years it functioned successfully. A 1941 study calculated that the railroad transported an average of over 240,000 people and 46,000 tonnes of goods a year. At about this time, it began to decline in terms of passenger numbers as buses became a more and more typical site in rural Navarre. By the mid-1950s, its losses were significant enough to force the El Irati company to write all the city councils of the towns through which it passed asking for financial aid to keep the railroad running. Failing to get the sufficient financial support, though, the line was closed definitively on December 31, 1955.

Nowadays, where part of the railroad once ran there is the Greenway of the Gorge at Lumbier-Irunberri, a 4-mile trail for hikers and bicyclists to enjoy. Since 2013, however, work has been ongoing in developing this track further to encompass much of the original length of the railroad in a trail measuring over 28 miles in total and running from Uztarrotz  to Zangoza.

Check out numerous historical images of the railroad here.

And there is an interesting and detailed article on the history of the railroad, “Ferrocaril del Irati – de Pamplona a Sangüesa y ramal a Aoiz,” here.