Hyde Park Now-Ferrocarril de Sóller

Ferrocarril de Sóller

Mallorca’s popular tourist railway, the ‘Orange Express,’ has entered its 90th year of electrification. The Palma – Sóller route originally opened on 16th May 1912 (ironically the very week the Titanic had sunk – thus little was reported on the island’s stupendous new mountain railway route.) Electric traction was originally intended but discounted due to costs. However the 13 tunnels and many bridges were were built with this eventuality in mind thus no major work was needed for the 1929 electrification other than wiring the line and associated infrastructure. The Sóller railway’s electric services began on 14th July 1929 with four Carde & Escoriaza-Siemens Schuckert-Brill motor coaches which still perform sterling work.

Hyde Park Now-Ferrocarril de Sóller

Ferrocarril de Sóller logo & id. Source: Twitter

Hyde Park Now-Ferrocarril de Sóller

Ferrocarril de Sóller route map – also shows the tram to Puerto de Sóller. Source: Balearic Villas.

Hyde Park Now-Ferrocarril de Sóller

1929 motor coach no.1 at Palma station. Source: Twitter

Hyde Park Now-Ferrocarril de Sóller

Sóller station in 2019, with the Puerto tramlines on the left. Source: Twitter

Hyde Park Now-Ferrocarril de Sóller

The inaugural train from Palma arriving at Sóller on 16th April 1912.

Hyde Park Now-Ferrocarril de Sóller

Early days at Sóller. Source: Facebook

The original steam railway was in existence for quite a short time – seventeen years to be exact – thus the line has almost always been an electric railway.

Hyde Park Now-Ferrocarril de Sóller

The original steam train about to cross the bridge just before the long tunnel. Source: Facebook

Hyde Park Now-Ferrocarril de Sóller

The old order somewhere in the mountains. Source: Twitter.

The efforts of those who managed the huge task of building the railway through the Sierra de Alfàbia – part of the substantial Sierra de Tramuntana mountains on the north-west side of Mallorca – musnt be forgotten of course – without this the railway would have not even been built.

Once isolated by mountains, now linked by two tunnels. As little as 120 years ago the lovely town of Sóller and its port, nestling in the folds of the spectacularly beautiful Tramuntana mountains, were almost cut off from the rest of Mallorca because of those very mountains. The tortuous, switchback road with steep climbs, hairpin bends and often cut by bad weather conditions made travel so long and arduous to Palma, that Sóller looked more to Barcelona – a sea journey away – for its trade and prosperity. (Source: Mallorca Spotlight.)

Hyde Park Now-Ferrocarril de Sóller

Plaque at Palma station commemorating the electrification scheme in 1929. Source: Transport Illustrated

Generally electric services began in much the same way as the first day of the line’s services back in 1912 (see earlier picture.) This compromised an inaugural train from Palma to Sóller with a coat of arms, shields, flags, and foliage on its front. Just like the 1912 opening, there are very few pictures of the 1929 electrification services opening, the surviving pictures generally being of the inaugural train at Bunyola.

Hyde Park Now-Ferrocarril de Sóller

Bunyola (then known as Bunola) with the inaugural electric train from Palma on 14th July 1929.

Hyde Park Now-Ferrocarril de Sóller

Bunyola with steam and electric traction evident on the inauguration day 14th July 1929. Source: Facebook

In terms of the 1929 opening on the 14th July, the inaugural train travelled from Palma to Sóller and then down to Puerto! There are a couple of pictures showing the inaugural train venturing through the streets of Sóller, however the quality of these is quite poor.

The FS wasn’t the only railway in Mallorca. The island had a vast steam and later diesel railcar) operated system known as the the Ferrocarrilles de Mallorca (FCM). Both stations in Palma were adjacent to each other and both companies had their systems linked via an interconnecting line in Palma.

Hyde Park Now-Ferrocarril de Sóller

Ferrocarrilles de Mallorca 2-6-0T (Krupp built c1926) at Palma. These would also work on the Sóller tracks within the city. Source: Majorca Daily Bulletin.

In the days when we visited the Sóller line, the (FCM) still existed and its huge station and depot at Palma was still in use, thus the area around the Plaza de España was a hive of activity in terms of railways. By this time the FCM was largely diesel operated and some parts of the old Palma station were beginning to show signs of decay and dereliction, with old steam hauled stock abandoned about the place.

It is through the FCM that Mallorca’s railways had a substantial connection between the naval port in Puerto and the ports in Palma itself. A little known aspect of the Mallorcan system was the lengthy tunnels leading under the city itself to the harbour and in the older days wagons could be seen on the quays near Palma’s cathedral.

Hyde Park Now-Ferrocarril de Sóller

FCM locomotive on the freight only line at Palma harbour. Source: Mallorca Photo Blog.

Even then, this is the late sixties, the Puerto de Sóller tram still extended right round the bay at Puerto to the military base, and one day I followed the tracks right up to the security gates. The tracks were still in use and the line fully wired into the base, and indeed this was a time when freight still operated on the FS.

Most trains on the Sóller line were of mixed stock and indeed up to perhaps around 1968 there was still interchange of freight between the FS and the FCM, something which isn’t possible now the main Mallorcan railway system has adopted metre gauge. The first visits we made to Mallorca is when the interconnecting link between the two island lines still existed. I did inspect the tracks between the two systems and these seemed to be in good repair so my reasoning that these fell out of use soon after. The FS goods yard at Palma still existed. These days its a car park.

Hyde Park Now-Ferrocarril de Sóller

Sóller station in 1968 taken with my instamatic. Beer barrels and milk churns can be seen on the goods platform, having been delivered by train from Palma.

For those interested here’s a Flickr picture showing a steam locomotive from the FCM shunting a FCM wagon into the electrified FS’s Palma station!

In the sixties Mallorca was in the infancy of becoming a tourist hotspot, and many British were going there for their holidays. It seems too Britain somehow exported its railway arch nemesis – the one and only Dr. Beeching (or perhaps a clone of his!)

Mallorca’s quite expansive three foot gauge system was thus subjected to its own ‘Beeching’ cuts and the lines closed down a massive scale leaving just the somewhat profitable Palma to Inca line. That’s a cut of 229km (142miles) from a network that once stood at 267km (165 miles)! Barely anything was left of the former FCM network.

Hyde Park Now-Ferrocarril de Sóller

The Arenal viaduct. In the early 2000s it was proposed to reuse this for a new metro line. Internet Archive

The first time we visited the island I discovered the remains of the FCM’s Santanyí branch behind our hotel at Arenal. The line had just closed and its route was very quickly turned into a footway. The route included substantial embankments, cuttings and a large viaduct. Here’s a view of part of the viaduct on Google.

The FCM’s one surviving line to Inca line was converted to metre gauge in 1981, initially using the original Palma terminus, but later going underground to start from the Estacio Intermodal. A brand new metro line was also constructed as part of this initiative. Electrification too began at the same time as the Intermodal although it was restricted to the metro line at first. The wires were later extended to Inca and this fortunately helped to prove the popularity of rail travel once again.

Hyde Park Now-Ferrocarril de Sóller

Despite the main Mallorcan railways having an ultra modern terminus, this graphic highlights the enduring appeal of a historic train ride to Sóller! Source: Facebook

There have been many changes since the early days. The trains are purely passenger operated whilst the street running section isn’t how it used to be. That was beautifully kept with a nicely manicured hedge along either side of the tracks as I remember. This photo from Flickr shows how it used to look. Judging from other photographs, it began to look somewhat a rather dejected linear topiary (!) and was uprooted in the mid 1970s or somewhere about that time.

Film from 1912 showing the first train to arrive at Bunyola and Sóller. The tramway is shown too!

Continued in part two.