The Plazaola Train: History and Infrastructure

Discover the Pamplona–San Sebastián (PSS) railway, the mining and passenger train that travelled through the rugged valleys of Navarre and Gipuzkoa between 1905 and 1953.

By Spanish Railways Foundation

Plazaola Railway Poster (Between 1914 and 1953)Original Source: Euskotren Archive/Basque Railway Museum

In 1914, a modest mining train became an ambitious narrow-gauge train linking Navarre and Gipuzkoa via the shortest, most direct route: the Plazaola Railway, Pamplona-Lasarte-San Sebastian, which went through places like this one called Paso de Dos Hermanas.

Citizens of Latasa in Venta Aranzadi (Between 1892 and 1918.)Original Source: Royal and General Archive of Navarre

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Larraun and Leitzaran valleys were rural areas, where all means of transport were animal powered, and journeys were basically local, to meadows and hills.

Construction of the Plazaola railway (Between 1902 and 1905.)Original Source: Euskotren Archive / Basque Railway Museum

The Bizkotx iron deposit, the largest in Gipuzkoa’s Leitzaran Valley, gave rise to the railway. It was necessary to transport the mineral from the mine, later called “Plazaola,” to steel mills and ports. This led to the construction, in 1905, of the first mining train.

Inaugural convoy at the Plazaola railway mining train station in Andoain (Between 1905 and 1914.)Original Source: Royal and General Archive of Navarre

On April 21st, 1905, the first mining rain want up from Andoain to the Plazaola mines. A grand occasion that deserved as much solemnity as possible, with the first locomotive being decorated with flags and banner-like tree branches.

Inauguration of the passenger service of the Plazaola railway in the press (1914-01-19)Original Source: Municipal Archive of Andoain

On January 25th,1914, the first train was eagerly awaited in Pamplona. From that year onwards, those first mining convoys reached the Navarre capital, now converted into passenger and freight trains. Pamplona was thereby linked to San Sebastian by train with a journey time of just three hours.

The Plazaola and Tarazonica Greenway

The present-day Lekunberri Station commemorates, by means of other historical images, the Plazaola railway’s past.

Plazaola train over the Auzokalte viaduct (1914)Original Source: Euskotren Archive / Basque Railway Museum

The Infrastructure

The mining train’s first and most fragile structures were used for the new passenger railway, like this first metallic Auzokalte viaduct, built with beams featuring iron latticework. In 1943, it was replaced with an impressive concrete viaduct.

Plazaola train over the Gulina viaduct (Between 1914 and 1953.)Original Source: Euskotren Archive / Basque Railway Museum

A series of tunnels and bridges run through the ravines. However, exceptionally, the longest bridge was to be found in easy terrain near Pamplona. The Gulina viaduct crosses a stream on a 135-metre-long stone structure, supported by 17 arches 13 metres above the watercourse.

Maintenance works on the viaduct (Between 1932 and 1953.)Original Source: Municipal Archive of Andoain

Water, along with increasing road transport using buses and lorries, was the main enemy. In 1953, a devasting storm destroyed the line and put an end to the Plazaola railway. Even earlier, in 1931, a flash flood washed away the bridge over the Arga, in Pamplona, which had to be rebuilt.

Testimonials regarding the history of the Plazaola Railway

The flash floods of 1953, which finished off this railway, are present in the memories of the longed-for Plazaola train’s former passengers.

For the "txapela" of Bertxin (Between 1914 and 1953.)Original Source: Municipal Archive of Andoain

In many sections, it was a real feat to lay down the tracks. In some cases, it was necessary to scrape the crags, like this one called Txapela de Bertxin, hanging above the Leitzaran ravine not far from Andoain in Gipuzkoa.

Construction of the Plazaola tunnel (Between October 20, 1910 and January 19, 1914)Original Source: Royal and General Archive of Navarre

The rugged terrain and the numerous meanders of the Leitzaran stream made it necessary to build dozens of tunnels: up to 66 were drilled. Among them all, the 2,630-metre-long Uitzi Tunnel stands out –for many years its was the longest in Spain’s narrow-gauge network.

Ameraun aqueduct on the Plazaola railway (Between 1914 and 1953.)Original Source: Euskotren Archive / Basque Railway Museum

The waters of the Leitzaran, which carved out the narrow valley through which the Plazaola railway ran, have long been used to generate energy, in foundries and electric power stations. Stone aqueducts, like this one of the Amerauan Power Station, were erected to transport the water to the turbines.

Women on the Plazaola railway (1921-01-01)Original Source: Royal and General Archive of Navarre

Would you like to learn more about the Plazaola train?

Continue reading in this exhibition to discover its stations, its people and its trains.

Credits: Story

This exhibition was made possible thanks to the TrailGazers project. It is funded by the Navarre Government’s Directorate General for Tourism, Commerce and Consumption, Nasuvinsa, Basquetour, Gipuzkoa Provincial Council and Plazaola Tourist Consortium. It forms part of the “Plazaola Digital” project, organised by the Spanish Railway Foundation (FFE). 

All pictures have been provided by the Royal and General Archive of Navarre, Municipal Archive of Andoain, Historical Railway Archive of the Madrid Railway Museum–FFE, and Euskotren Archive/Basque Railway Museum. 

The videos belong to the “Vive la Vía” (Live the Tracks) series of the FFE, and to the Archive of Navarre Immaterial Heritage and Public University of Navarre. 

We would also like to thank Xabier Cabezón for his inspiring website web www.leitzaran.net (CC-BY-NC-SA). 

More information: visitnavarra.es / turismo.euskadi.eus / plazaola.org / trailgazers.eu / viasverdes.com / navarra.viasverdes.com 

#VVPlazaolaDigital

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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