Canfranc International railway station

Estación Internacional de Canfranc

( Canfranc International railway station )

Canfranc International railway station (Spanish: Estación Internacional de Canfranc) is a formerly international railway station in the village of Canfranc in the Spanish Pyrenees. The Somport railway tunnel, inoperative since 1970, which carries the Pau–Canfranc railway, under the Pyrenees into France, is located at its northern end.

The station, which was opened during July 1928, was constructed on a grand scale to serve as a major hub for cross-border railway traffic. Already more modest than imagined, this came to a full and abrupt end during 1970 following a train derailment that damaged a key bridge in France.

With only minimal services over five decades, Canfranc station experienced a major decline and neglect, resulting in much of the site becoming derelict. The regional government has ambitions to reopen the international line and has redeveloped the station, which meant the renovation of the existing station building for use a...Read more

Canfranc International railway station (Spanish: Estación Internacional de Canfranc) is a formerly international railway station in the village of Canfranc in the Spanish Pyrenees. The Somport railway tunnel, inoperative since 1970, which carries the Pau–Canfranc railway, under the Pyrenees into France, is located at its northern end.

The station, which was opened during July 1928, was constructed on a grand scale to serve as a major hub for cross-border railway traffic. Already more modest than imagined, this came to a full and abrupt end during 1970 following a train derailment that damaged a key bridge in France.

With only minimal services over five decades, Canfranc station experienced a major decline and neglect, resulting in much of the site becoming derelict. The regional government has ambitions to reopen the international line and has redeveloped the station, which meant the renovation of the existing station building for use as a hotel and its replacement by a new facility in the former freight area. In February 2020, funding for both the relaunch of international services and the station's rehabilitation was made available by the European Union.

Origins

During the nineteenth century, two major border crossings were established between France and Spain.[1] However, even prior to the start of the twentieth century, it was recognised that there was consistently insufficient capacity to accommodate demand for cross-border traffic, and that a third border crossing was required. At one point, the cost of constructing such a crossing had been reportedly estimated at 3.2 million pesetas (roughly equivalent of €20,000 at the time), in addition to in excess of 1.2 million pesetas for supporting infrastructure such as access points, docks and other facilities.[1]

According to railway historian Alfonso Marco, Spanish officials found it desirable for such a railway to be provisioned with a grand station that would demonstrate the nation's engineering prowess. Thus, when such a project got underway, it was decided to build such a facility at Los Arañones, situated in a relatively undeveloped valley near the village of Canfranc.[1] The practicality of building a grandiose station was the decision for the French and Spanish railway operators to share the facility, rather than having its own individual station, which meant that Canfranc would serve as a prominent hub for the route, greatly shaping its design and scale.[1] Concretely, the main building incorporates elaborate Beaux-Arts architecture, featuring 365 windows and 156 doors, along a length of 240 metres (790 ft).

On 12 July 1912, construction work commenced on the Somport railway tunnel from the French side; it would be completed in 1915, the work having been delayed by the outbreak of First World War.[1] Construction of the station itself did not begin until 1923, headed by the Spanish project engineer Fernando Ramírez de Dampierre. It was formally opened on 18 July 1928, in the presence of King Alfonso XIII of Spain and the president of the French Republic Gaston Doumergue.[1]

In 1944 there was a fire that destroyed 117 of the 132 houses in Canfranc. The fire forced the people of Canfranc to move to Los Arañones, de facto renaming Los Arañones to Canfranc.[2]

Operational years

Roughly three years following its grand opening, Canfranc International railway station suffered a major fire. The fire started in the lobby, the blaze spread throughout adjacent areas, causing an estimated 500,000 pesetas in damages overall.[1] After this event, numerous officials lost their optimism in the value of the station.[1] During the Spanish Civil War, Nationalist leader Francisco Franco ordered the tunnels on the Spanish side sealed, allegedly to prevent arms smuggling.[3] However, as a consequence of the Franco-Spanish international convention under which it was built, the station itself remained open.[3]

During the Second World War, the station and the surrounding area acquired a reputation as the "Casablanca in the Pyrenees" due to its serving as a key crossing point for goods, as well as being the epicenter of espionage for Nazi and Spanish authorities.[1] Officially neutral Spain had formed an operational agreement with the Wehrmacht, which saw freight trains carrying mined tungsten northwards while French grain, as well as trans-shipped Swiss gold, was borne southwards. Passenger services also continued during the conflict, which provided an escape route into Spain for both Jews and Allied soldiers alike.[3] Aware of these movements, Nazi agents frequently sought to intervene against passengers of interest.[1]

Following the end of the war, railway traffic promptly returned to normal levels.[1] The relative stability experienced during the 1950s and 1960s brought about a period of prosperity, but this soon proved to be rather short-lived. In the 1960s, the future of both the station and the Pau-Canfranc railway became increasingly threatened, and they were chronically underfunded, leading to frequent incidents that eventually raised safety concerns.[1] The station is often said to have been used in the filming of Doctor Zhivago (1965), but although the film was shot largely in Spain, there is no evidence that Canfranc was a filming location.[4]

The station's principal purpose of operation came to an abrupt halt on 20 March 1970, when a train derailment on the Pau-Canfranc railway line demolished the L'Estanguet bridge on the French side of the Pyrénées Mountains. Under financial pressure from its national railway company SNCF, the French government decided not to rebuild the bridge, which effectively forced the closure of the cross-border line.[5] Despite this, the station remained open, served by just two daily Spanish trains[1] and a handful of rail replacement buses from the French side. As a consequence of the through route's abrupt termination, the population of the village declined sharply over the following years.[3]

Deterioration
 
Abandoned French track field in 1994
 
Spanish train services to Zaragoza from Canfranc

Since the closure of the through route, much of the station and its facilities were neglected and became inoperative.[1] Large portions of the site were overgrown, but the majority of the buildings remained largely intact and could be entered. The main building was re-roofed, but otherwise remained in a state of disrepair, and was fenced off and remained closed to the general public outside of guided tours, which were first only offered during July and August. Between 2013 and 2017, approximately 120,000 people, mostly Spaniards, toured the station, a greater number than had used the station when it was in service.[3]

During the 2010s, the railway station, using its more modest facilities, has been open for the twice daily passenger trains to and from Zaragoza–Delicias railway station,[3] plus the occasional freight train to the grain silo. During 2007, the station was declared to be a Site of Cultural Interest.[1]

^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Berti, Adele (29 July 2020). "Canfranc: bringing an abandoned railway station back to life". railway-technology.com. ^ Oficina de Turísmo, Canfranc. ^ a b c d e f Cite error: The named reference BBC was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ Pedro Zapater (1 July 2012). "¿Se rodó 'Doctor Zhivago' en la estación de Canfranc?". Heraldo de Aragón (in Spanish). ^ "27 mars 1970: l'accident" (in French). Quierzy Club. Archived from the original on 19 April 2005.
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