"THE CERCEDILLA TO LOS COTOS RAILWAY" Navacerrada by AsturArcadia
Navacerrada Travel Guide: 2 reviews and 35 photos
The completion of the Villalba to Cercedilla and Segovia railway in 1888 opened up an opportunity for thousands of madrileños to escape from the often overbearing midsummer heat of the capital to the cool, pine-clad slopes of the Sierra de Guadarrama. One of the most popular points of access to the mountains was the village of Cercedilla, whence the direct main road to Segovia, built during the late 1700s, ascended steeply to the Navacerrada pass, at an altitude of 1,860 metres. Here, where the summer temperature rarely exceeded the low 20s, outdoor activities such as rambling and pony trekking could be enjoyed in comfort, while the combination of a warmish winter sun and heavy snowfall favoured the development of a winter sports industry.
As the number of visitors to the area increased, so did the need to improve access to the higher parts of the sierra. In an age when the private car was still the plaything of the rich, a railway was the obvious answer.
The first proposal for a railway linking Cercedilla and Navacerrada was submitted to the Ministry for Public Works in 1913 by the brothers Alfredo and José Moreno Osorio, and became lost within the mountains of paperwork in the governmental offices. The First World War then intervened, and by the time Alfredo contacted the Ministry in the summer of 1918 to find out what had happened to his document, another scheme was commanding more attention.
The Sindicato de Iniciativas de Guadarrama was founded on 5 June 1917 with the aim of developing leisure facilities in and around the sierra. It feared that if it did not act soon, the initiative would be seized by foreign entrepreneurs. Among its objectives were the construction of a hotel at Navacerrada, the promotion of real estate in the vicinity of Cercedilla, and the building of a railway between these two places.
One of the eight founder members of the Sindicato was José de Aguinaga, an engineer and keen mountain walker, who had travelled extensively in Switzerland. He was charged with the task of preparing a project for the railway. Although from the start what he had in mind was an electrified, metre gauge line with sharp curves, steep gradients and a minimum of civil engineering structures, modelled on what he had seen and travelled on in Switzerland, he first prepared a desk study for a conventional, 1,674 mm gauge line, with no gradients steeper than 1 in 50 (1.0%) and a length of around 35 km. Numerous tunnels, viaducts, cuttings and embankments would have been required. Journey time, with steam traction, would have been around 45 minutes, while the estimated construction cost was an unrealistic 40 million pesetas. The junction with the Segovia line would have been at Tablada, near the summit tunnel under the Puerto de Guadarrama, not at Cercedilla.
The desk study was really a ploy which Aguinaga used to convince other members of the Sindicato that the metre gauge alternative was the right one. The deciding factor was of course the construction cost – a mere two million pesetas. Public Works granted the necessary concession on 23 February 1919, and on 2 April that year the Sociedad Anónima del Ferrocarril Eléctrico de Guadarrama was founded, with Aguinaga as president.
Acquisition of land presented few problems, since most of the sierra is common ground, and only the first couple of kilometres of trackbed, through Cercedilla, had to be acquired via negotiations with individual landowners, Construction proceeded relatively slowly, though, since at the upper end of the line work was only possible during the summer half of the year. The winters of 1921 and 1922 were exceptionally severe, while the state of the national (and European) economy did not help matters either. Overhead wire electrification was provided, at 1,250 V DC, and two railcars and two trailers were ordered from the Swiss firms of Brown-Boveri of Baden and Schweizerische Waggon und Aufzugfabrik of Schlieren. These ran trials on the Bremgarten to Dietikon line, near Zürich, on 28 July 1922, and were then moved to Spain.
The inauguration took place on the afternoon of Thursday 12 July 1923, in the presence of Alfonso XIII and his wife, Victoria, who had travelled up from Madrid by car. The special train departed from Cercedilla at 18.00, and since the hotel at Navacerrada was still under construction, the customary banquet that accompanied inaugurations could not take place. Instead, the monarch and his wife made a cursory inspection of the unfinished buildings, attended the consecration of the chapel dedicated to the Virgen de las Nieves and San Bernardo de Menton, and then returned to Cercedilla by car.
There was then a thirteen-month hiatus until an Act dated 11 August 1923 authorised the start of public train services. While on weekdays these were sparse, on Sundays and public holidays there were eight train pairs, all connecting at Cercedilla with the Compañía de los Caminos de Hierro del Norte’s services to and from the capital. The Real Hotel Victoria was opened in 1924, and to commemorate this and to attract visitors from other parts of Spain, a publicity leaflet was published. This showed principal connecting train services. For instance, one could leave Gijón at 16.20 or Santander at 22.15, and be in Cercedilla at 07.04 or at 09.07 the following morning. A 14.30 departure from A Coruña resulted in an arrival at Villalba at 09.30 the next day, the full journey to Navacerrada taking all of 23 hours and 15 minutes!
Clearly, traffic soon reached acceptable levels, since in 1936 a further railcar and trailer were ordered from the two Swiss companies. At the start of the Civil War the line lay close to the Republican/Nationalist front, the rebel forces being in control north of the sierra and making frequent sorties in the direction of Madrid. The Real Hotel Victoria became a Republican base, its power supplies guaranteed by the railway’s substation at nearby Siete Picos. Although leisure visitors soon became thin on the ground, and weekend train services were suspended, Cercedilla village council persuaded the railway company to operate a daily train service to and from Camorritos, for schoolchildren and teaching staff. Trains occasionally ran as far as Navacerrada, too, either to supply the Republican troops or for infrastructure inspection and maintenance purposes. Republican efforts to push the insurgents northwards off the mountains were described by Hemingway in ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, and on 31 May 1937 an important advance was made, the front being pushed back as far as the royal palace at La Granja. But it was a short-lived breakthrough, and four days later Colonel Moriones’s forces were driven back to the watershed. Remarkably, Madrid, a Republican island in a Nationalist sea, with only a fragile link to València (the base for the Republican Government) and the Mediterranean, held out until the spring of 1939 and the inglorious end of the conflict.
For reasons that have never been made clear, the passenger service between Cercedilla and Navacerrada was not restored until May or June 1940. In the confused situation following the end of the Civil War the precise ownership of the line was not clear, and there is a set of operating instructions, dated 25 February 1941, entitled ‘Caminos de Hierro del Norte de España – Línea de Cercedilla al Puerto de Navacerrada (Ferrocarril Eléctrico del Guadarrama)’, which could be interpreted that at some stage after 1936 the Norte had taken the line over. This is rather unlikely. But, as from February 1941 the line did, in spite of its gauge, become part of the nationalised RENFE network. It did not pass to the state-controlled Explotación de Ferrocarriles por el Estado (EFE), which since the early 1900s had been acquiring lines of various gauges whose original operators had gone bankrupt. EFE, from 1965, became FEVE, responsible only for metre gauge networks.
RENFE’s first actions – long awaited – were the construction of a proper station building at Navacerrada (completed in 1944) and the adaptation of the former Norte station building at Cercedilla so that it now served as a proper interchange between the two lines. But apart from these two positive steps, the railway entered into a long period of neglect, affecting both rolling stock and infrastructure. Nevertheless, traffic increased substantially during the 1940s and 1950s. The line from Madrid to Segovia had been electrified, services were fast and relatively frequent, and on Sunday mornings especially the trains heading north from the capital were crowded.
(Continued in Travelogue)
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