Imagine the scene, a Thomas the Tank Engine locomotive and rolling stock that would have looked at home in an American western, rolling through the hills of Periana surrounded by billowing white clouds of steam. In the last century this was a common sight as there was a narrow gauge railway linking Vélez Málaga, Periana and Ventas de Zafarraya. It surprises visitors to Cantueso that the unmade road as you approach the complex is in fact the old railway track.
Thomas the Tank Engine Spanish Style
In about 1905 just after Má
laga had installed electric trams and the need for more sophisticated transport increased, The Suburban Railway Company was set up, funded with 4 million Pesetas from the Bank of Antwerp in Belgium. The company received various concessions to build and run lines from Má
laga and along the coast. The grand scheme envisaged a network linking Má
laga with cities such as Granada, Seville, Almeria and Gibraltar. The line from Má
laga to Vé
lez was routed close to the sea and is said to have been a wonderfully scenic journey which, after Almayate, continued through agricultural scenery dominated by sugar cane. Like the railway we have sadly lost the sugar cane plantations, more of which we will write in a future blog.
Embankment near Periana
lez to Periana line was started in 1911 and opened in 1914 less than two months before the outbreak of the First World War. Work was halted and the line was only completed in 1921. The line which was 31 km long had a planned extension from Zafarraya to Alhama but due to the poor economic climate was never built.
The route particularly the stretch from Periana to Ventas de Zafarraya had some serious inclines and Swiss engineers were involved in the design of a rack system to enable the trains to climb to 1000m above sea level. This part of the route was truly alpine, often encountering seriously bad weather, and it is a tribute to those early engineers that the route never in forty years of service encountered any serious accidents. At its peak over 500 people were employed on the railway and there were stations at Vélez Málaga, Periana, Ventas de Zafarraya with halts at Trapiche, La Viñuela and Matanza.
Full Speed on the Flat Sections
The demise of this railway and many others like it has been put down to several factors, both economic and social. After the civil war (1936-1939) and the Second World War, the railway was in much demand carrying loads of sugar cane and other crops to and from the coast, but slowly the introduction of cars and buses lead to a loss of passengers and freight. Then came the increase in tourism, with a concomitant migration of people from the villages to the coast, and the need to fund many projects along the Costa del Sol, led to a lack of capital spending on the railway. Eventually what should have been a franchise until 2015, was wound up by Royal Decree in 1959. The railway closed the next year and the tracks were removed. After less than fifty years, a form of transport that had replaced the mule trains of old was itself displaced by “progress.” As fuel costs make travel ever more expensive one can only imagine what could now be made of a scenic railway passing through some of the most attractive landscapes in Spain.