The Mountain Rly’s Catalonian twin

It has always been thought that the steam locomotives for the Snowdon Mountain Railway were a one-off batch from the SLM works at Winterthur, Switzerland. The discovery that further locomotives were built alongside the 1922 and 1923 builds for Snowdon (No.6 Sir Harmood/Padarn, No.7 Aylwyn/Ralph and No.8 Eryri) comes as a surprise.

L: Padarn’s twin depicted on a 1940’s poster. R: No 8 Conde des Lavern on Montserrat train below Los Apostoles

The Ferrocarril Cremallera de Monistrol a Montserrat of 1892 ferried worshippers up to the majestic cathedral nested in the heights of Montserrat. Five locomotives were built by the SLM works. The line was five miles long. The Monistrol station was at 155m whilst Montserrat’s was at 690m, a height gain of 535m.

Montserrat from San Miguel with railway route marked red. Postcard purchased by author early 1960’s.
The building in the centre below the Monastery is the upper terminus of the ‘aeri’ (the cable car.)

The rack railway expanded considerably to accomodate the large numbers of visitors to Montserrat. It bought new locomotives from SLM in 1921 and 1923. Though design information is not presently known for the 1921 locomotive, the 1923 build is clearly from the same batch as those for Snowdon’s locomotives. The new Montserrat locomotives were no. 7 (Elias Rogent – named after a noted architect from Barcelona) and 8 (Conde des Lavern) with SLM construction numbers 2397 & 2872.

L: Early view of the Montserrat terminus. R: Most of the ferrocarril cremallera’s fleet at Montserrat station.

Conde des Lavern at the level crossing. Pas-Nivelle (pasa a nivel – the ‘dog gatekeeper’ as shown on picture at right) was an uniformed dog who flagged trains past the crossing! At least 12 different dogs were used over the years. After the novelty ended a statue of ‘Pas Nivelle’ was built adjacent to the railway.

Aeri de Montserrat (opened 1930) Card in author’s collection from Monasterio de Montserrat early 1960’s

The popular Montserrat railway carried a record 274,000 passengers by 1947, but the railway company was now suffering financial difficulties. This was compounded by the speedy convienence of a new cable car system known as the ‘Aeri’ that sped passengers up the mountain in just five minutes compared to one hour by rail. On 25th July 1953 the rack railway suffered a major accident. This precipated a series of events leading to an enforcement order forcing the line’s closure in May 1957.

Conde des Lavern on its plinth. Link to picture source & James Waite’s article

No.8 is preserved on a plinth at Parets del Valles some distance south of Barcelona. It was one of the last locomotives to operate to Montserrat. It is very clearly a twin of the Snowdon locomotives. Padarn is the closest relative to Conde des Lavern. Padarn’s cabin has welded plates where the larger side openings on No.8 Conde des Lavern are seen. Hinged window panes were provided on the Snowdon batch to accomodate the much colder Welsh climate!

Padarn is the closest twin. Note welded plates in lieu of windows on its cabin.
© Copyright Gwychder y Wyddfa

The Montserrat locomotives had smaller water tanks as the Catalonian line’s gradients were generally less steep than on Snowdon. The Montserrat gauge was 1000mm against Snowdon’s 800mm. Other differences were more subtle – dome size, alternative locations for various pipe feeds etc.

Very large number of visitors to Montserrat prompted the building of a new electrified rack railway which was opened in 2003.

The new rack railway station at Montserrat in 2007. Picture from Wikipedia

Copyright © 2011 Gwychder y Wyddfa

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