Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Great Southern of Spain Railway

Sculpture Trail

Just down the road from our villa in Spain we always had to pass under a bridge of a disused railway. Never one to let something like that go unnoticed I was curious about where the line had once connected and set about investigating.  Apparently the line was originally built by a consortium of British developers as a route from Lorca to Granada.  Sadly the line was not a success from the beginning, passenger numbers in the lightly populated Almanzora valley were very sparse and the line relied heavily on freight traffic.  Not only that but the line didn’t make it to Granada until a lot later when it was absorbed into the national network of railways.

In the early years the freight was largely poor quality iron ore and agricultural produce but marble was transported later on.  The line finally succumbed to closure in 1985 and some of the line has been turned into a greenway (quite common in Spain), while much of the rest has just been left to its own devices.  A surprising amount is still left.
Dry River Bed

When we had driven through the small town of Fines a few days earlier I had caught sight of a derelict station, complete with much of the old infrastructure including a rusty old crane, station buildings and even the water tank.  I thought that would probably make for a good place to start exploring although I had also seen other sections of greenway further on.

End of the Improved Section

We drove the short distance from Albox but when we got to Fines we discovered that the railway line was actually the wrong side of a very busy road from where we could park and so we headed over to a nearby built up area about a mile or so further along the line.  Here the line itself had been converted into a greenway for cyclists and was complete with a range of sculptures.  These were all a similar style but represented countries from all around the world and other regions of Spain.  It was all rather curious as clearly there had been a significant amount of money spent on it.  All around was the affliction of neglected and half finished buildings, which seems so prevalent in these parts.

Fines-Olula Water Tower

Our walk over to the former station was more of a stroll than a hike and along the way we were able to admire some of the spring plants including rosemary, almond blossom and orange groves.  It was all very pleasant and the walk was going very well until we reached the bridge just before Fines-Olula Station, where the engineered greenway suddenly stopped and our onward route was just a rough track.  We were able to access the old station though and it was in a sorry state.  Nearly 30 years of neglect had set in, although its very existence was a miracle as a nearby road scheme had threatened to engulf it completely.  Yet here it stood as a curiosity for passing motorists on the (inevitably) half finished Almanzora motorway.  A lot of relics had survived although they are quite badly vandalised.  These included a passenger station building, goods shed, water tower and crane and a shattered looking toilet block.

Fines-Olula Station

Apparently one of the main exports from this station was marble sinks and headstones from the nearby marble quarries.  There was enough traffic along the line for there to be a passing loop at the station but there are no remains of the passenger platforms left.
Zurgena Station

Beyond the station the former level crossing had disappeared under the improved road scheme and the cycle path continued out towards Baza, the ultimate westerly destination of the railway.  I enjoyed looking around Fines-Olula station although it did feel like I was trespassing.  Yet there were no fences keeping us out and it was only the lack of surfacing to the path that made me feel we shouldn’t be there.

Play Area Water Crane

Once we returned to the car we returned towards the nearby town of La Alfoquia.  This small town grew up around the station of Zurgena, a village a couple of kilometres away.  The station was adopted by the local community after closure and fully renovated and is now used as a community facility including picnic areas, play areas and buildings used for education and gatherings.  The renovation is superb and shows what can be done with these old spaces.

Cucador Viaduct

The space afforded for the station was quite surprising considering that the station saw only a few trains per day for most of its existence.  These were largely for freight, although there was a daily mail train and at least one of the freight trains doubled as a passenger train.  The freight that ran from here was mostly iron ore and agricultural produce.  The style of the architecture was broadly similar to the station at Fines-Olula but there was none of the destruction and desolation of that station, only love and attention.  The contrast could not have been more stark.
Almanzora Track Bed

I was keen to see more so once back at the villa I headed down the dry river bed to the viaduct at the bottom of the valley and walked some more of the trackbed.  The engineering challenges of the builders of the line were immediately apparent when I saw the thick rock that they had had to blast through in order to keep a level route.
Andalucian Flowers

The viaduct was worth a mention.  This beautiful and graceful structure fits its surroundings so well and the golden stone looked particularly good in the late afternoon sunshine.  I took a good look around it before heading eastwards where I had heard there was a tunnel to look at.  I walked along the rather difficult surface of ballast through the rather parched landscape of the Almanzora river.  However, any sense of this being a desert is a bit misleading as the valley is very productive with orange and lemon groves, almond trees, pomegranates and olives.  All along the side of the trackbed I could see little splashes of colour provided by the early spring flowers.  I wasn’t sure that it was an official path, but soon realised that it was used locally when a couple of quad bikes roared past me.

Level Crossing

Eventually after a mile or so I gave up on the prospect of finding the tunnel as I couldn’t see it and time was pressing.  That was a pity because I later found out that if I had been a bit more patient I would have found it as it lay only half a mile or so further on.  Given the success of the overall trip I have a feeling this might not be the last time we come here so maybe next time?  I also understand that there are other stretches that are worth exploring including Albox station and some more reconstructed sections of greenway further west.  I hope that one day I might get another opportunity to take a look.

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