Majorca Railway (S F M) - 2000
Friday 4th August 2000
I travelled by 1030 train from Inca to Palma, formed by a four car 61xx class train, unit 6101 leading.
On the journey, one other train was passed, at Santa Maria. At least two other sets (4 car, I believe) were in the new works on the outskirts of Palma. The only other rolling stock I saw on the whole line were a yellow Spanish-built 4 wheel diesel locomotive at Inca (un-numbered, carrying a contractor's label) with two four wheel ballast wagons, and at the new works the underframes of three old 4 wheel wagons (ex-914mm gauge perhaps?) along with the ex-EMU coach that has been used as a service train vehicle for some years. These latter wagon underframes and coach were off the track, on a concrete platform between two lines in the works. I saw no sign of the diesel shunter (light blue) that was there the last time I was in Mallorca (1993). All the old railcars appear to have gone, though I was not inside the works. Since it appears that the entire service is operated by two trains of four cars each, it can be presumed that the four sets seen could well comprise the entire rolling stock on the line.
No staff were apparent at any station, including Palma, other than the train crew. The station offices at Inca and Palma, however, do not appear to be disused, so it may be that they are manned at peak times. However, at the time I arrived in Palma, the only "officialdom" appeared to be a privately employed security man, not a railway employee, patrolling the bus and station area. Train information was limited to a board displaying departure times at both Palma and Inca. I bought my ticket from the train conductor, but noticed that other on the train had yellow tickets, whereas mine was white, so it may be that they had bought them earlier at an office - or were they season tickets?
At Palma, all traces of the former goods yard are obliterated, including the tunnel to the port. The whole area is now a well laid out public park with modern sculpturing and trees and landscaping. The running lines have been completely re-aligned, and a new passenger platform constructed roughly on the site of the original carriage sheds. The original passenger platform area is now paved over, apparently as a sort of open air "concourse" covered by a new sculptured steel roof, and the station building is no longer adjacent to any tracks. Indeed, there is no indication to the observer that the building has anything to do with the railway at all, as it is closed up and further away from the new station area. Almost all of the old railway works has been demolished, with new non-railway building under way on the site. The old railcar shed beside the perimeter wall is still standing, though outside the current railway boundaries. The chimney and oven of the forge remain isolated in the open on their own, as the last remnant of the once extensive locomotive facilities. Of the sheds and sidings which used to surround them, there is not the slightest trace. The old bogie coach which had been standing isolated in this area in recent years has, alas, disappeared. It must be presumed that it has been scrapped. The only other old railway building is the large shed at the corner of the old site, in front of which there used to be a traverser. The interior of this building may be seen by walking up the road which crosses over the railway by a bridge at the station throat - there were originally about eight tracks inside it, served by the traverser, and the rails of at least two of these are still visible. Outside, the traverser itself has long gone, and no traces remain of its installation. The building is roofless and windowless, but has not been pulled down - perhaps the shell of it is to be used in a new guise? If so, this would be of a non-railway nature as the new perimeter of the railway is between the lines and this shed.
Re-sleepering is under way between Palma and Marratxi, with new concreete sleepers stacked along the trackside the whole way. The old sleepers are a mixture of wood and concrete, sometimes almost alternate - they appear to have been replaced at random. Overall, track condition is very good, although the new railcars do not ride very well. They are comfortable enough for a journey of half an hour, as at present, but once the line is extended to La Puebla and Alcudia, a journey the whole way could be something of an ordeal and certainly no more comfortable than travelling by bus. The small hard seats are uncomfortable, and the plastic interior decor is Spartan, drab, and cheap looking. The labouring sounds of the underfloor engines is very evident. However, the air conditioning is a very welcome improvement on the previous railcars. The destination indicators above the interior of the doors are a good idea - pity they don't switch them on!
All the intermediate stations are now unstaffed and the station buildings are either demolished or shut up. Some look well cared for and may open in peak times - others do not. In some cases the old goods sheds are still standing, but cordoned off from current railway property. It would appear that much surplus railway land has been sold off. What happened to the plan of a few years ago, under which station premises would be let to cafe owners to preserve a presence in the station area? As in other countries, once stations become nothing more than an unmanned platform beside the line, the graffiti artists move in - this is now sadly true of many of the halts between Palma and Inca. No stations carry any markings or name boards on the new platforms - though the names can still be seen carved into the stonework of whatever station buildings there still are. Those at Santa Maria and Binassalem are still well cared for. Timetable information is not to be seen anywhere, nor do timetables appear to be available - there is simply a notice at each end of the line (and possibly at some intermediate stations) giving departure times. Due to the lack of information, this writer was unable to plan a trip from Inca - Palma - Soller and back in the time available.
At all stations, platforms have been raised. All old platforms were just above ground level, but the new ones are as high as any in Britain or Ireland, or any country with full height platforms. Beside a meter gauge, they look very high - and being faced with unrelieved solid concrete, even those without graffiti are unattractive. These new platforms are typically about half the length of the old ones, resulting in a short stretch of the old platform height at each end of the new one. Since station buildings were mostly near the ends of the old platforms, this means that building floor levels have not had to be altered. On entering the station platform on the original level, the traveller walks along a short way, then up the ramp to the new level. As already mentioned, the platform at Palma is completely new, being on a different site to the old ones. One island platform is provided, covered by a new steel canopy. As elsewhere, there is no station name board.
At Inca, a new steel roof similar to that at Palma is now in place covering the new (raised) platforms. Another covers the old goods yard on the down side of the line where a new bus station (also without office or staff!) is situated. The goods shed still stands, and is very well kept, but as it is now cordoned off from the railway it is unclear what it is used for.
The railcars are currently all over white, with a a blue and a green line intertwined along their sides, and the SFM logo in the middle. It has to be said that it is a very unattractive livery, matched by the interior decor of these vehicles! Top running speed is about 30 miles per hour.
Beyond Inca, the new track has been laid, and the gradient beyond the station towards Empalme is clearly seen. What appears to be a contractor's diesel stands on a siding at this end of the station, facing Palma. The old (1981) railcar sidings at the Palma end of the station on the up side have been disconnected. The only other siding seen was at Santa Maria, where a short siding remains at the Inca end of the station on the up side - it looks as if it could be used as a refuge for (short!) permanent way trains. It is on the site of what would have been the bay platform road for the erstwhile Felanitx branch.
Beyond Inca, the newly restored line has been laid to within a few miles of La Peubla, or Sa Pablo. Both versions of this name are used: according to a local man I spoke to, most Mallorcans refer to the place as La Puebla, and the old station building there has this inscribed on its gable wall, but in the immediate area of the town itself, Sa Pablo is used. The origin of one is in the Spanish Catalan language, the other in the older Mallorquin, the local dialect.
I was unable to visit Empalme, but would welcome information on whether it is proposed to reopen the station there as it will no longer be a junction. At Llubi, the old station is derelict and heavily vandalised since its abandonment in 1981, but there is a new island platform of the type described elsewhere - a huge loading ramp style solid lump of concrete. A passing loop has been provided here, as the track is single beyond Inca. Further along, Muro station has also been provided with a new platform, but the building is clearly not going to be used. Happily, though, due no doubt to its remote location, it remains as it was, though derelict.
At La Puebla, the old station is a very well kept bus station. The area formerly covered by tracks and platforms is paved over, and a public footpath has been laid where the tracks used to go towards the edge of the town. It is unclear whether this will be re-instated, as a taxi driver I had hired said that he felt that the reopened line might have to be re-routed in the immediate vicinity of the town. If the line is to be extended to Alcudia, as originally planned at various times between 1878 and 1980 (!), a new alignment may well be necessary. Beyond La Puebla, there is currently no trace of any new works.
Still exactly as it was, in stark contrast to the modernised SFM. A period 1920's gem, with a sleepy old station and historic rolling stock in daily use - not a glossy painted museum sideshow, as so many preserved railway vehicles are elsewhere. The 1929 power cars still contain first and second class sections, functioning as they should, and with original leather upholstery and polished wood in the first class sections. The second class, as always, has wooden slatted sets. The line is heavily used by tourists, no doubt helping it maintain its independent status from the diesel operated former "state" system. The same company has operated the line from its opening in 1912.
The four power cars still maintain the entire service, despite the obsolescence of the original Siemens electrical equipment in use. (Is there somebody out there who can make a case to Siemens to assist with their ongoing maintenance?) Trains are heralded by steam-engine still shrill whistles. Possibly these are actually off the original steam engines, though air powered nowadays? In summer months, the trains are heavily loaded - typically four heavy wooden coaches and a bogie brake van trailing the power car, the five passenger carrying vehicles PLUS the van loaded to standing capacity with passengers. I witnessed the arrival of the midday train, some 15 minutes late at 1515 with Power Car No. 1 with 5 bogies behind it. It was jam-packed, and took quite a while to unload. But the turnround was brisk, as No. 1 ran round its train, and the train was away again in 15 minutes, again fully loaded. When entering the station from the road crossing, the large headlamp on the power car was on.
At Palma, the layout is as it has been for some years. While the goods yard is long gone, the tracks to the carriage shed and the run round lines are unaltered. The wagon turntable is still in place - apparently this has been used in recent years to turn permanent way vehicles. However, the tracks it used to lead to are of course gone. Inside the carriage shed there are three four-wheeled trams, which I presumed to be ex-Soller Tramway. However, on checking Giles Barnabe's book on Majorcan railways, I cannot identify them. Perhaps somebody can enlighten me on their origin. The details of these three vehicles are:
Number 704, painted grey and yellow.
Number 734, yellow on top panels, Coca-Cola advertisement completely covering lower panels.
Number 23, clearly recently restored. This tram is in fully lined out red and white livery and carries no advertisements. The interior appears to be under restoration, with the drivers controls being newly polished and cleaned, and the seats being remade.
A sign outside the station on a door read "Amigos del Tren de Soller" or something like that - my apologies to Spanish speakers if I have got that wrong - is this related to the trams? Is there in fact a historical railway society on Majorca? If anyone knows, I would be interested in details.
The track inside the station area is clearly worn, but contributes to the unique character of this line. Unfortunately, this time I did not have the time to travel back to Soller with No. 1 and its train.
Like the SFM, however, staff seem few and far between, and instead of a proper timetable, only departure times are shown at Palma station. I spent some two hours in the vicinity of both stations, and did not see one member of staff other than train crews.
Overall, the railways of Mallorca seem to be destined for a secure future. With 80% of the island's population directly or indirectly employed in the tourism industry, the number of travellers from this source continues to increase as tourists want more from a holiday location than a sun tan. On the SFM line, the local population appear to be making considerable use of the line as well, and while I have no hard evidence of it, I suspect that local usage is increasing. Naturally, a working railway cannot stay still forever, and while the almost total lack of anything of historical interest on the SFM line is regrettable, the line as it exists is a lot better than nothing - indeed, as the train hurries along between the dry stone walls, tomato plants, and olive trees of the interior, it does indeed have considerable character. The reopening of the La Puebla line, almost 20 years after it was abandoned, is good news. I understand that a case has been made to reopen the Arta line (closed 1977) as far as Manacor - this also would be good news, and would be of great benefit to the tourist trade. In the last 23 years, Manacor has grown and now houses much of the island's modern industry and craft shops. Manacor, and nearby Porto Cristo, have had many new houses built in recent years, both for a rising local population and as holiday houses for Spaniards from elsewhere. The town has an air of wealth and efficiency about it.
Reopening of the old line as far as here would present few difficulties. As on the La Puebla line, the track was not lifted after closure, nor was the right of way abandoned. I did not see the site of the old station at Manacor itself, but if necessary a new one could be built if there was no plan to reinstate the line beyond here to Arta. While the right of way to here is intact, the old railway right of way through town is now a cycle way (locally called "the railway" of course!), and at the eastern end of the town a large roundabout is in the way of the old line towards San Miguel.
Between Manacor and the junction with the La Puebla line at Empalme, the track still follows the road in places, with crossing gatekeeper's houses and stations in place. I did not have time to visit that at Petra, but a visit to Sinieu was interesting. I am grateful to a German enthusiast who I met at Inca for advising me to visit it! Sinieu itself is another quite busy town, where the railway ran through the centre of town at the side of the road. The track is still there, and the approach to the station is heralded by the sight of several loop lines opening off the main line, and being promptly buried under piles of builder's materials stored at the Manacor end of the station. The station itself is perfectly preserved, and most tastefully maintained as an art gallery. Potted plants abound, and the three lines of track going past the main platform have been grassed over. With potted plants on the platform, and the tops of the rails visible through the "lawn" on the trackbed, the whole presents a surprisingly attractive appearance!
I would welcome any information on whether or not it IS proposed to open this line. One story I heard suggested that at one stage the re-opening of this section was being considered as preferential to La Puebla. Feel free to contact me at [email protected].