The International Steam Pages


Once upon a time, long ago,
Over the Hills and Far Away...
The Tua Line, Portugal, 1980

Wilson Lythgoe has been circulating friends with some steam pictures taken some time back and with his permission and encouragement they are reproduced on these pages and will be added to from time to time. Click here for the index. There is a map available showing the mg lines in northern Portugal.

Trevor Heath visited Portugal in 2007 and wrote a somewhat dispiriting report http://www.trevorheath.com/livesteaming/douro.htm. Well worth reading after you have digested this tale. 


After Regua, covered earlier, it was back onto the broad gauge for the short trip further up the River Douro to Tua and the start of the next metre gauge line heading over the hills and far away. There seemed to be nothing at Tua apart from the railway junction and a few houses so the instant decision was to catch the connecting metre gauge train, a railcar hauling two carriages, to the end of the line at Braganca. 135 kilometres away Braganca turned out to be delightful, small country town.........and I stayed for two nights.

The morning train to Tua gets underway from Braganca. The light haze from the exhaust....

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.......quickly turns to something an oil fired steam engine would be proud of as the driver opens the throttle and heads out of town. Dating from 1954/55 Portuguese Railways had purchased ten of these railcars, along with eight matching trailers, from Allan of Rotterdam. Although designed chiefly for fast suburban work around Porto a number were used on the heavy grades of the Tua Line with some success although my notes at the time say 'it was a long, hard haul out of the Douro and took over four hours to reach Braganca'. 

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I walked a short distance out of town and found a reasonable photo position to catch an arriving train. Six of these decidedly ugly duckings had been built for a Spanish metre gauge line between 1959 and 1967 and then sold to Portugal in 1974.

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Soon after the train was back this time heading south to Tua. Same carriage stock as before but with the van now at the rear and a different class of diesel up front. To my mind this type looked much better on passenger trains: the loco was about the same height as the carriages and not towering over them as in the previous shot.

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The following day I went to Mirandela, half way down the line, where I'd seen two Mallets sitting outside a shed. Sitting turned out to be all they were doing so after lunch walked out into the country to get an action shot. An interesting combination turned up: diesel loco, railcar trailer, second class car, a combination first & second class car then a box car. At this stage all Portuguese metre gauge trains carried first and second class.

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Next morning this gorgeous 0-4-4-0 Mallet was being steamed. From a class of ten, E166 was built by Henschel & Sohn in 1908 and withdrawn in 1989 although it had probably seen minimal use since around the time of my visit. I'd now seen my first ever Mallet, theoretically in steam, but on trying to find out what was going to happen was told by the crew nothing. It was being steamed for a test and wouldn't be moving.

Today E166 is stored under cover at Tua. A photo found on the web, taken in 2011, shows her to be looking very weather worn. 

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Back down to Tua E114 was sitting in the yard, in steam, and about to do a spot of shunting. Some photos, a short cab ride and all too soon 114 was parked up again. A 2-6-0T built by Emil Kessler of Germany in 1907 it was regarded as main line power in its day and apparently became the last serviceable steam locomotive on the Tua line. It was declared unserviceable in 1996 and then stored at Braganca where I believe it still resides today.

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Another short trip on the broad gauge took me to Pocinho where another meter gauge line started its journey over the hills. The connecting metre gauge service turned out to be a bus and there seemed to be nothing happening in the rail yard. I chose not to join the bus but to return down the Douro valley on the next broad gauge train.

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I did grab a shot of the metre gauge yard though. The little loco in the middle of the picture is E54: an 0-6-0T built by Emil Kessler in 1890 and at one stage the Pocinho pilot. In the background is the bridge taking the metre gauge over the River Douro and out of town: rail on top and road underneath.

I discovered two or three years later that I should have stayed in Pocinho longer. As WJK Davies explained in his book 'Narrow Gauge Railways of Portugal': "Despite an official quoted date of 1978 rail passenger services ceased in May 1981 when the last railbus became unserviceable..... A periodic goods service was maintained until 1988, twice weekly, out from Pocinho one day and back the next. The Sabor Line then closed completely from 1 January 1989." That goods service was hauled by 2-4-6-0 Mallet tanks right up until closure! But I was blissfully unaware of that in 1980 and so retraced my steps to Tua.

With a couple of hours to kill at Tua before my next train I staked out the metre gauge just before the junction in the hope of getting a photo. It's a well known photo possie, but a rewarding one, where the line comes out of a tunnel and then runs over a girder bridge next to the cliff face before disappearing into the next tunnel. I got lucky and managed a goods train.........

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From Wikipedia comes details of the closure of the Tua Line: "The northern section of the line between Mirandela and Braganša was suddenly closed in December 1991, with the closure being formalised in 1992. Most of the remaining section south of Mirandela was closed abruptly in March 2008 (following an accident) on grounds that emergency repairs were necessary. A twice-daily taxi service has replaced the train service and this is still operating as of March 2012. Budget cuts by the Portuguese Government led to a decision to permanently close the line, as announced in the Government's Strategic Transport Plan 2011-2015, published in October 2011. Actual train services were effectively withdrawn in 2008, apart from a short section around Mirandela which is operated as the Metro de Mirandela."

As a 'two days a week cabbie' I was interested to check out the taxi service on the Portuguese Railways website. It's there alright: there's one timetable for 'Linha do Tua' and another for 'Lina do Tua Taxis'. At 09.55 you can catch a Metro de Mirandela train to the village of Cachao 13 kilometres and 15 minutes away. You would then transfer to a taxi for the 41 kilometres down to Tua taking a further one and a half hours. At Tua the taxi connects with a broad gauge train to Porto. There are two such services each way daily. Monday to Friday there is also an early morning taxi from Ribeirinha to Cachao, a distance of 8 kilometres, connecting with a Metro de Mirandela train to Mirandela. This service returns in the evening. I wonder do passengers pay train or taxi fares?


Jose Ferreira visited the line in 1997 when it was still open between Tua and Mirandela. His two pictures, at Tua and Mirandela, show a CP train not much altered from my visit in 1980. The Metro de Mirandela railcar looks very new though.

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The third of Jose's pictures show Mirandela station as it was in 2011 and probably still is today.

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Rob Dickinson

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