Euskotren Basque Railway Museum celebrates its 25th Anniversary
· The Museum, which bears witness to the history of the railway in the Basque Country, has been visited by nearly 625,000 people over those 25 years
Since 10.30 this morning, the Basque Railway Museum run by Euskotren, a Basque Government publicly-run company, has been celebrating its 25th anniversary at its Azpeitia premises (Gipuzkoa).
The celebrations got under way with the award ceremony for the “25th Anniversary of the Basque Railway Museum” children’s painting competition and a performance by the EGAPE dance group, and the opening proceedings were presided by the Basque Government’s Minister for Economic Development and Infrastructures, Arantxa Tapia. The Euskotren General Manager, Imanol Leza, and the museum manager, Juanjo Olaizola, were also present.
The Minister congratulated everyone who had made it possible for the Museum to be marking this anniversary and stressed how important rail is and always has been for the Basque Country. Tapia pointed out that the Basque Government is continuing to drive policies encouraging the use of the train and work is constantly underway to improve rail services, from the suburban to the high-speed lines.
The celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of the Euskotren Basque Railway Museum include 7 classic trains running between 11.00 a.m. and 6.30 p.m., when the last steam train pulled by the Euzkadi locomotive will depart from Azpeitia. Euskal Sagardoa cider (1.00 p.m.) and Railway Putxera (bean stew) (2.00 p.m.) tasting sessions have also been organised.
The Euskotren Basque Railway Museum at Azpeitia bears witnesses to the many different aspects of the history of this means of transport in the Basque Country over more than 150 years. From steam locomotives to clocks, without forgetting every type of items linked to running the railway, such as lanterns, telegraphs, uniforms, machine-tools, telephones and model railways.
Since the Basque Railway Museum was opened by Lehendakari José Antonio Ardanza on 4 October 1994, this institution has been visited by 623,961 people. 249,445 of whom have enjoyed the classic steam train services that have been run since 1998 and a further 108,700 have travelled on special trains hired by a variety of groups (school groups, pensioners, day trips, etc.).
Over these 25 years, the heritage of the Basque Railways Museum has increased notably in all its areas. In the case of classic vehicles, the collection has increased from 45 to 87 units, including 7 steam locomotives. These include the “Espinal”, built in 1887, the oldest of those manufactured by the inventor of the steam locomotive, Robert Stephenson, still operating worldwide, and the “Euzkadi” steam engine, the most iconic of the former Ferrocarriles Vascongados.
The Basque Railway Museum’s collections have also been increased with other items and sets, such as the railway uniform collection with over 200 garments providing a broad overview of the evolution of railway fashion between 1863 and 2019. Mention should also be made of the collection of vintage Federico Zappino model railway items, with pieces made in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
The Basque Railway Museum archive has likewise seen its collection increase significantly over these 25 years. The most notable sets recovered over this period include the historical archive of the San Sebastián Tramway Company, the Minutes, Journals and Ledgers of the Ferrocarril Central de Vizcaya, Durango to Zumárraga, Elgoibar to San Sebastián, Ferrocarriles Vascongados and of Bilbao Tramway Company to Durango and Arratia, along with the Ferrocarril del Urola historical archive.
The document collection has also increased, particularly the photographic archive, which now exceed 100,000 images, all of which has been digitalised.
The Basque Railway Museum has taken part, as an organiser or partner, in different railway-related commemorative events, has published different books on them and has been the set for different films.
SHORT HISTORY OF THE BASQUE RAILWAY MUSEUM
The chronic lack of railway investment after the Spanish Civil War meant that facilities, equipment and rolling stock remained in service that would have been retired earlier in other circumstances.
In the late 20th century, social perception of the railways began to slowly change and, what in the three previous decades had been considered a thing of the past, overtaken by the new road transport, began to be appreciated as an alternative to the problems of road congestion, pollution and the accident rate down to opting for motor vehicles. Consequently, that marked
the start of a rail revival and the old trains and facilities began to be replaced by new units and equipment.
Fortunately, the officials of the Basque Government’s Ministry of Transport and Public Works were aware of the historical value of the equipment being withdrawn from service and which, in principle, was only going to end up on the scrapyard. Consequently, in 1989, its Transport Directorate decided to draw up an inventory to value the railway heritage in the Basque Country at that time.
The decision was therefore made to create the Basque Railway Museum at Azpeitia. The former station and its outbuildings were refurbished, a set of twenty-eight rail units restored and different collections recovered, thanks, to a great extent, to the help of specific collectors such as Javier Aranguren and Jesús Mínguez.
Right from the start, the Basque Railway Museum envisaged that the whole essence of the institution’s restored and preserved classic vehicles could be recovered, including running classic services.
The Basque Government’s Ministry of Transport and Public Works were the driving force behind the recovery of the section of the former Urola Railway between Azpeitia and Lasao. In 1998, the work was completed and this 4.5-km section was opened. It includes a 225-metre-long tunnel and a 40-metre bridge over the River Urola, divided into four arch spans, a work of great historical interest, as it was designed by the engineer Eugenio Ribera, one of the pioneers in the use of reinforced concrete on the Iberian Peninsula.