Majorca and its Railways - 1936

By W. A. WilloxFirst published in
in April, 1936 

MAJORCA is the largest of the Balearic Islands, lying about 100 miles off the Mediterranean coast of Spain, of which they form a province. The climate of Majorca (Spanish Mallorca) is exceptionally equable, the winter temperature rarely falling below 40° F., and that of summer seldom exceeding 90° F. It is therefore popular as a holiday resort all the year round, an island bathed in sunshine, with a long dry summer, a short April-like winter, a dazzling almond-blossom spring, glorious sea bathing, good cheap hotels, and an atmosphere of peace and quiet.

The island can be reached from England direct by several steamship lines; or via Paris and Marseilles, and thence by weekly steamer; or - the most usual route - via Paris and Barcelona, and thence by the very fine 3,000-ton motor-ships that ply nightly, reaching Palma, the capital, in the early morning. The journey by way of Barcelona takes about 43 hours, the first night being spent on the Barcelona Express of the P.O.-Midi, and the second on board ship. Barcelona is reached shortly after 1 p.m., and as the boat does not leave till 9 p.m., a pleasant afternoon can be spent in this fascinating Spanish city. For those in a hurry, Majorca can, of course, be reached much more quickly by air, via Marseilles.

Majorca is a beautiful island, but it is also interesting from many points of view, not least in respect of its railway system. Under a Decree of 1868 for the construction of a line from Palma, the capital, to Inca, 29 km. (18 miles), a Majorca Railway Company was formed in 1872, and the line was opened to traffic on February 25, 1875. In the following year this railway was amalgamated with another concern, the Majorca Central and South Eastern, under the title of the Majorca Railways Company. The railways were thereafter extended from Inca to Manacor, 35 km. (21¾ miles); San Bordils Empalme to La Puebla, 13 km. (8 miles); and from Santa Maria to Felanixt, 43 km. (27 miles). On September 4, 1916, a new branch was opened from Palma to Lluchmayor, 30 km. (19½ miles), and was extended to Santany, 62 km. (38½ miles), from Palma, on July 31, 1917. In March, 1921, an extension from Manacor to Arta, 30 km. (18¾ miles), was opened. The gauge is 3 ft.

The doubling of the main line from Palma to Inca was authorised in 1927, at the same time as a new line connecting the main station at Palma with the port by means of a tunnel under the town. Work on both was begun in 1928, and, together with additional sidings on reclaimed land near the port, they were completed in January, 1931. Until then, traffic between the main line and the port followed the streets of the town, and was thus liable to cause traffic congestion. Normally only freight traffic is worked to the docks, but occasionally, when cruising ships are in port, excursion trains are run.

At the present time extensions of the railway are proposed from La Puebla, about 14 km. (8¾ miles), to serve the growing residential town of Alcudia and the port there, at which an increasing number of steamships call, and from which connection is made with the neighbouring island of Minorca. The other extension planned is from San Miguel to Las Cuevas del Drach at Porto Cristo, about 7 km. (4½ miles). It is expected that the latter will bring considerable excursion traffic to the railway, for the caves at Manacor are world-famous. Neither extension involves any important engineering works, both being over easy ground.

The original rolling stock of the Majorca railways was acquired in England, but since the war additions have been imported from Spain and Germany. The first locomotives were of the 4-4-0 type, with 3 ft. 6 in. driving wheels and cylinders 11 in. by 18 in., and weighed in working order 18½ tons. Like all the other locomotives in the island they are tank engines, and in common with all those imported up to 1911, they were built by Nasmyth, Wilson & Co. Ltd. Additions to this type were made from time to time up to 1898, when 13 were in service - Nos. 1-3, 16-18, and 22-28 - two of which (Nos. 22 and 23) had been built by the railway company at its Palma works. These are the only locomotives ever built in the island. The later 4-4-0 engines had cylinders enlarged to 13 in. by 18 in. and 13½ in. by 19 in., and weighed between 27 and 28 tons in working order. Besides the 4-4-0 type, Nasmyth, Wilson built two 0-6-0 locomotives, Nos. 4 and 5, in 1876, with 3 ft. 3 in. driving wheels and 13 in. by 18 in. cylinders, which weighed 23 tons in working order. Eleven years later, the same firm sent out two 4-6-0's with 3 ft. 3 in. driving wheels and 15 in. by 20 in. cylinders. These weighed in working order 35½ tons, and repeat orders for two were delivered in 1891 and another two in 1911. These engines are Nos. 10-15. The only other type of Nasmyth, Wilson engine was a 0-4-0, No. 6, with 2 ft. 6 in. driving wheels and 10 in. by 14 in. cylinders, and weighing 12½ tons, delivered in 1889, for working the traffic from the station at Palma to the port through the town. In 1928 the company ordered from the Spanish Babcock & Wilcox firm six 2-6-2 locomotives, Nos. 50-55, for passenger traffic, designed to haul 100 tons at an average of 30 to 40 km. per hour, and with enough water capacity to run from Palma to Manacor. These locomotives have feed water heaters and purifiers, and are equipped with electric headlights. They have coupled wheels 3 ft. 7 in. dia., cylinders 14½ in. by 21¾ in., and weigh 46 tons. Other locomotives built since the war are six 2-6-0's, Nos. 30-35, from the German firm of Krupp, with wheels and cylinders the same size as those of Nos. 50-55, but weighing 37 tons; three 2-6-0's, Nos. 19-21, with 14¼ in. by 19¾ in. cylinders and 3 ft. 5 in. wheels, and weighing 34 tons, from the Spanish firm of La Maquinista Terrestre y Maritima, and one 0-4-0 designed for working through the town between the station and the port at Palma. The last is No. 7 and was built at Madrid in 1921 by Orrenstein and Koppel. The engines are painted green, and most of them are named after places served by the railway.

The company owns also four rail motor cars, which are used for special and conditional services, as well as for operating some of the less heavily loaded ordinary serviceds. There are 567 goods vehicles and a total of 85 passenger coaches, many of which are four-wheelers dating from the opening of the line. There are, however, 14 modern bogie corridor coaches, which are used on the principal main line services. The coaching stock is painted varnished teak or brown. First and second class accommodation is provided, except between Palma and Felanixt, which is second class only. So superior is the second class in the modern coaches that a supplement is demanded of those who take advantage of it. Centre buffers with automatic hook couplers, as well as side chains, are used on all stock. Screw couplers are also fitted to passenger carriages, and the vacuum brake is used. To operate its road servicdes the railway owns a number of motor omnibuses.

The permanent way consists of 30 kg. per m. (60 lb. per yd.) flat-bottomed rails, mostly 10 m. (32 ft. 10 in.) long, spiked direct to wooden sleepers, and stone ballasted. Speed seldom much exceeds 40 m.p.h., and can be measured by counting the number of rail points passed over in 22.4 seconds (on 10 m. rails). The trains run on the right-hand track between Palma and Inca. The steepest gradient is 1 in 67, and curvature is no sharper than about 800 ft. radius, except through station loops.

Trains generally leave Palma in the morning, afternoon and evening, with corresponding return trains. Optional services are shown intermediately in the timetables, and are generally supplied by the railcars, hauling 4-wheel trailers when necessary. Average booked speeds vary from 23¼ m.p.h. for the through journey of 58½ miles between Palma and Arta, including stops, to 28 m.p.h. for the fastest start-to-stop run, between Palma and Santa Maria, 15 km. (9¼ miles), in 20 minutes. The latter is made in both directions, although there is a substantial rise from Palma to Santa Maria. Trains are often double-headed out of Palma as far as Santa Maria or Inca.

In connection with the principal trains, railway motorbuses are run to outlying towns and villages. Bus services are also operated in conjunction with other concerns.

There is another railway on the island, connecting Palma to Soller (pronounced Solyer), 17½ miles, on the north coast. Whereas the lines of the Majorca Railways Company traverse the southern part of the island, which is comparatively flat, the Soller Railway has to cross the main northern mountain ridge, through the higher parts of which it penetrates in tunnels, the longest of which is 2.8 km. long. The line, opened in 1912, and electrified in 1929, rises from Soller to a summit 323 metres (1,060 ft.) above sea level, 20 km. (12½ miles) from Palma, where its terminus adjoins that of the Majorca Railways, and it is 43 m. (141 ft.) above sea level. Thence, with entrancing views of mountain and sea, it drops, by many windings, to Soller, 41 m. (134 ft.) above sea level, 28 km. (17½ miles) from Palma. 500 h.p. motor coaches and trailers are used. They are first and second class, and arranged to give a good outlook, from which passengers may get uninterrupted views of the magnificent scenery. Altogether the rolling stock comprises four motor coaches, ten trailers, 25 goods wagons, two brake vans, and a service locomotive in the form of an old Ford chassis mounted on flanged wheels.

Formerly the line was worked by 2-6-0 steam tank locomotives, now lying derelict at the old engine shed at Palma. Standing derelict also is the contractor's locomotive, abandoned when the line was finished. It is almost identical with the Matthews locomotive of the Wantage Tramway illustrated on page 69 of THE RAILWAY MAGAZINE for January, 1933. It was built by the Falcon works at Loughborough in 1891 and bears the works number 198.

The electrification is on the 1,200 volt d.c. system, and current is collected from an overhead conductor. The current for the railway is carried from Palma in a high tension line to Buñola, about half-way to Soller, where it is transformed from 15,000 volts to 1,200. There is another transformer at Soller which further reduces the voltage to 500 for a 4-km. tram line to the port. This tram line is owned by the railway with which is is physically connected at Soller. Another interesting tramway in Majorca connects the Palma electric tram terminus at San Antonio with Arenal, a six-times daily service. The track is of flat bottomed rails spiked directly to the sleepers and the gauge is the standard 3 ft. There is a four-wheeled petrol-driven car with a 12 h.p. Citroën engine which maintains a six-times daily service. Plans are in hand for the construction of an aerial ropeway from a point near Lluch to the summit of Puig Mayor, the highest point in the island, 1,400 m. (4,600 ft.) above sea level. The ascent of 900 m. (2,950 ft.) will be made in just over 2 km. The construction of this cableway is understood to be actually in hand.

The island is increasingly popular with both Spanish and foreign tourists, and there would seem to be scope for the development of more speedy rail transport, such as might be provided by fast and comfortable railcars. The delightful coast resorts and numerous places of interest within the compass of the island's 1,274 square miles are nearly all served by the railways, but at present cannot be reached by rail so quickly from the capital as by road.

The author is indebted to the managers of the two railways, and to Messrs. Kenneth L. Craven and B. Townsend, as well as to Nasmyth, Wilson and Co. Ltd., for assistance in compiling the data included in the article.

The article above was first published in THE RAILWAY MAGAZINE for April, 1936. It was transcribed and posted to the Web by Neil Worthington in August, 2000.

Accompanying the article was this fine map of Mallorca's railways (GIF file, about 56KB).