A mole tale: The history of a little RR (1)

Discussion in 'The Real Thing- International' started by Topo, Mar 15, 2003.

  1. Topo

    Topo Member

    A mole tale: The history of a little RR

    In 1890, Mr. Manuel Martí -a wealth businessman-, obtained the concession for building a RR between Hendaya and Elgoibar. Soon, he sold the rights of the San Sebastian-Elgoibar branch and retained (for speculative purposes) the rights of the main line between Hendaya (in the french border), Irun (in the spanish border) and San Sebastian (the capital city of the Guipuzcoa spanish province), distant apart some 20 kilometers.

    Around 1903, the wise Mr. Martí sold his then over-valued concession to the "Compañia del Ferrocarril de San Sebastian a la Frontera Francesa" ("St. Sebastian & French Border RR Company"), that already owned the San Sebastian-Hernani tramway, and that had its main station in Loyola (then an small town near San Sebastian, today a suburb of this latter). So, by 1913 the little metric railroad was already operating (international!) passenger and freight traffic with electric traction. The 20% of the line were tunnels (with a -then- respectable one of 2072 meters), with the most of the rest of the line running thru dire trenchs, all sort of factories' sidings and crowded urban passings. Only a 10% of the line lenght ran across open country and hilly grasslands, so the RR was soon nicknamed "El Topo" ("the mole") by the local people.

    In the first Photo, you can see the "Topo" across the urban center of San Sebastian, in October 1915. Their tracks were partaged with the Hernani-San Sebastian tramway, a "sister" company.

    The second image show the Loyola station in September 1955. At this point the Topo and the Hernani tramway separate their paths/tracks. The tramway took to the right, and the Topo continues straight (at left, you can see two "Topos" crossing). At background and out of sight, is the longest tunnel of the line (around 6800 feet).

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  2. Topo

    Topo Member

    A mole tale (2)

    It started in the Amara station (a San Sebastian suburb), from there it served also the urban center of San Sebastian by partaging the tracks with the Hernani tramway); passed thru Loyola and the busy portuary city of Pasajes; then Renteria and Oyarzun; arrived to my home city of Irun; crossed the international Bidasoa River over a five-arch stone bridge (116 meters); and finally ended in Hendaya, in the french bank.

    With the patronage rising, the twenties were their "golden age". It had seven good electric cars (build in Zaragoza, with swiss electrical equipment from Brown Boveri). In 1925 two more were added, and for the freight traffic they purchased two little AEG "crocodile" locomotives (the #10 was restored and is today on display at the local RR museum).

    The first image shows a Topo departing the crummy Amara station in 1955, bound to Hendaye. This station was demolished few years later and this area is now a busy residential/shopping one, with a nice park were the station once was.

    In the other pic you can see the half of the Topo freight power: one of the two "crocodiles" purchased in 1925, waiting near the Amara station in 1946.

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  3. Topo

    Topo Member

    A mole tale (3)

    After the civil war, in the late 40's, the buses and truck competition was starting to take its toll, and the "Topo" sister companies (the Irun and the Hernani tramways) were eating all the profits that the little mole was still making, dragging the “mole” down with them. To make things worse, in 1953 a flood ripped away a big chunk of the track. Same year, the Irun town council agreed with a bus company lesser expensive public transport services, and so, they stopped the tramway services. In 1954, the San Sebastian town council were worryed concerning the none payment of taxes of the tramway company, and sustained a "war" with it. Finally, it decided to ban the trams by the expeditive way of putting barricades over the tracks!!

    Suffering from the delayed maintenance of the equipment, and loss of business due to the trucks and buses, the "Topo" dropped their freight services and decayed slowly.

    In the 60's, the old wood rotten cars that had been repainted a hundred times, and the bumpy trackage were a childs' delight. Maybe this was the dark years for the "Topo", but for me -a train-fan child-, they were days full of wonderful "travels" to the "big" San Sebastian with my GrandMa. Due to the bad track, the train bumped and rocked badly all the way, almost dropping you from the hard, wooden benchs (now I realize that it was funny for ME, but maybe poor ol' GrandMa had a little different point of view about...).

    The first image shows a Topo circa 1920, crossing the international bridge over the Bidasoa River, between France and Spain. At background lies Irun, my home city. The Photo was taken from Hendaye, in the french bank.

    The second image shows the Rentería station circa 1955. Here you can see at left a Topo from Irun waiting for crossing and the cathenary maintenance railcar #21. At background right, the Topo company shops. The delayed maintenance of installations and rolling stock is obvious here.

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  4. Topo

    Topo Member

    A mole tale (and 4)

    In 1973, the aging "Topo" surrendered finally to public hands, and the FEVE ("Ferrocarriles Españoles de Vía Estrecha" / "Spanish Narrow Gauge Railroads") took it over, avoiding its total closure. In the late 80's it was passed to the Basque administration and since then, managed by Euskotren (the public basque RR company).

    What has happened in many other countries, with the building of roads, and the populor use of cars has caused in Spain the demise of most small narrow gauge lines since the 60's. But today, the "Topo" is still alive and doing very well. It's a profitable public-owned RR with modern passenger rolling stock, and the mole is still nosing thru the tunnels as it used to do almost a century ago. Very probably, in ten years he may also come back to serve the San Sebastian central streets, but this time underground -in a true Topo/Mole fashion-, doubling as surface RR (in the segment to Irun and Hendaye) and as San Sebastian subway.

    Is a very popular and well-maintened way to do the Irun-San Sebastian route (The Mole has in fact, taken revenge over the bus services), and I continue using it. I still miss the old wood cars, but GrandMa surely would love it now!

    The Topo at Pasajes station, in the late 90's. If you live in a town with subway, you have many chances to have traveled in railcars made for the same spanish company that have built these, because CAF have sold many subway units to US towns and worlwide.

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  5. cidchase

    cidchase Active Member

    Hi Javier, and thanks, that was very interesting. :)
    It's good to see passenger railroads making a profit!!
    :) :)
  6. interurban

    interurban Active Member

    Great Post Javier

    You did a mighty fine job sir:D :D :D
    And a very intresting post ;) It was a privilege to be able to help.

  7. cidchase

    cidchase Active Member

    Hey Chris, so when are you starting on your meter-gauge branch line?? :D :D :D I know you can't resist .....
  8. interurban

    interurban Active Member

    Hi Cid, it`s a case of "so much to do,, so little time":D :( :D :D

    But what a great R/R to model are you listening Javier:D
  9. Topo

    Topo Member

    Yep, at 1:87 (H0) the entire line (±20 kilometers/ ±12.43 miles) that would be... Hummm, around 230 meters / 755 feet. At H0 it could be cut at half of that without compromising the 'real' effect.
    That would be nice, yes :D
    The scenary would be a good mix between city&country, with a 20% tunnels (easy!). Pretty cool... :cool:
    (...but all the locos and rolling stock would be scratchbuilt, yikes! :eek: )
  10. Woodie

    Woodie Active Member

    AH HA!! So that's where "Topo" as a nick comes from. For some reason, I had this "image" of "Topo" as being a cartoon character of some sort!!! :rolleyes: :rolleyes:

    Lovely little story. Thanks. :)

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