Lost metre-gauge in the Douro Valley

IMG_3540EXACTLY 25 years ago today, on Wednesday, 10 May 1995, I went on one of my most memorable ever continental railway journeys, when I broke off from a family holiday near Lisbon to spend an unforgettable 36 hours travelling to the Douro Valley and then sampling two of the remarkable metre-gauge lines leading up tributary river valleys north of the Douro.

Those trips up the Tua Line to Mirandela and later up the Corgo Line from Régua to Vila Real convinced me that these were some of the most scenic rail journeys in Europe, so it came as a real shock to learn years later that the Portuguese Government had allowed these lines, along with the Tâmega Line from Livração to Amarante, to close (in 2008/9).

All three lines were the truncated remains of what had once been much longer routes. The 38km Tua Line from Tua to Mirandela, for example, had continued on for another 81kms to the town of Bragança, but that extension had closed four years before my visit (in December 1991), although my Portuguese rail timetable for 1995 still showed a replacement bus connection with four of the five daily rail services.IMG_4627

Similarly the Corgo Line had continued well beyond Vila Real, just 26kms north or Régua, extending a further 70kms to the town of Chaves, where a railway museum now provides a reminder of what was lost when this section closed in 1990. Services from Régua to Vila Real were “suspended” on 25 March 2009, due to the need for track repairs, never to resume.

Thirdly there was the Tâmega Line heading north from Livração, which had extended well beyond its temporary terminus at Amarante (13kms) to terminate 39kms further on at Arco de Baúlhe.  Arco de Baúlhe lost its rail service in 1990, with  Livração-Amarante closing in 2009.

IMG_3491  E214 at Régua on 20 August 2004 after being restored to operate tourist services

Connecting all three of these wonderful metre-gauge routes was the spectacular Douro Valley broad gauge route, running along the north bank of the River Douro, with services from Porto’s Sao Bento terminus running through Livração, Régua and Tua to terminate 32kms further on at Pocchino, one-time junction with yet another metre-gauge route, the Sabor Line, which had closed in 1988.P3British motive power was a feature of Douro Valley Line services, in the form of the popular Class 1400 series diesels. The first ten of this 67-strong class (1401-10) were built in 1966 at English Electric’s Vulcan Works at Newton-le-Willows, including 1405 seen above at Régua on a Porto-bound service and its builder’s plate (below).P9   

Overnight to Porto

My 1995 Douro Valley adventure began on the night of Tuesday, 9 May 1995 when I had caught the 21.11 Inter-Regional (IR) service from Malveira on Portugal’s west line (Linha do Oeste) to the terminus station at Lisboa Rossio. From there I had taken a taxi to Santa Apolonia station, then a reasonably comfortable overnight journey on the 00.20 Regional train 3401 to Porto Campanhã, arriving there at 05.50.

IMG_4628After a leisurely breakfast at the station, I then took the first Douro Valley train of the day, Regional service 4103 (07.01) to Régua, arriving there at 09.42 in time to spend half an hour photographing the remarkable collection of nine Mallet steam locomotives standing abandoned, and in need of rescue, around a dual-gauge turntable to the north of the station.

The first train of the day beyond Régua was the 10.12 IR service for Poccinho, which got me to Tua at 11.06, in good time for the 11.21 service to Mirandela. This was formed of Alsthom Bo-Bo unit 9030 hauling a single van and two aged red and while-liveried carriages, each with both first and second class sections.

Loco-hauled to Mirandela

Trains were timed to take just under two hours for the 38km (24-mile) trip to Tua, with mine pausing at the first station we came to, Santa Luzia, to pass sister loco 9022 on a Tua-bound service, as seen below. After savouring some quite spectacular scenery, we arrived in Mirandela at 13.17, leaving time for a leisurely walk around the station yard, where two further members of the class (9022/29) stood awaiting their next turns.IMG_3542

At this time trains on the Tua line had reverted to locomotive haulage, due to the unreliability of a fleet of ex-Jugoslav Railways (JZ) units (9701-20), which CP had bought in 1980 and converted from 760mm gauge. I would later travel in one of these units on my Corgo Line trip to Vila Real, but none were in evidence at Mirandela on 10 May 1995.

IMG_35379029 waits to depart Mirandela on 10 May 1995 with the 14.50 service to Tua

Just over a month after my visit, however (on 28 June 1995), a service called Metro de Mirandela was launched using LRV2000 units over a re-opened 9km stretch of the route north from Mirandela to Carvalhais, which provided a regular suburban service until its withdrawal in December 2018.P249029 at Tua on 10 May 1995 after arrival with the 14.50 service from Mirandela

Services from Tua to Mirandela ceased abruptly in August 2008 followed a fatal accident, when a train derailed near the station at Brunheda, killing one person and causing 25 injuries. There have been recent proposals that a 24km stretch of this remarkable route from Brunheda to Mirandela may re-open for tourist services.

Return to Régua

My 1995 return to Tua was aboard the 14.50 departure from Mirandela, hauled by 9029, which I had earlier seen in the station yard. Looking my CP train timetable, this was one of the services to have a bus connection from Bragança (departing at 12.30) and left me wondering how often anyone made the epic 7½-hour trek from there to Porto (arriving at 20.02), a distance by bus/rail of just 195kms (122 miles)?P1  A pair of ex-JZ Class 9700 railcars at Régua on 10 May 1995

After a brief opportunity to photograph 9029 on arrival at Tua, I took the 17.00 Regional train back to Régua and my chance to ride in one of the JZ units on the final departure of the day to Vila Real (18.44).P23

One notable feature of this splendidly scenic hour-long journey is the stretch of dual gauge track running east from the station to a junction close to a broad gauge shed, as seen in the bottom photo.

The final southbound railcar of the day left Vila Real at 19.45 and marked the start of a near 13-hour return to Malveira, which continued with a ride on the final the Porto-bound service of the day, IR 866 departing Régua at 21.10 and arriving in Porto Campanhã at 23.22. This left plenty of time before an overnight trip aboard Regional service 3400 at 00.30 that reached Lisbon’s Santa Apolonia station at 06.02.   IMG_4624

While my notes of the 1995 trip are somewhat patchy, I did at least keep a detailed log of both train times and fares, and it is remarkable to recall how cheap fares were on CP. My whole 36-hour marathon had cost just 7,970 Escudos (equal to £34.65 at the time) and had involved travelling a total of 1190kms (744 miles).

Is this the way to Amarante?

One of my great regrets on that 1995 trip was passing through Livração station and not having time to travel on the Tâmega Line to Amarante. So it was good to be able to remedy that situation on a second family holiday to Portugal, in August 2004, just five years before the Douro Valley metre-gauge lines would be consigned to history.IMG_3506NOHAB railcars 9012/3 outside the shed at Livração on 10 August 2004

IMG_3503LRV2000 units 9508/9 at Livração on 10 August 2004

By the time of my visit to Livração on 10 August 2004 its 1949-vintage NOHAB railcars had been replaced in regular service by a pair of LRV2000 series single railcars (9508/9). These had been created as re-builds of JZ-unit power cars and were also being used on the Corgo Line, as I discovered on making a return visit there the following week.

IMG_3510LRV2000 unit 9508 waits at Amarante on 10 August 2004 with the 13.24 to Livração

The weather in northern Portugal is somewhat unpredictable, even in August, so that while I had enjoyed fine sunshine for my visits to Vila Real and Mirandela, the day of my trip from Livração to Amarante was marked by heavy showers, as reflected in these scenes at the junction and later at Amarante.

Back to Vila Real

Having only had five minutes to grab a quick photo of a JZ-unit there on my 1995 visit, it was good to have longer to appreciate the scene at Vila Real when I returned in a hire car on Friday, 20 August 2004 for what would sadly be my last ever chance to sample metre-gauge action in the Douro Valley.4-26-2020_019

Vila Real is a large and attractive city of around 50,000 inhabitants and the spacious station reflected its importance, with a large station yard and station building with the closed line to Chaves still intact beyond level crossing gates at the north end of the station. Services on the day of my visit were in the hands of LRV2000 units 9502/7.IMG_3502Along with my young son and many other tourists, I took the 14.00 to Régua, returning after a brief stop at 15.10. During that brief stop there was just time to see and photograph two preserved narrow gauge locomotives that had been restored and earmarked for tourist services – 1948-built diesel 9004 in its attractive original blue livery  (below) and Mallet 2-4-6-0 steam locomotive E214 (Henschel, 1923).IMG_3552It was also interesting to note that one of the ex JZ units had joined the dumped steam locomotives around the turn-table at Régua since my 1995 visit.

Metre-gauge action hangs on by a thread in Portugal at the perennially closure-threatened Vouga system between Espinho and Averiro, now home to the two preserved locos (9004/E214) I saw at Régua.P15 Some of the nine Mallet locomotives dumped at Régua on 10 May 1995

But with the enormous popularity of the Douro Valley as a tourist destination it is hard not to feel that a priceless and irreplaceable asset was lost when its metre-gauge railways were allowed to die.

Along with my CP rail timetable (Guia Horário Oficial) for 1994/5, two invaluable sources of reference were “A Guide to Portuguese Railways” (by David Clough, Martin Beckett and Michael Hunt (Fearless Publications, 1991) and the outstanding “Narrow gauge railways of Portugal” by W.J.K Davies (Plateway Press, 1998).IMG_3485




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