The International Steam Pages

The metre gauge railways of the Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya

This is one of a series of pages on this area of Spain, see also:

James Waite reports on his visit in November 2010.

The Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC) was formed in 1985 by the regional government of Catalonia, initially to take over the province’s narrow gauge railways which had previously been run by FEVE, the Spanish state’s narrow gauge operator. It now runs the 4ft 8½in gauge line from Barcelona to Terassa and Sabadell, the broad gauge branch to La Pobla de Segur, the metre gauge rack lines from Monistrol to Montserrat (see a separate report on this section) and from Ribes de Freser to Nuria up in the Pyrenees and those parts of the metre gauge line north from Barcelona which used to be run by the Compania General de Ferrocarriles de Catalanes (CGFC). This originally ran to Guardiola, 132km away in the foothills of the Pyrenees but had been cut back to Igualada and Manresa by the time of the takeover from FEVE in 1985.

The CFGC system was built by several local companies. The oldest part, between the old Norte main line at Manresa to Guardiola, opened in stages between 1885 and 1904. Next was the Martorell to Igualada line, opened in 1892 and later extended by a separate company to Barcelona. These two railways merged to form the CFGC in 1919 and a link between Martorell and Manresa was clearly needed to form a unified system. Construction of this difficult stretch through the valley of the River Llobregat began almost at once. It opened as far as Monistrol in 1922 and was completed to Manresa two years later. At the Barcelona end the line was extended underground to the terminus beneath the Plaza de Espana in 1926.

The oldest part of the system, the central stretch between Manresa and Berga, was taken over by the state in 1949 after the original concession had expired and was operated independently from the lines to its north and south. The main line north from Manresa closed in 1973. FEVE took over the remainder from the CFGC in 1977.

The underground section has always been electrified and was operated by a small group of Belgian-built Bo-Bo locos. Electrification of the remainder followed from the 1960’s and eventually extended to include the whole of the passenger lines to Manresa and Igualada. Freight-only branches run north from Manresa to Suria to serve potash and salt mines there and from Manresa to Sallent where there are more potash mines. There’s also a short branch to a large SEAT car plant on the outskirts of Martorell. These provide important freight traffic with up to two mineral trains daily from both Suria and Sallent and two car trains from the SEAT plant. The potash and cars go to Barcelona docks for export while the salt goes to a chemical factory near Martorell. The FGC claims that the potash trains are the heaviest on the metre gauge anywhere in Europe while the car trains are the longest.

The principal steam classes were a group of 0-6-0T’s, the first two of which were built by Krauss (Munich) in 1890 and 1896. Fourteen more were built in Spain, mostly by MTM at Barcelona, some of its earliest locos. Several of these have been preserved at various places in Catalonia though none is currently in working order. There were also several pretty Belgian-built 2-6-0T’s which ran until the 1960’s but sadly none of these have survived. Eight 2-6-0+0-6-2 Garratts were built by St. Leonard between 1922 and 1925 for the heavy mineral trains. No. 106 is preserved, not in working order, in a smart new shed close to Manresa Alta station along with 0-6-0T no. 31 and several pieces of freight stock. Finally there were nine 2-6-2T’s, no’s. 201 to 209, built by Energie in Belgium between 1921 and 1948. The last of these was either sold or hired from new to a coal company at Berga who kept it until 1972 since when it has been preserved. The FGC’s heritage operation now keeps it in working order along with 2-6-2T no. 22 from the Olot-Girona railway.

Today the FGC is a busy and very progressive railway as well as having a most healthy approach to conserving its heritage. There are no fewer than 14 trains in each direction between Barcelona and Martorell on weekdays, all worked by modern emu’s. Track is welded and the ride so quiet and smooth that you could be forgiven for being unaware that the train is moving at all unless you’re looking out of the window. Many of the stations have also been entirely renewed. At Martorell the old station building still stands alongside the new platforms. It’s now marked prominently as the Estacio del Vapor and contains a well laid-out exhibition about the history of the railway.

I’m most grateful to Joan Carles Enguix i Peiró, the FGC’s heritage officer who very kindly arranged a footplate run for me on no. 209 and took most of his working day to ride with me on the train and to show me around the railway’s heritage sites. Joan is a keen enthusiast with a wealth of knowledge of the province’s railways. I’m indebted to him for much of the information in this article. It was a most fascinating day out.

A night shot (left below) of 0-6-0T no. 35 (MTM 42/1904) preserved at Martorell Enllac. There seems to be quite a lot of confusion about the numbering of these locos, perhaps because of an interchange of parts at times during their long lives, and this one may actually be no. 33 (MTM 35/1902).

Olot-Girona 2-6-2T no. 24 (MTM 283/1926) - below right - preserved at the entrance to the Alberich scrapyard on the southern outskirts of Martorell at 8, Calle de Ferro, Castellbisbal (the BV-1501, just off junction 591 on the A2 motorway). The Olot-Girona line closed in 1969, long before the formation of the FGC but this photo is perhaps relevant as the FGC now looks after sister loco no. 22. There were four of these locos, no's. 21-24, all built by MTM in 1926. No. 21 was scrapped. No. 23 is now at the Blonay-Chamby museum railway in Switzerland.

Electric Bo-Bo loco no. 304 (BLC/GE, 1926), one of the locos built for the underground extension at Barcelona and now preserved at Martorell. It's in working order, still as built save that the FGC has designed and fitted additional equipment to cope with surges in the current supply, a by-product of the regenerative braking systems of the modern electric sets. It sees quite frequent use on specials.

A contrast in front ends... Left below is 0-6-0T no 28 (Krauss (Munich) 1891/1890), the first of this long-lived series of locos to be built, preserved at the site of the old station at Igualada. The railway has been cut back and the modern station is in the outskirts of the town. Right below is a line-up of modern electric units in the depot at Martorell Enllac.

0-6-0T no. 34 (MTM 32/1902) at the site of the old station at Navas.

The steam special which James reports on separately was the first working of the season and the crew couldn't get the water column to work at Monistrol. As a result the return run was terminated at Olesa de Montserrat and these two elderly Bo-Bo diesels worked the empty train forward to Martorell later in the afternoon. They're vintage machines in their own right, the first being built by Alsthom in 1955 and later ones by Euskalduna at Valencia between then and 1965 and I was glad to see them in action. Was their colour scheme inspired by BR's 1960's livery?! Note the train of Potash empties heading northwards, headed by 254.01, one of the railway's modern diesels. On the right below is 0-6-0T no. 31 (MTM 33/1902) at Manresa Alta. The loco saw use on the steam specials until a few years ago but now needs overhaul.

Two views of 2-6-0+0-6-2 Garratt no. 106, with its unusual cylindrical water tank at the front, in the new store at Manresa Alta. Sadly there's no current plan to restore it to working order - it's far larger than is needed for the steam specials. Note that this is a secure building and there's no-one in attendance there. It's a long way to go there and the trip would very probably be in vain unless you've arranged your visit in advance.

Rob Dickinson