The Streetcar to Sierra Nevada

A high-flying ride from the city of the Alhambra to Barranco de San Juan

By Andalusian Archives

Archivo Histórico Provincial de Granada

Las Beguetas bridge ([S.XX]) by Luciano Roisin.Andalusian Archives

Accessing the Sierra Nevada from Granada quickly and comfortably had long been an unresolved problem. That's why, in 1906, the first plan for a streetcar to the Sierra Nevada was received with widespread enthusiasm. The project was thought up by the Compañía de Tranvías de Granada (Granada Streetcar Line Company) and was entrusted by the director and entrepreneur Nicolás Escoriaza y Fabro to the famous Swiss engineer Emil Strub.

An ambitious railway project

The complexity of the route and the associated costs meant that four previous streetcar-line projects were attempted before choosing the final design in 1921.

Pinos Genil station, tram line to Sierra Nevada (1946)Andalusian Archives

The Sierra Nevada is a mountain range in the south of Granada that has the three highest peaks in the Iberian Peninsula: Mulhacén (11,423 feet), Veleta, and Alcazaba.

Pinos Genil station, tram line to Sierra Nevada (1946)Andalusian Archives

The surface of the mountain is about 2,000 square kilometres and it extends from east to west along about ninety kilometres.

Hydroelectric use in Pinos Genil (1946)Andalusian Archives

The fundamental problem of access to the Sierra Nevada was connection.

Blanquillo bridge, tram line to Sierra Nevada (1946)Andalusian Archives

Tunnel in the Nitar gorge, tram line to Sierra Nevada (1946)Andalusian Archives

From the beginning of the 20th century, there were several projects that attempted to connect Granada and Sierra Nevada. The first took place in 1902 and involved opening a road that used the old Camino de los Neveros.

Later, in 1906, the Director of the Compañía de Tranvías de Granada (Granada Streetcar Line Company), Nicolás Escoriaza, commissioned the streetcar-construction project to the engineer Strub with the aim of fostering tourism. He even suggested installing a hotel and shelters for hikers.

Maitena station, tram line to Sierra Nevada (1946)Andalusian Archives

The planned line would be approximately 21 miles long, starting in Granada and finishing at the peak of Mulhacén.

Hydraulic exploitation in Güéjar Sierra (1946)Andalusian Archives

There were other attempts supported by Isabel de Pineda, the Duke of San Pedro de Galatino, and the Belgian engineer, Luis Gustavo Berg, but none of them came to fruition.

Bridge over the Genil, tram line to Sierra Nevada (1946)Andalusian Archives

The Leading Figures of this Ambitious Venture

Since the first Sierra streetcar project was envisioned in 1906, the entire city of Granada, the media, entrepreneurs, and authorities supported the idea. They put their money where their mouths were and purchased stocks of the streetcar-construction company.

In 1919, the Duke of San Pedro, one of the most active men in the economic and commercial history of Granada, promoted the creation of a company that built the Sierra streetcar—la Sociedad Eléctrica San Pedro de Maitena (San Pedro de Maitena Electric Company)—to supply electricity to the railway. The cost would be 1.2 million pesetas.

Group of authorities in the Carmen de los Mártires de Granada ([1946?])Andalusian Archives

The project had huge public support, as shown by the fact that 78% of shareholders had fewer than 10 shares. The largest stockholder was the Duke of San Pedro.

Visit to the works of the tram of Sierra Nevada in the ravine of San Juan ([1945?])Andalusian Archives

The works started in early 1921, under the direction of the engineer Enrique Gómez López, head of civil engineering, and José Morell, head of rolling stock (wheeled vehicles) and electricity.

The tram to Sierra Nevada before entering the tunnel of the Chorrera ([1945?])Andalusian Archives

Inspection visit in the tram line to Sierra Nevada ([1945?])Andalusian Archives

By the end of that year, the construction of a bridge over the Genil River was finished. Work had also been started on leveling from the Pinos Genil municipality upward, as well as drilling different tunnels.

The electric tram of Sierra Nevada at a travel stop ([1945?])Andalusian Archives

In 1923, Carlos Morales López took over as a new engineer, joining forces with José Valentí to send electrical power the line.

The tram to Sierra Nevada before entering the tunnel of the Chorrera ([1945?])Andalusian Archives

A dizzying route with an incredible view

The start of the line was almost entirely new and did not overlap with previous routes. This made the trip a unique experience, with a succession of bends suspended above the abyss.

Maitena Station, tram line to Sierra Nevada ([1945?])Andalusian Archives

By December 12, 1924, the line to Maitena was almost ready.

On February 21, 1925, the first stretch of the streetcar line from Canales to Granada was finally opened. The route was 7,580-miles long, and stopped at the towns of Cenes, Quéntar, Dúdar, Pinos, Canales, and Guéjar.

The total cost was around 4.25 million pesetas.

Bringe on the tram line to Sierra Nevada ([S.XX])Andalusian Archives

The route was 12 miles and featured 14 tunnels and 21 bridges, one of which (Blanquillo) was the first in Spain to be built of concrete.

From the Güéjar Sierra station, the streetcar construction continued for almost a mile. In 1928, the streetcar line reached Maitena station at the confluence of the Maitena and Genil rivers.

Blanquillo bridge, tram line to Sierra Nevada ([S.XX])Andalusian Archives

Local, poor economic performance discouraged any new construction. However, mountaineers asked for the line to be extended to Barranco de San Juan.

From the outset, the line made a loss. In 1931, after near economic collapse and labor disputes, the Spanish State closed the line on July 30, 1931. After a three-week standstill, the streetcar resumed operation once again.

On June 9, 1934, the streetcar became publicly owned and run permanently by the Comité de Explotación de Ferrocariles del Estado (Railway Operation Committee of the State).

Dam of the electricity factory of the Castle on the road to Sierra Nevada ([S.XX]) by Luciano Roisin.Andalusian Archives

In 1940, a line extension was considered. Two years later, the engineer José Pérez Pozuelo made a proposal. An extended line to the Estrella mines and from there, a cable car to the shelter areas located at roughly 8,202 feet.

Las Beguetas bridge ([S.XX]) by Luciano Roisin.Andalusian Archives

The extension works started in 1944, with a first phase of two miles to the Barranco de San Juan. Eight tunnels and three bridges (two over the Genil River and one over the Maitena river) had to be built.

Charcón station, tram line to Sierra Nevada ([S.XX]) by Hauser y Menet.Andalusian Archives

The new line to Barranco de San Juan was inaugurated by the Minister of Civil Engineering in 1947, following a visit by Alejandro Mendizábal Peña, the chief engineer of State railway operations Charcón-San Juan. They were accompanied by the Granada authorities.

Tunnel nº1, tram line to Sierra Nevada ([S.XX]) by Hauser y Menet.Andalusian Archives

The stretch to the Estrella mines was never completed and the cable car was never built.

Chorrera bridge, tram line to Sierra Nevada ([S.XX]) by Hauser y Menet.Andalusian Archives

Credits: Story

The Streetcar to Sierra Nevada

Organized by:
Ministry of Culture of the Regional Government of Andalusia

Curator: María Rosa Eva Martín López. Provincial Historical Archive of Granada
Text: Francisco Leiva Soto. Provincial Historical Archive of Granada
Photographs: Provincial Historical Archive of Granada
Digital Exhibition: Charo Andreu Abrio.
Directorate General of Cultural Innovation and Museums.

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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