he International Steam Pages

Once upon a time, long ago,
Over the Hills and Far Away...
The Corgo Line, Portugal, 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. On August 17th 2012, I added some later pictures taken by Josť Ferreira Barcelos on 14th March 2009, just before closure. There is a map available showing the mg lines in northern Portugal.

In the late sixties and early seventies there were a series of magazines published on the railways of the world. They waxed lyrically about the Portuguese metre gauge lines and their ancient steam engines. There were three series of lines.....those based around the northern city of Oporto, those running north off the broad gauge route that followed the River Douro and a further network south of Oporto. After that I don't think any other information about these lines came my way until I actually visited the River Douro area in June 1980.

At that time I was an enthusiastic supporter of Oporto's most famous product and as part of my European tour felt a visit could be beneficial. As a bonus I would take the broad gauge train up the Douro and check out some of the metre gauge lines to see if there was any steam still being used. I chose the 8.00am Sunday train.......it was crowded with day trippers heading up country with, what I described in a letter home as, 'empty five gallon, cane covered flasks to get filled with cheap plonk.' The man sitting alongside me had six in his care! 

My first port of call (excuse the pun) was Regua where the Corgo Line branched off and headed for Chaves. It took me some time to recall the view point I took this photo from and then it clicked: my hotel room window! Gathered round the dual gauge turntable were seven steam engines: six large Mallets and a little 0-4-0.

Swinging round to the right I got a shot of a rather clean broad gauge loco and train arriving at Regua. Behind the first carriage is the diesel servicing area complete with two broad gauge and one narrow gauge loco. After closer inspection that afternoon it looked as if steam was very much a thing of the past.

After a suitably sumptuous Sunday lunch my afternoon activities were restricted to a single shot of a ng train soon after departure. Each carriage is different with the second from the loco most likely first class as there seem to be fewer passengers in it compared with the other two.

The next day nothing was in steam so I decided to ride the train to Chaves. Regua must have been quite a busy station by the looks of this shot: the ng train is on the left and there seem to be three broad gauge trains sitting at other platforms. Certainly all trains on the narrow connected with ones on the broad.

In his book 'Narrow Gauge Railways of Portugal' WJK Davies describes the first twenty six kilometres of the journey as very tortuous track on an average grade of about 1 in 50. This grab shot out of the carriage window looks down on the Carrazedo station two to three kilometres, and a horseshoe curve, since the train stopped there.

Another out the window shot as a glorious view opens up. The train has just topped a summit and is following a contour heading off to the left of the photo......it will appear into the picture where I've put the word 'Line' and then continue losing altitude until it reaches the distant towns.

At Vidago, one of the towns seen in the previous photo, there was a short pause to cross a south bound working.

Journey's end at Chaves: ninety seven kilometres and three and a half hours from Regua. A short break for the crew, then once the freight had arrived it was off back to Regua. Like yesterday's train mine included three different styles of carriage.

The next morning I opened my curtains to be greeted by steam.......

.....and then once the sun had risen a little bit of movement.

What happened after that, I can't remember.......I've no further photos at Regua but at least I'd seen my first Portuguese steam engine in steam! The little beastie was an 0-4-0WT, built by Henschel in 1922, it reached Regua around 1943 where it was used as the narrow gauge shunter for the remainder of its life. WJK Davies says '...withdrawn in the latter half of 1978. It was then overhauled at Campanha Works and put back into service until about 1987:...It was then externally restored as E1 and plinthed at Regua, where it still was in 1997.' And if my internet research is correct it's still there today!

The diesels that had replaced steam were part of a class of ten built by Alsthom in 1976 and 1977........some had arrived on the Corgo line in January 1978 and shortly after steam was no longer needed. I believe that some of the locos I saw round the Regua turntable in 1980 can still be seen there today.

Of the line itself there is only bad news: due to road improvements and falling passenger numbers the northern half between Vila Real and Chaves was closed in 1990. On Wikipedia I found: 'On 25 March 2009 the remaining service on the line (between Regua and Vila Real) was suspended due to the condition of the track. Repairs were promised and the line was expected to reopen by 2011. In practice, due to budgetary constraints, the repairs have not been forthcoming and the replacement bus service was itself withdrawn with effect from 1 January 2012. The tracks were lifted from Vila Real station by 2011.' 

The following pictures were taken by Josť Ferreira Barcelos on 14th March 2009, just before closure:

Rob Dickinson

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