Amara station hosting a temporary exhibition to mark the 40th Euskotren anniversary from today
Forty years ago, on 24 May 1982, the Basque Government approved the setting up of a new publicly-owned company, Eusko Trenbideak/Ferrocarriles Vasco, S.A., whose corporate purpose would be to streamline the management of the metric-gauge railways transferred by the Spanish central government between 1978 and 1979. This public initiative has led to Euskotren becoming the leading transport operator in the Basque Country over these four decades. The current management of five rail lines, an underground line, the Larreineta funicular railway, two tramway services (Bilbao and Vitoria-Gasteiz) and several bus lines in Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa endorse Euskotren’s track record. Its public service, based on quality, sustainability, efficiency and safety, thus meets the travel needs of millions of people a year.
A temporary exhibition has opened at Amara station in Donostia-San Sebastián on Wednesday 29 June. The exhibition covers the small and large milestones that have made Euskotren what it is today and aims to recognise and endorse the firm commitment to public transport as the cornerstone of mobility in the Basque Country. The exhibition includes information on the different stages of the company during its forty years as a publicly-owned company of the Basque Government. Visitors will find old photos of Amara station and a model of the current building. There is also a large panel mapping out the key moments of Euskotren during its 40 years as a transport operator.
In 1982, Eusko Trenbideak/Ferrocarriles Vascos, S.A. inherited an old network, with obsolete facilities and vehicles, after years of private operators not being able to make the necessary modernisation investments.
The service provided did not meet the required quality and there was a steady loss of passengers. Euskotren had to address the urgent need to upgrade the operations. The public commitment of the Basque Government provided the main impetus and, step by step, one project after another, the network gradually achieved the solvency that it enjoys today and the future is now looking bright. As the Basque Government’s Minister for Territorial Planning, Housing and Transport, Iñaki Arriola, recently pointed out that the current offer “would not be possible without the citizens; without the millions of people that use its services to travel around and, of course, without the Company’s workforce. Over a thousand men and women who, in the same way as in 1982, are very much committed to the future of the company and serving society”.
The exhibition that opened in Amara today is a reminder that the Basque Government’s decision to promote a comprehensive rail plan between Donostia-San Sebastián and Hendaye was one of the milestones that drove the modernisation of the Topo line. In 1988, the supply of 12 trains was contracted with CAF and which were registered as Series 300 in Euskotren. These new electric units were a hybrid between the two most modern series operated by Euskotren at that time. They were specifically designed to be used on what is today known as the Topo line (E2 Lasarte Oria - Hendaia and E5 Altza - Amara).
Users of the Topo and Kostaldea railway services will be able to visit one of the old 300 units during opening hours until the exhibition closes at the end of the year. The unit is in one of the sidings at Amara station (the one closest to Calle Autonomía). The units of that series are no longer in service, as they were replaced by new rolling stock, which is more comfortable, modern and accessible. The new units are now in use along the different Euskotren lines. The purchase of the 300 units was essential to modernise the Topo and it became the busiest Euskotren railway line.
This exhibition marking Euskotren’s 40th anniversary also covers the work and projects of Euskal Trenbide Sarea-Red Ferroviaria Vasca (ETS) being carried out to expand the Topo line. Even though Euskotren is celebrating forty years as a publicly-owned company, its roots can in fact be traced back to 1882, when its oldest line came into service: the railway from Bilbao to Durango. Down through these 140 years, the railway has generated a rich heritage in the Basque Country that Euskotren has always known how to showcase. Thus, it opened its Basque Railway Museum in 1994. It is based in the old Azpeitia station (Gipuzkoa) and boasts one of Europe’s most important collections of narrow-gauge rolling stock.
Milestones: 1982 to 2022
1982: On 24 May 1982, Eusko Trenbideak/Ferrocarriles Vascos, S.A., the Basque Government’s publicly-owned company and better known by its trading name of Euskotren, was incorporated and inherited all the metric gauge railway lines starting or ending in the Basque Autonomous Community (BAC).
1983: Floods that disrupted Euskotren operations until 1984.
1988: First bus route in Gipuzkoa, between Zumarraga and Zumaia, a process that was consolidated in 1992 with the addition of new routes in the province.
1994: Euskotren took over the running of the Larreineta Funicular Railway and the Basque Railway Museum.
1995: Euskotren split off its busiest line from Bilbao to Plentzia (22 million passengers per year) and sold it to Metro Bilbao, the new company of the first underground service.
1996: Euskotren reintroduced freight transport as part of its commitment to sustainability and the environment
1998: Opening of the Lasarte-Oria branch line to provide local residents easier access to Donostia-San Sebastián
2002: Opening of the new Bilbao tramway, which meant a return to this means of transport in the city for the first time in 50 years
2004: On 21 May 2004, the publicly-owned Euskal Trenbide Sarea was incorporated and included the Euskotren infrastructure area along with Imebisa, the publicly-owned engineering company that had built the Metro Bilbao underground
2007: 125 years of the section between Bilbao and Durango
2008: Opening of the Vitoria-Gasteiz tramway as the trunk system with greatest capacity for the city
2009: Vitoria-Gasteiz tramway extended to Abetxuko
2011: Euskotren’s current logo
2017: Opening of the third underground line in Bilbao operated by Euskotren
2019: Last departure of trains from Atxuri to Duranguesado and Donostia/San Sebastián
2020: Vitoria-Gasteiz tramway extended to Unibertsitatea
2022: Bilbao tramway extended to Bolueta
Evolution in the demand: 1,200 million journeys
During the 40 years that Euskotren has been operating, the passengers using its different services have made around 1,200 million journeys, with an annual average of 29.6 million passengers a year.
Over these four decades, Euskotren has underground significant changes, from the lowest level of 22.8 million journeys in 1998 to the highest with a record of 41.1 million journeys in 2019.
During its first year (1982), Euskotren services totalled 30.6 million passengers, a figure that sharply dropped the following year due to the catastrophic flooding of the summer of 1983. However, the Basque company’s investments to improve its facilities and rolling stock were rewarded with a steady increase in demand, which stood at 37.9 million passengers in 1994.
The selling off of Euskotren’s busiest line, from Bilbao to Plentzia, to Metro Bilbao also meant the transfer of twenty million of its annual journeys to the new underground railway operator. Accordingly, demand was just over 24 million passengers in 1996, a figure that has mainly remained stable until 2009, when the positive results of the new Vitoria-Gasteiz tramway began to be clearly seen. Thus, the thirty million journey barrier was then exceeded for the first time since the opening of Metro Bilbao.
The steady increase in demand for the Vitoria-Gasteiz tramway, together with the opening of Line 3 of the Bilbao underground, operated by Euskotren, and the impact of the new infrastructure on the other railway services in Bizkaia, along with the progressive improvements in Gipuzkoa, with the opening of the new Intxaurrondo and Altza stations, meant that 2018 was a record-breaking year for the company with 39.5 million passengers. This record was smashed a year later with 41.1 million journeys. 41.1 million.
Unfortunately, and as was the case for all public transport operators worldwide, the Covid-19 pandemic brought the steady rise in demand for Euskotren services since 2005 to an abrupt end. In any event, the progressive return to normality, together with the extension of the Bilbao Tramway to Bolueta, the forthcoming opening in 2023 of the new section of the Vitoria-Gasteiz Tramay to Salburua, along with the upgrading of the ‘Topo’ line, point to a rapid recovery of demand and achieving new milestones.