The International Steam Pages

Once upon a time, long ago,
Ponferrada - Villablino, the Hill Region, May 1980

Wilson Lythgoe has been circulating friends with some steam pictures taken some time back and with his permission and encouragement they are reproduced on these pages and will be added to from time to time. Click here for the index.

The metre gauge Ponferrada - Villablino railway in North Western Spain was one of the last steam operated railways in Western Europe. The line went 64km from Ponferrada north into the mountainous region around Villablino where the mines were. The little amount of information I'd managed to find in the magazines of the day said there were a number of coal trains daily and a passenger hauled by Engerth type locomotives (whatever they could possibly be).

I spent four enjoyable days in Ponferrada in May 1980 exploring the station area and walking some distance out of town getting track side photos. Attractive little tender engines on the main line and some lovely Baldwin tanks on yard work. My plan to travel on the passenger didn't eventuate: it had been cancelled on 1st May....I had missed it by just three weeks! I then travelled on into Portugal, back into Spain and a month later found myself in Barcelona and all ready to push on into France. (For an account which does include a journey on the “Correo”, see Robert Hall's Tale of a 1979 visit.)

And then for some reason, the brain started thinking..........maybe I should go back to Ponferrada, hire a car and go chase trains up the top end of the line! Car rental rates were expensive with three days hire costing me the equivalent of my weeks earnings in England but I went for it anyway. A fourteen hour overnight train journey with no sleepers or couchettes available got me to Leon where I picked up the car and headed off up the back roads to Villablino.

When I started writing these notes the first thing I did was try to find out what an Engerth type loco was. The easiest description to understand was by Duncan Cotterill on his website - and I quote:

"These locos may look like conventional tender engines at first glance but they're actually quite sophisticated machines. Part of the weight of the tender is transferred to the main frames by means of a pair of beams extending from the front of the tender and resting on brackets behind the main drivers. This increases the weight on the driving wheels and improves adhesion.

The principle of transferring tender weight to the driving wheels dates back to the early 1850s when Wilhelm von Engerth used it in his design for the Semmering, Europe's first mountain main line. True Engerths have an articulated frame so the Ponferrada engines are probably best described as Krauss-Engerths after the German firm that developed the design into the more practical form seen here." Duncan's website has some fabulous photos on it by the way, especially of Chinese steam, and is well worth investigating.

(Similarly information is given on this site in the articulated locomotives section, Wiener would call these Stutz tender locomotives. RD)

My pictures were taken in late June 1980. The sun is pretty high in most of them. Looking back on my notes it apparently rained from late afternoon each day until mid morning the following day and I never have been keen on taking photos in the rain. Looking at these shots I reckon I made the right choice hiring that car!

The first four pictures are of PV 16 heading south from Villablino with a loaded train. PV 16 was built for the railway by the Spanish manufacturer Macosa in 1956.

Left: PV 19 running tender first over one of the lines magnificent viaducts. 19 was built by Krauss in 1920 and purchased secondhand by the railway in 1961.

Right: PV 17 (Krauss/1914 and purchased secondhand in 1961) heading north with empties over the Rio Sil 

Left: PV 16 having its fire attended to at a wayside station.

Right: The road must have been some way above the railway at times. The railfan's equivalent of a 'Where"s Wally?" page as an unknown loco rolls south with a coal train.

PV 16 with empties (left) and then some time later crossing the bridge outside Villablino with its return train (right):

Rob Dickinson