Girona is a city in the north-east of Catalonia, Spain, at the confluence of four rivers. It was declared a city in the eleventh century, but its history goes back much further than that. Its population in 2008 was 94,000. It is 100km north of Barcelona on the main railway line from Barcelona to Portbou and the French border.

Girona was the starting point of three narrow-gauge railways, each of which had their own station in Girona. These were:

  1. A 65 km long, 750 mm gauge line to Flassá and Palamós which had closed around 1958
  2. A 40 km long, 750 mm gauge line to San Feliú de Guixols, on the Costa Brava coast. This closed in 1969.
  3. The 54.8 km long 1000 mm gauge Olot & Gerona railway which is described here. It closed on 15 July 1969.

Girona or Gerona ?

The spelling of the name "Girona" has changed in recent years. At the time of operation of the Olot & Gerona railway the spelling "Gerona" was used by the railway company (both during its English and Spanish ownership). In my description of the railway as it was in 1968 I have used "Gerona". Gerona is the spelling in the Spanish language, Girona is the traditional Catalan spelling.

Brief history

After many false starts by Spanish companies that were unable to raise sufficient capital, The Olot & Gerona Railway Company Ltd was formed in London in 1891 to build the railway. The majority of the shareholders were English.

Construction commenced from the headquarters station at Amer (24.5 km from Gerona), and the first section — 22km long to Salt, was opened on 13 November 1895. On 10 January 1898 the 3km section from Salt to Gerona was opened. Then the line was extended from Amer towards Olot, with the 3km section form Amer to Planes d'Hostoles opened on 15 May 1900. On 10 January 1902 a further extension of 11km was made to Sant Feliu de Pallerols.

In 1902, when still 18km short of its target, disaster struck the Company, when its bank — the Bank of Paris Albaroa — went bankrupt. As a result the Company was unable to finish construction.

In 1909 the Banca Arnus Gari of Barcelona took over the debts of the English Company, and changed the Company's name to Compañia del Ferrocarril de Olot a Gerona.

Construction was then completed in two sections: on 29 August 1911 the 10km section from Sant Feliu de Pallerols to San Esteban was opened, then finally on 14 November 1911 the 8km section from San Esteban to Olot was opened.

There was a big celebration in Olot on the opening day, with a banquet, speeches, and music, but the train arrived late as it had suffered a derailment on the way.

The 1920s were the railway's most prosperous years, which led to the purchase of four new locomotives in 1926.

A special day in the railway's history was 26 October 1927 when King Alfonso XIII of Spain and his Royal entourage travelled on the train.

Between 1925 and 1928 proposals were made to extend the railway from Olot, and to build a branch at the Gerona end, but neiher proposal went ahead.

1934 was the first year the railway made a loss, due to the effects of the depression, and the company considered the purchase of internal-combustion railcars. Before this could be done, operations were interrupted by the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939, and some of the bridges were blown up.

Reconstruction occurred in 1939 but floods in October 1940 cut the line in 13 places. It was not until 1941 that service returned to normal. On 16 May 1946 a locomotive was derailed and went into a river, when someone had loosened a rail. Fortunately no one was killed.

Goods traffic was almost completely lost in the 1950s due to road competition, and the company purchased diesel railcars in 1959 to reduce costs.

Floods in 1962 again cut the line, and forced the temporary use of buses, then in 1963 the Government removed the subsidies which they had provided to railway companies.

The company could no longer run the service, and it was taken over in 1963 by Explotación de Ferrocarriles por el Estado, (EFE) a Government owned organisation for running uneconomic railways that were still needed to provide transport.

The EFE's policy was to close railways if satisfactory alternative transport could be arranged. As a result little money was spent on the Olot & Gerona railway, and it was clearly on its last legs at the time of my visit in 1968. Nevertheless, it was still carrying around 600,000 passengers a year at that time.

It was closed on 15 July 1969.

Stations

GERONA 0 km
Salt-Veínat 2 km
Salt 2.9 km
Bescanó 6.4 km
Vilanna 9.7 km
Bonmatí 13.3 km
Anglès 17.1 km
La Cellera 18.6 km
El Pasteral 21 km
Hidroèlectrica
AMER 24.6 km
Font Picant
Les Planes d'Hostoles 32.6km
Sant Filiu de Pallerols 37.9km
Sant Miguel de Pineda 40.8km
Sant Esteve d'en Bas 47.2km
Les Presses 50.2 km
San Privat 52.1 km
OLOT 54.8 km

(Those in italics were stopping places)

Locomotives

The first four locomotives were 0-6-2Ts from the English manufacturer Falcon Engine Works (later Brush Electrical Engineering Co. The fifth was a similar 0-6-2T from the English Kerr Stuart Company. These all appear to have been sold or scrapped by the mid-1930s.

The next five were 2-6-0Ts from the Belgian firm of Saint Leonard, Liège. Most of these still existed in 1968 but it is doubtful if any were in use at that time. To my mind they were the best looking of the three classes of locomotives used on the line.

The final four were 2-6-2Ts from La Maquinista Terrestre y Maratima of Barcelona.

My visit

My visit took place on Wednesday 31 July 1968. Unfortunately I did not have time to travel on the Amer to Olot section, nor did I have time to visit the loco depot at Amer, which would have been very interesting.

Here are the notes from my travel diary of that time:

Travelled from Tarragona to Barcelona on the local electric train, third class, with upholstered seats. This was about a two hour trip, departing about 8:20 a.m.

On arrival at Barcelona I changed to a local train, which took me onto Gerona. This consisted of about six old wooden bodied, teak finished bogie coaches with platform ends (marvellous to look at) offering second and third class accommodation, the latter with wooden seats.

I travelled third, which was crowded at first, but later became fairly empty, the trip took 3-1/2 hours and was quite enjoyable and scenic. The railway follows closely the Costa Brava coast in this area. The train was hauled by a  modern Co-Co electric loco, and included about 6 four-wheel vans. The whole thing looked quite unusual.

Gerona is in from the coast a bit, and has little to offer the tourist [sic]. After some difficulty I found a rundown pub, offering bed only for $A1.00 a night. The place was decrepit, but the bedding was clean, and the price was okay. Had my two meals at the [RENFE] station restaurant, and these were both excellent.

At Gerona I visited the 75 cm gauge station of the San Feliu de Guixolls line, but found nothing happening, as I had expected. So I then visited the metre gauge station of the Olot line, and found a little activity.

A 2-6-2T loco was simmering in the sunshine, and the whole set up was very interesting. There were a lot of goods vehicles, many falling to bits, and some ancient four-wheel coaches, purely English in design and build.

The track layout was very interesting, due to the use of wagon turntables, and a mixed gauge private siding into a local factory (all this was heavily overgrown and out of use).

There was also an engine shed, carriage shed, two goods sheds, and a fancy stone water tank building. A rail car came in from Olot, and then departed again (Olot being about 35 miles away).

I took the 6:30 p.m. steam train to Amer (about 20 miles out) and returned on the last rail car of the day. The train consisted of some of the old English four-wheel coaches, and a couple of wagons, the track was terribly rough, and so the ride was interesting.

The railway followed a fast flowing river, which is being made use of to provide hydro-electricity, and was very scenic. A great many photos were taken, as I found this line most satisfying in every respect.

Arrival back of Gerona was about 8:20 p.m., in nice time for dinner.

The Rail Trail

Since the closure of the railway a very good rail trail has been developed on its right-of-way.

Many of the station buildings have survived and are in much better condition than they were at the time of the railway's closure.

 

 

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1. Gerona station yard (of the Olot & Gerona Railway) looking towards Olot. The station building is behind the photographer. In the middle distance on the left is a rake of four-wheel passenger cars, straight ahead is a railcar trailer, and to its right are four-wheel goods vehicles. The building on the right is the goods shed for transfers to and from road vehicles. The water tank for steam locomotives can be seen at the end of the island platform. Just beyond the water tank, and to its left is a long shed which was probably a carriage shed.

2. Looking back towards the station building. A 2-6-2T locomotive can be seen on the left - we will see much more of this later, behind it the railcar trailer, and to the right, the rake of four-wheel passenger cars. The shed on the extreme right was probably a carriage shed. The two road loco shed was somewhere to the left of the loco, but unfortunately I did not photograph it — possibly it had been demolished?.

3. Gerona station. Though only tank locomotives were used on the railway, a turntable was provided to turn them. At the left is a luggage brake van on the end of a rake of four-wheel passenger cars which will form the 6.30pm train to Amer. More of that later.

4. Another view of the loco turntable at Gerona. To the right of the photo can be seen one of the four-wheel goods vans, and behind that is the station toilet building.

5. This is the rake of four-wheel passenger cars which will form the 6.30pm train to Amer.

6. A line up of six four-wheel goods vehicles, with a goods platform at the right. The station building can be seen in the background on the left, and the station toilet in the centre background, on the other side of the goods vehicles. On the extreme right a grey 1,674mm gauge van of the RENFE (Spanish State Railways) can just be seen. This is the area where goods were transferred between metre gauge and 1,674mm gauge vehicles.

7. An unusual (and rather antiquated) feature of Gerona station was the six wagon turntables. Three of them are seen in the foreground of this picture, but there are another three beyond these. These turntables might explain why all the rolling stock seen (except the railcars and trailers) were four-wheeled. The building on the right hand side is the goods shed for transfers to road vehicles.

8. The track layout at Gerona, showing the six wagon turntables, the two broad gauge wagon turntables, the two goods sheds for transfers between 1674mm and 1000mm gauges, the goods shed for road vehicles, and the factory with its two mixed gauge sidings.

9. Four-wheel platform-end car which was one of the four cars on the 6.30pm train to Amer. This has been repainted in a livery to match the railcars. The building in the background is the goods shed for transfers to and from broad gauge (RENFE) vehicles.

10. The second vehicle on the 6.30pm train was this four-wheel compartment car, which displays the English heritage of the railway, and is typical of rolling stock used on some of the Irish 3ft gauge lines. The third and fourth car on the train were similar to this, except that the third, just visible on the left of this picture, was painted in the two-tone railcar livery.

11. Several more four-wheel passenger cars, like this one, were in the station yard. Note that centre-buffer link-and-pin couplings were used, instead of the more common Norwegian chopper couplings. The building in the background is the goods shed for transfers to and from broad gauge (RENFE) vehicles.

12. Many of the goods vehicles also displayed their English heritage, like this cattle wagon.

13. And this cattle wagon, which has a different pattern of planking to the previous one.

14. This goods van has seen better times ...

15. Another goods van, this one with a brake-man's hut on the end, a feature which certainly differentiates this railway's rolling stock to that of English or Irish railways. The building in the background is the station toilet.

16. A four-wheel open wagon.

17. And a flat-wagon with stakes.

18. Another flat wagon with stakes, this one with a brakeman's hut on the end. In the background can be seen broad-gauge (1,674mm) vans of the RENFE (Spanish State Railways) in the goods yard of the main Genoa railway station. On this side of the masonary fence there were two broad-gauge tracks for interchange of goods. But goods traffic seems to have almost come to an end on the Olot & Gerona Railway by 1968.

19. Loco No.21, a 2-6-2T was in steam, and is seen here near its coal supply. To its right is a railcar trailer. No.21 has red buffer beams and trim, but it is so weathered as to be almost invisible.

20. The railcars were a startling contrast to everything else on this railway. Very modern and very well presented, they could not save the railway from closure. The track was in very poor condition and probably would have required more money to restore than the railway was capable of generating.

This railcar had arrived at 4.45pm on a train from Olot, and would depart for Olot at 5.00pm. At the time of my visit there were eight trains per day scheduled to depart from Gerona, but only three of these were steam, and all the steam trains terminated at Amer, 24.5 km from Gerona. Olot was 54.8 km from Gerona. However steam was time-tabled to operate on the Amer — Olot section in the mornings.

21. Locomotive No.21 takes water in preparation to run the 6.30pm train to Amer. The loco's red trim is more apparent in the bright sunshine.

22. No.21 at the head of the 6.30pm train in the station platform.

23. Another view of locomotive No.21 waiting to depart Gerona. On the right is the broad-gauge transfer goods shed.

24. Side view of No.21. In the background is the broad-gauge transfer goods shed.

25. Loco No.21 was Builder's No.280 of "La Maquinista Terrestre y Maratima" of Barcelona, and was built in 1926. A loose translation of the name of this Company is "The Land and Maritime Machinist".

26. The same train at Amer, where it terminated. Amer — although a much smaller town than Gerona — was the headquarters of the line. Here there was a three road roundhouse.

27. Another view of the train at Amer.

28. A railcar from Olot approaches Amer in the late evening light. It will depart Amer at 7.30pm for Gerona.

29. Close-up view of the railcar approaching Amer.

Locomotive list:

No. Type Builder Year built & B/No. Notes
1
0-6-2T
Falcon Engine Co. 1893 ?
a
2
0-6-2T
Falcon Engine Co. 1893 225
b
3
0-6-2T
Falcon Engine Co. 1893 226
c
4
0-6-2T
Brush Electrical Engineerting Co. 1899 281
d, i
5
0-6-2T
Kerr Stuart 1900 708
e, j
6
2-6-0T
Saint Leonard, Liège 1910 1677
f
7
2-6-0T
Saint Leonard, Liège 1910 1678
f
8
2-6-0T
Saint Leonard, Liège 1910 1679
g
9
2-6-0T
Saint Leonard, Liège 1912 1778
f
10
2-6-0T
Saint Leonard, Liège 1912 1779
f
21
2-6-2T
Maquinista, Barcelona 1926 280
f
22
2-6-2T
Maquinista, Barcelona 1926 281
h
23
2-6-2T
Maquinista, Barcelona 1926 281
f
24
2-6-2T
Maquinista, Barcelona 1926 281
f

 

Notes:
a. Scrapped c.1930
b. Sold 1920
c. Sold in 1901 ?
d. Sold 1932 to Reus - Salou railway, Spain
e. Scrapped or sold c.1930
f. Scrapped c.1970
g. One source says this is preserved, but does not say where
h. Preserved at Olot
i. Named Las Palmas
j. Named Ter

References, and sources of further information:

Books:

Allen, Peter & Wheeler, Robert, Steam on the Sierra: The Narrow Gauge in Spain and Portugal, Cleaver-Hume Press Ltd, London, 1960

Brush Bulletin No.5 Steam and Electric Locomotives, Brush Electrical Engineering Co. 1904, Re-published 1974 by Industrial Railway Society with additional notes.

Websites:

Google translate

This site is useful to help in the understanding of some of the websites below, which are in the Spanish and Catalan languages.

El web del tren d'Olot

This site, in the Catalan language, is dedicated to the Olot - Gerona railway, and contains a lot of information, including original documents, and photographs.

The "Historia" link in the menu leads to a good history of the railway.

El_Tren_Olot_passat_i_present (7.2 Mb)

This is a link to a 119 page book — El Tren Olot passat i present (The Olot train past and present) — which can be downloaded as a pdf. It is in the Catalan language and describes the railway as it was and as it is today. It includes many photographs of the stations as they were and as they now are, and much information and many photographs of the rail trail. Track layouts of the stations are included, but I do not know how accurate they are. The layout for Gerona excludes the wagon turntables, and differs from what can be seen in the photographs of 31 July 1968, it also differs from the track layout I drew on that date. (My track layout agrees with the photographs!)

http://ferrocarriles.wikia.com/wiki/Ferrocarril_de_Olot_a_Girona

This contains a brief history of the railway in Spanish, and an incomplete locomotive list.

http://ca.wikipedia.org/wiki/Companyia_del_Ferrocarril_d%27Olot_a_Girona

This contains a brief history and a limited bibliography.

http://www.narrow-gauge.co.uk/gallery/119

This contains seven photographs taken by James Waite, also in July 1968. They include photographs of 2-6-0T locos Nos 7 and 9 derelict at Amer, and locomotive No.22 in the workshops at Amer.


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All photographs Copyright Frank Stamford who may be contacted by email at: frank.stamford@bigpond.com

Last updated: 1 January 2010