"EL BERRÓN" Berrón by AsturArcadia
Berrón Travel Guide: 1 reviews and 86 photos
There are relatively few places in the world where two railways cross each other, on the level, and at right-angles. Relatively few compared with ordinary junctions with sets of points, or diamond crossings. And still fewer where the two railways involved are of different gauges and belong to two different companies. Of course, such crossings are (or were) far more commonplace on private industrial networks than on public ones with passenger services.
British readers will probably cite the one north of Newark on the London King’s Cross to Edinburgh main line, which is traversed by that from Nottingham to Lincoln. Another, of mixed gauge, will soon come into existence on the Cambrian Coast line just east of Porthmadog station, where the 1,435 mm gauge line from Shrewsbury to Pwllheli is to cross the revived Welsh Highland Railway (Porthmadog to Caernarfon) of 600 mm gauge. While the East Coast Main Line flat crossing will soon disappear as part of an upgrading scheme, that in northwest Wales is a newcomer on the scene, and a very welcome one, too.
On 12 July 1856 the Compañía Anónima del Ferrocarril de Langreo in Asturias inaugurated its 1,440 mm gauge line from Gijón to Sama de Langreo. This, the fourth public railway to be built in Spain, linked the coal mines of the middle Nalón valley with the nearest seaport, and a passenger service was also provided. The coastal escarpment was scaled by means of an inclined plane, replaced by a 4 km base tunnel in 1963.
On 14 October 1891 (four days before the official inauguration), passenger trains of the Compañía de los Ferrocarriles Económicos de Asturias started running between Oviedo and Infiesto – the first stage in the construction of the metre gauge line to Llanes and Santander, completed in 1905.
The two railways crossed, at right-angles, and on the level, just south of the village of Noreña, about 13 km east of Oviedo. Each company had its own station, for many years known as Noreña-El Berrón, the latter being the name of what was then a small hamlet on the ridge lying to the north – the subdued watershed between the Nora (to the south) and the Noreña (to the north). Each company had a transhipment siding, sharing a common island platform, for the transfer of freight. There was not much of that until the Económicos network was physically linked with that of the Vasco-Asturiano (from Collanzo, Moreda, Ujo and the Turón mining basin to Oviedo and the port of San Esteban de Pravia) in 1928.
Judging by the local architecture, for many years the only new buildings in El Berrón were those in the vicinity of the station – a row of cottages (now derelict), some warehouses, and later a stylish block of flats to house railway workers. The Langreo also built a very impressive station building, with apartments on the upper floors. Económicos made do with a structure which never looked anything better than a tumbledown wooden shed. There was also the remarkable building owned by the Colegial family, of which more anon.
A financially decrepit Económicos was taken over by the State-controlled Ferrocarriles de Vía Estrecha (FEVE) on 4 April 1972. On 12 June that year what was by then the world’s oldest railway company – the Langreo – ceased to exist. There had been some debate over whether the gauge of its network (1,440 mm) entitled its assets to be transferred to RENFE or to FEVE. FEVE it was.
By the early 1980s, though, El Berrón was expanding. The main coast road, the N-634, had been diverted round the north of the urban area on a by-pass. Blocks of flats were rising. Car commuting to Oviedo was on the increase. There was a modern hotel, the Samoa, with a large ballroom (still in its original 1960s style 30 years later). In 1983/4 FEVE transformed the Langreo (El Musel and Gijón to Sama and Pola de Laviana) to metre gauge – in effect creating a brand new railway. An hourly passenger service was introduced, and a west-to-north chord, for freights (mainly coal in those days) replaced the transhipment sidings. In the spring of 1990 a much improved local passenger service was introduced between Oviedo, El Berrón and Pola de Siero. This took off slowly, but soon became quite popular, and many trains were subsequently extended east to the cider-producing town of Nava, the line being doubled in stages almost as far as Pola de Siero. Electrification from Gijón to Pola de Laviana was undertaken in 1992/3, and from Oviedo to Nava a few years later. A south-to-west chord was built at El Berrón, and by the late 1990s there were through Noreña to Oviedo and Pola de Laviana to Oviedo passenger trains. There has been piecemeal and rather messy doubling of the Langreo line between La Florida and Carbayín, this to be completed by 2011 or 2012 if Public Works puts its shoulder to the wheel.
In 1999 the two FEVE stations in Oviedo, Avenida de Santander (Económicos) and Jovellanos (Vasco-Asturiano), were closed, together with the Avda. de Santander depot and that at Santo Domingo, on the Vasco-Asturiano line from Oviedo to Fuso de la Reina and San Esteban. The Vasco-Asturiano to Económicos link round the eastern side of Oviedo city centre, by then mockingly known as the ‘Cinturón de Hierro`(‘Iron Belt’) by property speculators and city councillors (often one and the same creature) was closed, to make way for redevelopment and the creation of ‘cinturones de asfalto’ (roads). A new line was inaugurated from Colloto to a new FEVE station occupying the northern platforms of the RENFE station in Oviedo. The Oviedo to Trubia RENFE branch was transformed to metre gauge, a new link was built at the Trubia end to the FEVE (ex-Vasco-Asturiano) line, and the route transferred to FEVE ownership. The original Económicos and Vasco lines between Colloto and Fuso de la Reina were closed – the section from La Manjoya to Fuso now being a rather unkempt ‘Vía Verde’.
The closure of the two old Oviedo depots (Económicos and Vasco) resulted in the construction of a brand new works and depot complex to the southeast of the flat crossing in El Berrón. By then the ramshackle Económicos station buildings had been swept away, and a brand new ticket office, waiting hall and traffic control centre had been built. Within the works compound, there is also what is in effect an east-to-south chord.
The latest chapter in the history of El Berrón was written on 18 August 2009. That day the Minister for Public Works, José Blanco, inaugurated a state-of-the-art traffic control centre in the historic building just to the east of the flat crossing. The Casa de El Colegial was built by a local businessman of that name, in a Modernist style echoing that of Gaudi, in the early twentieth century. It was a private mansion, with warehouses or storerooms attached, and screened from the railway by a line of chestnut trees, long since cut down. For many years it had lain derelict, but in 2006 or 2007 was acquired by FEVE for renovation and redevelopment. Sensitively restored and extended, it now has offices on its ground floor, the control centre on the first floor, and a function room on the second floor – and needless to say, the views from up there are out of this world! It is situated nowadays on a railway ‘island’, since while rebuilding was in progress, an east-to-north chord was built, primarily for freights, but also for a future local passenger service from Infiesto (the present limit of electrification) to Gijón.
Our tour of El Berrón commences with the small town itself. We partake of morning coffee in a very railway-orientated bar, and then make for the junction and railway works, to embark upon a very comprehensive tour. Most (but not all) of the photos were taken on 18 August 2009, and there are also a few historic ones for those of you who, like me, adore steam traction!
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