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Bertan > Bertan 10 Gipuzkoako trenak > Ingeles bertsioa: Narrow-gauge trains

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Trenbide estuko trenak

The first railways built in Great Britain by Stephenson used a track width of 1.44 m., the origin of which goes back to the wheel separation standardised by the Roman Empire two thousand years previously.

36. A steam engine from the Vascongados Railways.
36. A steam engine from the Vascongados Railways.
37. A clock from Zumaia station.
37. A clock from Zumaia station.

The width defined by Stephenson has been considered as normal since then, but, for different technical and economical reasons, a series of railways were later built with different track widths. This mean that, while most of the European continent adopted the measurement of 1.44 m., other countries decided to use wider tracks, generically known as "standard-gauge". In Russia the first railways were built with a width of 1.55 m., while Ireland adopted a width of 1.60 m. Spain, and Portugal, obliged to do so by the former, decided on a width of 1.67 m., that is, six Castilian feet.

There have also been several cases of smaller track widths, mainly with an end to making the work as cheap as possible, since the smaller the width between tracks, the smaller the required level area, tunnels, bridges, etc.

38. A 1932 electric Asea engine on the Orio viaduct.
38. A 1932 electric Asea engine on the Orio viaduct.
39. The inside of a lounge carriage from the Vasco-Navarro Railway.
39. The inside of a lounge carriage from the Vasco-Navarro Railway.

Railways in Gipuzkoa have widely ranging widths. The wide Northern Railway (1.67 m.), that of the French Railways, which, with their standard-gauge, come as far as the Ventas part of Irún, the Artikutza mining railway, with its extremely narrow-gauge of only 60 cm., those of Arditurri and Mutiloa, with only 75 cm., the line running from Irún to Endarlaza, with 0.92 m. (the very British measurement of three feet) and especially several railways with a width of one metre, known as "metre-gauge railways", which are the ones we are going to talk about in this chapter.

The origin of the first metre-gauge railway in Gipuzkoa is closely linked to the route finally chosen by the Northern Railway Company for its line.

40. Eibar, a Euskotrenbideak tramway.
40. Eibar, a Euskotrenbideak tramway.
41. Deba, arrival of the mail train.
41. Deba, arrival of the mail train.

The chosen option cut Bilbao completely off from the interior, meaning that the ruling bodies of Biscay promoted the construction of their own railway between Bilbao and Tudela, meeting the Northern Railway line in Miranda de Ebro.

Work on the new railway went swiftly and it was opened in 1863, a year before the Northern Railway line was finished.

But the work cost three times the initial estimate, meaning that, in spite of the excellent traffic prospects, the line went bankrupt, finally being absorbed by the Northern Railway Company in 1878. The crisis suffered by the line running from Bilbao to Tudela meant bankruptcy for many small investors who had invested their savings in shares in the company.

42. A goods van from the Topo railway.
42. A goods van from the Topo railway.
43. A naval railcar from the Vasco-Navarro Railway.
43. A naval railcar from the Vasco-Navarro Railway.

The negative experience of the first Biscayan railway kept capital away from new railway adventures until, in 1882, a group of businessmen, known in local financial circles as the "madmen from Duranguillo ", built a metre-gauge railway between Bilbao and Durango.

Quite the opposite to its predecessor, the Duranguillo was an enormous financial success, due to which the erroneous idea that only narrow-gauge lines could offer good dividends spread quickly. A study was therefore soon carried out to extend this line towards Zumárraga, with a view to making communication easier with Donostia and the French border, changing to Northern Railway trains in Donostia station. Authorised voices such as that of the famous engineer, Pablo de Alzola, warned against the grave error of building such an important line in a width smaller than normal, but his clever reasoning fell on deaf ears, drowned out by the more flattering sound of easy profits.

44. Lasarte, the Plazaola train.
44. Lasarte, the Plazaola train.
45. Inauguration of the Bidassoa train.
45. Inauguration of the Bidassoa train.

Construction of the railway from Durango to Zumárraga was slow and not without difficulty. The first train drew into Bergara on 1 st June 1888, and the first metre-gauge railway in Gipuzkoa was opened on 26 th August 1889, a line which also had a branch linking Málzaga to the important blast furnaces of San Pedro de Carquízano, in Elgoibar.

46. A lounge car from the Vasco-Navarro Railway.
46. A lounge car from the Vasco-Navarro Railway.

In spite of the important reduction brought about by this railway with respect to communication between Bilbao and the border, the change of trains in Zumárraga made the journey much longer, meaning that the possibility of extending the metre-gauge line to Donostia was soon considered.

The Elgoibar a San Sebastian Railway Company was created in 1891 and, the first stretch from Elgoibar (more precisely from Carquíazano), to Deba was opened two years later, on 3 rd August 1893. The stretch from Zarautz to Donostia saw the first train pass on 9 th April 1895, but the delicate financial situation of the undertaking and difficulties presented by the passes of Itziar and Meagas, delayed the opening of the whole length of the line, which didn't take place until 1 st January 1901.

47. A regulating lever from the Topo Railway.
47. A regulating lever from the Topo Railway.

In 1906, the companies Central de Vizkaya, de Durango a Zumarraga and de Elgoibar a San Sebastian merged to become the Compañía de los Ferrocarriles Vascongados, which electrified its lines in 1929.

With the change of century, new business initiatives wove a thick network of metre-gauge railways throughout Gipuzkoa. The border railway line, linking Donostia to Hendaye, was opened in 1912. This train is commonly known as the Topo ("Mole"), due to the amount of tunnels on its route (20% of the total line). Its promotors thought, correctly, that the smoke of the trains could become intolerable inside the tunnels, and therefore decided to use electric traction right from the beginning, using equipment similar to that of the tramways.

48. The inside of a 3rd class carriage from the Vasco-Navarro Railway.
48. The inside of a 3rd class carriage from the Vasco-Navarro Railway.
49. A 3rd class carriage from the Vasco-Navarro Railway.
49. A 3rd class carriage from the Vasco-Navarro Railway.

On 20 th January 1914, the new Plazaola train service started running from Pamplona to Lasarte, where it met the Ferrocarriles Vascongados. The origin of this line lies in a modest mining railway which ran between the Plazaola mines and Andoain station, where mineral was transferred to trains belonging to the Northern Railway Company. It was later extended from both ends, creating a direct line between the capital of the old kingdom and Donostia, but its life was short-lived. Competition from the road and the terrible floods of 1953 caused its closure and dismantling.

50. En electric engine from the Vascongados Railways.
50. En electric engine from the Vascongados Railways.

The origin of the Bidassoa train is very similar. Its immediate predecessor was a modest mining railway which ran between the mines of Endarlaza and Irún. The width of its gauge (0.92 m,), was increased to metre-gauge when the decision was taken to extend it to Elizondo, a stretch which was opened on 28 th May 1916. Although a study was carried out to continue this line to Pamplona, competition from the road again meant that the line was closed on 31 st December 1956.

The origins of the line running from Bergara to Vitoria-Gasteiz date from 1887, when The Anglo-Vasco-Navarro Railway was founded, with a view to linking Estella with Durango via the Alavese capital. In spite of initial British financial backing, the company only managed to inaugurate the first stretch between Vitoria and Salinas de Léniz. After bankruptcy, the state confiscated the undertaking, although it didn't continue construction work until it had received definite backing from the three affected County Councils, which, by means of borrowing money against their allocations, financed all the work.

51. A diesel shunter.
51. A diesel shunter.
52. A coal transporting wagon.
52. A coal transporting wagon.

On 3 rd September 1918, a railway service started running between Vitoria and the Bergara suburb of Mekolalde, where the change was made to the Ferrocarriles Vascongados de Durango a Zumárraga line. A branch line establishing a connection between San Prudencio and Oñate was opened on 30 th September 1923.. This line was completely electrified in 1938.

53. A steam engine on Meagas pass.
53. A steam engine on Meagas pass.

Although the Vasco-Navarro railway line always had excellent mobile material and even better installations, and in spite of the undeniable service it provided, a decision taken in some Ministry of Transport office in Madrid condemned it to immediate closure on 31 st December 1967.

During the early seventies, the panorama of narrow-gauge railways in Gipuzkoa was devastating. Competition from the roads, and the decisive backing of the administration to this means of transport, in detriment to the railway, which wasn't even allowed to increase the price of its tickets in order to keep their costs even, meant the disappearance of most of the lines, and only the Vascongados and Topo services barely survived. Finally, in 1973, their services had to be suspended as they were unable to meet the increasing losses, after which they were rescued by FEVE , a public state company known as the "narrow-gauge RENFE".

54. A trolley.
54. A trolley.
55. A baggage wagon.
55. A baggage wagon.

FEVE simply maintained the existing services, without making immediate improvements to the line. In 1974 it definitively closed the branch line running from Málzaga to Zumárraga. Shortly afterwards, however, a slow tendency towards change became noticeable, a period during which both lines were modernised, starting with the Topo and later the older Vascongados.

56. The Bidassoa Railway.
56. The Bidassoa Railway.
57. The arrival of a Euskotrenbideak unit to Deba.
57. The arrival of a Euskotrenbideak unit to Deba.

In 1979, the Gipuzkoan metre-gauge lines in the hands of FEVE were transferred to the recently created Basque General Council. For its part, 1982 saw the creation of the public company dependent on the Basque Government, Euskotrenbideak, which took over the operation of metre-gauge lines in Gipuzkoa.

58. Waiting for the train in Zumaia.
58. Waiting for the train in Zumaia.
59. A modern electric unit belonging to Euskotrenbideak.
59. A modern electric unit belonging to Euskotrenbideak.

Today, the metre-gauge lines operated by Euskotrenbideak are the only witnesses to the extensive narrow-gauge railway network of yesteryear in Gipuzkoa. But this is a testimony full of life and future, after the important improvements recently made both to moving material and installations. Every day the Topo transports more people, who can reach the centre of Donostia in only a few minutes, thereby avoiding traffic jams and parking problems. The line running along the coast is also gradually recovering protagonism, both with respect to the suburbs of the capital as well as to the important local train service in the area around Eibar.

60. A 1928 electric Brown Boveri engine.
60. A 1928 electric Brown Boveri engine.
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