The International Steam Pages


The Basque Railway Museum at Azpeitia, 2018

James Waite writes, click on a thumbnail to display the picture full size and then click on the picture to return to the report.


Azpeitia is an industrial town about midway along the route of the old metre gauge FC Urola which ran southwards through the steep-sided Urola valley from Zumaia, on the FC Vascongados (FV) metre gauge main line between San Sebastian/Donostia and Bilbao, and the Renfe (ex-Norte) main Madrid-Irun broad gauge main line at Zumarraga. It was the home of the Urola's main depot and workshops. The line was built by the Guipuzcoa provincial authorities, opened in 1926 and was electrified from the start. In its early days much of its traffic consisted of coal inbound from the harbour at Zumaia which was destined for the industrial concerns along its route as well their products which were shipped out. Unlike most of the Spanish narrow gauge railways it was never taken over by the state or Estado organisation, nor by FEVE, its state-run successor. By 1984 its equipment was life-expired and it was taken over by ET, the devolved Basque government's railway operator. They began to modernise it but soon decided that it should be closed instead. The last train ran in 1986.

The Basque government decided in 1990 to use the extensive facilities at Azpeitia as the base for the region's railway museum and it opened two years later. Initially the museum had the use of about 3km of the old line south westwards as far as Loiola, a pilgrimage site and a popular tourist destination as St Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, was born there and there's now a large basilica. However the line was forced to close in 1995 to enable the steelworks at Azpeitia to expand across the old route and now the line north as far as Lasao (5km) has been rebuilt instead, largely at the steelworks' expense.

The museum runs one or two trains every Saturday and Sunday between Spring and Autumn and also on public holidays. Last Saturday 13th October was one of three days each year when the museum steams all its operable locos and runs many more trains than usual. I hadn't realised until we arrived there that Friday 12th was a public holiday and so we had an additional unexpected run then.

 

 

 

These are at Azpeitia station on the Friday. The loco working the train is FV 2-6-0T no 104 "Aurrera" (Nasmyth Wilson 551/1898) and the black loco is FV 2-6+4 Engerth no 56 "Urko" (Krauss Munich 7630/1920) - though restored as no 50 "Euskadi", presumably because "Euskadi" is the Basque name for the Basque Country. I've always thought of these Engerths as a speciality of the Ponferrada-Villablino (PV) line but in fact they originated in the Basque Country, the first having been built for the FC Elgoibar-San Sebastian, a constituent of the FV, in 1903. No 50 was the first of a large number of these locos built for the FV. Most of them found new homes when the FV was electrified in 1929 but this loco was one of three which were kept on. In 1958 all three were sold to the La Robla line between Bilbao and Leon and they moved on to the PV in 1962. No 50 is still dumped at Ponferrada as PV no 18. No 56 has been in working order in the past but currently awaits overhaul.

No 104 also originated on the FC Elgoibar-San Sebastian. It survived the FV's electrification and spent many years as the shunter at the FV's works at Durango. Note the unusual station architecture, a feature of all the FC Urola's stations and apparently inspired by the local style of large country houses, not least the one at Loyola in which St Ignatius was brought up.

 

 

 

These are of 0-4-0ST "Espinal" (Robert Stephenson 2631/1887). This loco spent its working life on the FC Orconera, a large mineral system running west from Bilbao, and is preserved in its Orconera condition with their characteristic thick green lining. The railcar in the second one is one of the Allan of Rotterdam machines which spent their working lives running on the CP's metre gauge lines in northern Portugal. It was leaving its shed to work the first of the day's services to Lasao.

 

 

The first picture is of Altos Hornos Vizkaya 0-4-0T no 60, a Borsig design and one of many of these locos which ran until the 1970's at the AHV's enormous steelworks in Bilbao. It was built at least partially by the steelworks and used to be a working exhibit at the museum. It's currently awaiting overhaul. This ex-London Transport trolleybus ended up working in San Sebastian as did several of its old stablemates after London abandoned its trolleybuses. (On a personal note, so did several which went to my second home in Penang, Malaysia, but they were all scrapped and the system abandoned in 1961 some 10 years before I first went there. RD)

 

 

 

 

The first picture is a close-up of no 104. The other two are of FC Amorebieta-Guernica 0-6-0T no 1 "Zugastieta" (Sharp Stewart 3435/1888) which was built for the opening of this line and spent its entire working life there until it was withdrawn in 1960, after which it spent many years rusting away in open store at Durango until being restored by the museum. The fourth picture shows the same two locomotives with "Espinal".

 

This picture is of a broad gauge steam crane built by Grafton of Bedford in 1920 which spent most of its working life at the Babcock & Wilcox loco factory in Bilbao. It was in steam for the event. The grey bg loco behind it was the B&W works shunter.

This group of pictures are at a point about midway along the line. I'd seen photos of the bridge over the River Urola in the past and hadn't realised that the undergrowth must have become much thicker in recent years. Most of the line runs north-south, not easy for northbound photography, but at this point it turns briefly to run east-west. The grey-green coach in 3877 is from the FV and the two dark green ones are from the FC Urola. The brown one comes from the FC Bidasoa which ran southeast from Irun alongside the river of that name which forms the border between Spain and France. I suspect that this multi-coloured train may not be as unauthentic as one might think given that all these railways formed a single network and there was quite a lot of through working.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are of two more AHV locos in store.

 

 

Finally "Espinal" again outside the loco shed at the back of the museum in the late afternoon and with CP 2-4-6-0T no E205 (Henschel 12280/1913) raising steam before taking out the 18.00 train - but by then we were heading for the airport for our flight home. The last time I saw this loco was at Regua back in 1978! Reportedly its two chimney numberplates are exhibits at the Lousado museum and it's a shame they haven't followed the loco to Azpeitia. The shed is normally off-limits and if access there is important to you it would be worth asking for permission in advance. Most of the museum's exhibits are from the Basque Country but the two Portuguese ones apparently attract considerable attention from Portuguese enthusiasts as sadly none of CP's historic narrow gauge steam locos and few of their diesels are now in working order.

There are also many diesel and electric exhibits, ranging from one of the FV's well-known baby crocodiles (Belgian built with Swiss licensed equipment) and three of their Swedish-built electrics to several of the Urola's railcars and carriages but there were more than enough steam exhibits to keep me occupied for one visit!

One tip for future visitors - the museum's opening hours for these Saturday events are 10.30-14.00 and 16.00-20.00 and everything closes, and visitors need to leave for the siesta between 14.00 and 16.00. We returned promptly at 16.00 but the three British locos appeared to have gone to bed, as had the steam crane. It looked as though the only steam action would be E205's run at 18.00. Try to get there a little before the museum opens in the morning as there was a long and slow-moving queue for entry.

This was an excellent visit to a superb museum and we were very lucky with the weather. We flew home from Bilbao late on Saturday evening, just in time as it turned out as the same front which dumped so much rain on South Wales at the weekend arrived there in force on Sunday.


Rob Dickinson

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