Europe’s most unhappy train station gets new life as a hotel | World news


It earned the nickname “Titanic of the Mountains”, but now the monumental and unfortunate station of Canfranc is to be given a new lease of life as a five-star hotel 51 years after the closure of the international rail link across the Pyrenees.

The history of Canfranc, a village at over 1,000 meters above sea level on the French-Spanish border, is marked by boastful ambition and pathetic failure, incompetence and corruption, intrigue, smuggling and centuries of bad luck.

Spain wanted to show that it was capable of building something on the scale of Europe’s great “railway cathedrals”, says Alfonso Marco, author from El Canfranc, historia de un tren de leyenda (Canfranc, the story of a legendary train).

“When it was built, conceptually and technically it was already in the 19th century.NS Century, “he told the Guardian. The problem was that the station was designed in 1853 but wasn’t completed until 1928.

Marco, a third generation railway worker in his family, was born in Canfranc train station, where his father worked and lived.

At the opening ceremony of the route, King Alfonso XIII of Spain said: “The Pyrenees no longer exist.” However, the mountains were only one of the obstacles to Canfranc’s success.

There are many myths and legends surrounding the station, such as the fact that it changed the course of the Second World War. It didn’t, but it certainly played a role. After the Nazi occupation of France, the Spanish Franco regime used Canfranc to swap tungsten, which is essential for tank production, for Nazi gold, including a single shipment of 86 tons.

Franco wanted to maintain good relations with Britain and the United States, but he did not want to turn down the opportunity of a lucrative deal with Nazi Germany.

“As an international border crossing, Canfranc was more discreet and far less visible than others,” says Marco.

The station was used by spies on all sides, and it is said that numerous Jews escaped persecution in Vichy France via Canfranc.

“There is a grain of truth in all of these stories, but they have turned into something completely exaggerated,” says Marco. “For example, it is true that Jews used it as a border crossing point, but not on a large scale.

“And while the Germans ran the customs post on the French side during World War II, they never occupied Canfranc. These stories about the swastika that flies from the flagpole of the station are wrong. “

A map of the area around Canfranc station.

Marco disapproves of the nickname Titanic, despite accepting that Canfranc, like the ship, can be viewed as a metaphor for failed ambition, admits that it had more than its fair share of bad luck.

In fact, it had little else. The station had only just opened when the financial crash of 1929 began. Two years later it was badly damaged in a fire. Then, in 1936, the Spanish Civil War began, and the moment it ended, World War II broke out. By the time the hostilities were finally over, the Franco dictatorship was isolated and international rail traffic didn’t pick up again until the 1950s.

However, the track on the French side had a different gauge than the Spanish one, so passengers and luggage had to be reloaded from one train to the other, which extended the already long journey time. The line was never viable.

In 1970 a derailment damaged a bridge, providing an excuse to leave the station, which with its 365 windows and 200 meter long platform was left to decay and became what Marco describes as an “involuntary railway mausoleum of enormous sentimentality and heritage” Value … part of a story that cannot be ignored and that deserves to be known and appreciated ”.

Today the station only operates a modest Spanish domestic service.

The 104-room hotel is designed by architects Joaquín Magrazó and Fernando Used in collaboration with the regional government of Aragón and the Barceló hotel chain. The estimated cost is 27 million euros, of which the Aragon government is contributing 12 million euros for the repair of the tracks and the development of the surrounding area.

The facade will be retained, but a new train station will be built behind the existing one, which will be entered via the hotel lobby. The complex will include a conference center with 200 seats, a railway museum, shops and a pilgrim’s hut, as Canfranc is on one of the routes to Santiago de Compostela.

It is hoped that the hotel will revive the village when the work is completed at the end of next year, but Marco believes it will be some time before the connection to Pau, France, is back on track.

In 2020, France and Spain agreed to begin reopening the 7.8 km long Somport tunnel connecting the two countries and, with EU support, it is hoped that the Canfranc line and station will be fully operational by 2026 will be.

Meanwhile, the station has become a place of pilgrimage for those interested in industry, says Marco and recommends taking the train twice a day from Saragossa to Canfranc through the spectacular landscape of the Pyrenees.


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