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Spain 1999:

5th to 11th September 1999

by Richard Tomlinson

Day One 5th September:

On the 5th September, eight members met at Waterloo International on the first part of our journey, travelling on Eurostar, which arrived five minutes early in Paris.

Unfortunately, John Lunn, travelling to join us from Prague, was delayed by two hours because of a late running service from Cologne. A decision was made to continue our journey as arranged, on booked trains to Madrid, hoping John would follow later. At Gare du Montparrasse in Paris, we found our train (TGV-A) on Platform 6. We had quite a long walk to our seats in coach 20 - it was the first coach behind the engine and the train was formed of 2 x 1 0-car TGV Atlantique sets!

Our ride was a little uncomfortable, as we were sitting on top of the motor bogie of the leading coach. At Bayonne we ran into a thunderstorm and the front power car was struck by lightening, bringing us to a stop south of Biarritz. We crawled along for the next half an hour, arriving in lrun 35 minutes late, but luckily we still caught our connection to Madrid. Six members were together in one sleeper, whilst Pheby and I shared ours with three French girls, until around 3.30am, when we reached Burgos and a Spaniard joined us. Our German members met up with us in Madrid and escorted us to the hotel.

Day Two - 6th September:

Arriving at the hotel, we had less than an hour to freshen up and change before leaving at 10.20 for Madrid Atocha station, where we wore met by Frank Roseman from Adtel. He was an interpreter and Spanish manager in charge of the AVE. We were taken into the departure area of Madrid Atocha and shown the AVE, Alta Velocidad Espaola.

We joined the Business Class section and watched a video on RENEFE, showing the grand construction of the AVE system with its two main depots. La Sagre lies 1 miles south of Madrid Atocha station and it is where most of the maintenance work is carried out. At the other depot, situated off the AVE line, is where heavier overhauls and some maintenance work is done. As we walked through the AVE, we came to the "Tourista" Class, where we were shown facilities for the disabled and the coach designed for youngsters, with chess and snakes & ladders boards which lift out from the table attachment.

The buffet area was attractive, with its varnished mahogany tabletops. The train has eight coaches, a secure area for loading luggage, two power cars with two sets of motors and two pantographs per car. Each power car is rated at 6,000 hp. The AVE can reach its top speed of 186 mph (300 kph) around 10 miles from a standing start. We saw inside the cab and the full layout of the controls, which are very similar to those of the Eurostar.

We were shown the Siemens Bo-So AVE electric locomotives, rated at 8,000 hp and which are used to haul the Talgo trains and the Talgo 200kph (125 mph) tilting trains. The cab layout of the locomotives was simpler than the units. Next we were taken to visit the Control room of the AVE. The Control room has a bank of screens showing from Madrid to Seville - a distance of some 300 miles. The equivalent distance in Britain would be Kings Cross Alnmouth or Paddington to Penzance. A light pen is used to alter signals and train paths instead of a mouse. Also displayed were the relay systems. We then adjourned for lunch, after which the rest of the day was free.

We enjoyed a tour of Madrid by coach, which was very interesting. Pheby and I then went off to photograph the Cathedral and Royal Palace before meeting up with our German friends for dinner.

Day Three 7th September:

Pheby, Percy and I decided to go to Madrid Atocha station and booked seats on the 12.00 AVE departure for Seville. We then returned to the Royal Palace we visited the previous day, but this time went inside. I was impressed with all the beautiful ornate gold decorations on the ceilings, in the games rooms and the Royal chapel.

The three of us then went to catch our train to Seville and boarded coaches 6 & 7. When Percy was having histicket stamped, the train manager saw his free pass and invited us to look around the train. Some hour later, our train manager and her assistant came to collect Percy and myself and escorted us through the luggage area, over a narrow adjoining plate, into the power car and through to the driver's cab. When we got there, I noticed we were travelling at 300 kph (186 mph). We were introduced to the driver and explained which companies we worked for in England. (I work for GNER owned by Sea Containers and Percy is with Silverlink). We were allowed to take photographs of the cab and of the driver and views from the cab of the passing countryside. Our Spanish colleagues were very helpful, we saw a 1 in 30 gradient tackled at 270 kph (170 mph), about 250 kph (160 mph) downhill and up again. The driver then had to reduce speed before passing through Palaces de Real. We then returned to our coach and enjoyed a very smooth and comfortable ride without bumps.

We saw some fantastic mountain scenery and arrived five minutes early in Seville. We walked via the old railway terminus into Seville and caught a Guide Friday bus to tour around. We passed the 1929 & 1996 World Expo site, which had some very interesting looking buildings. We then walked back through the old town - Seville Cathedral was very impressive.

Our train left Seville at 18.00. Just outside Madrid we saw the depot at La Grande, where there is a 200 metre long washing shed, where the entire train can be washed in one go. All the water is filtered and recycled - the only one of its kind in Europe for TGVs. The rest of the members had spent their day looking around Madrid.

Day Four 8th September:

The English party left the hotel at 07.00 and met our German friends at Atocha Station to catch the 08.00 Inter City 3-car EMU to Valencia. These units are 100-mph sets, formed of two tourist coaches and a buffet & first class coach.

Our journey covered the flatlands South of Madrid and took two hours to reach our destination, Alcazer de San Juan. The scenery changed as we travelled through the more populated areas and the mountains - again a very smooth ride.

Valencia is scheduled to have a lot of new track work undertaken to enable the Euromed (Mediterranean TGV travelling at 125 - 140 mph) to use this route and diverge to Alicante from Barcelona and Valencia. We arrived at Valencia at 11.43, looking forward to our ALSTOM visit.

We arrived at the Valencia workshops of ALSTOM by taxi (courtesy of ALSTOM), as these workshops are around five miles from the centre of Valencia.

We were met by Hos Antonia Sampas, who gave us a site tour leafing 2 hours, which included lunch.

First we visited the bogie shops where nearly all the components are made on site, the only exceptions are the high speed locomotive axles which are produced at the Belfort plant in Northern France. All the wedding in this shop is automated. We witnessed bogie sets being x-rayed for defects, axle resistance tests and gauge tests, which are carried out on standard, narrow, and broad gauge (5'3") bogies. We were guided through the paint and tool shops before arriving at the locomotive shop.

In the locomotive shop we wore shown the underside bodies of the Class 67's under construction. These body frames are slightly shorter than those used on the Class 66 locomotives. Cabs are than welded to the body, followed by the wheel frames, bogies, fuel tank and safety devices. The body-sides are then sand blasted and fitted, painted and wired. Finally the engines are put in place ready for static testing.

In the engine test area, the locomotives are run at full revs without the silencer. We witnessed 67003 undergoing a load bank test.

On the final assembly line as many as six locomotives at any one time can be fitted out.

Class 67 locomotive details:

Hos, our guide, informed us that locomotive 67 004 was currently on the AVE route, based at La Sagra, undergoing high-speed testing by RENEFE drivers. Locomotives 67 001 and 67 002 are having modifications carried out.

As we neared the end of our tour, we were taken to view three locomotives ALSTOM built for the 1929 & 1996 World Expositions, firstly a 1 500 hp Bo-Bo diesel, then a 1920's steam locomotive and a Co-Co electric locomotive.

In 1995, some of the present site had to be rebuilt, the design area and offices were refurbished. The workforce of 400 usually works one shift unless a large order is accepted, then three shifts - including nights - are worked.

To end our memorable visit we had photographs taken and lunch in the canteen, where we met 12 members of staff from EWS in England. They were at ALSTOM to learn about Class 67's and included two instructors, ten fitters and drivers. One of the instructors, the Chief Mechanical Instructor, is based at Doncaster and turned out to be a friend I have known for 18 years! Tim Ware was formerly a driver with British Rail at York TMD.

We owe a vote of thanks to ALSTOM for allowing us to visit Incidentally; the Locomotive & Carriage Institution is the first International group to be shown around the site, this perk is usually given only to railway companies.

We asked Hos, our guide, (Deputy Managing Director of the Valencia Works) to become an Honorary member of the Institution, which he accepted.

Our day came to a close with a most enjoyable ride on the Euromed (125-Mph TGV). This train operates solely on the broad gauge routes in Southern Spain - we travelled along the coast to Barcelona. Our return to the hotel and a meal ended a very interesting and enjoyable day.

Day Five 9th September:

At 08.30 we assembled and travelled to Sarria Station on the Metro, a member of the FGC (Ferrocarrils de la Generarlitat de Catalunga) staff met us and introduced Mark, our guide and interpreter for the day. A short video started our visit followed by a tour of the control centre and security stations centre (CSE) at Sarria. We were soon on the move again by Metroto Rubi, where the FGC's maintenance depot is located. The depot is in two sections, linked by a traverser road. Trains maintained are the 4-car suburban EMU's and 1 ,500 hp Co-Co diesel locomotives used for both freight and narrow gauge trains, which operate between Ribs, Enllac and Nuria in the Pyrenees.

The depot comprises of the main shed with 11 roads, a smaller shed for painting with six roads, a storage area and reception sidings. The total area of the site is just over 14 acres. We gave Mark our thanks and said goodbye to our hosts.

Our day continued with our visit to the Funicular railway of Validrera and had lunch in the restaurant overlooking Barcelona below. Returning to "earth" below via the Funicular railway, our day was marred when one member of the group had his passport and money stolen whilst we were in the Place Dly Espana underground station. Some members then spent the evening sightseeing in the Ramblers, returning to the hotel in the early hours.

Day Six 10th September:

A free day. I left the hotel at 09.15 to visit the Cathedral, which I found very interesting, then I caught a train from Place de Espana to Montserrat in the mountains. Wasn't I glad to be in some fresh air after waiting in the Espana Station where the air conditioning system was blowing hot air instead of cold- making the temperature soar to 38OC - phew!

Leaving Montserrat by cable car I arrived at the monastery at mid-day and met up with Roy Crocker and Percy Drummond. The scenery from the cable car was dramatic! After lunch the three of us went higher up the Santa Justa funicular (step 1 in 10). Once there we walked along a path that we believed was to the Santa Justa chapel, but instead we realised that we had misread the map and found ourselves traversing a high zigzag trail along the ridge of the mountains, leading to Sant Miguel - a small chapel. After walking 40 minutes in the hat sun, we voted to return to the Santa Justa funicular station, some 4500 feet above sea level. As you may guess, the views over the Pyrenees were stunning! On our return to Montserrat we saw David, Ernie, Pheby, Cath and Thelma.

I was soon on my travels again, this time on the Santa Cove funicular, which took me to the path leading to Santa Cove chapel - or The Holy Grotto -so called when an etching of Christ was found on one of the stone walls. Re-tracing my stops to Montserrat, I again met up with other members and we ail returned to Barcelona. Our day was concluded watching and photographing a display of coloured water fountain* in the Plaza do Espana.

Day Seven 11th September:

My last day began with a visit to the Maritime Museum and the Citadel via the Funical Monta Pare and cable car, which took me up the hillside and above the harbour. The rest of the group spent time on the beach, later the English members met up in Barcelona Santa, boarded our train to Portbou and Cerebre, arriving at 22.00 hrs. The German members were staying in Spain for a further week's holiday.

From Cerebre our journey was quits eventful - the lights kept on going on and off, at Narbonne we came to a grinding halt - the locomotive was on fire! We were busy watching fire engines and Police arriving. Eventually the locomotive was replaced by a diesel engine at the rear, so our journey via Toulouse to Paris Austerlitz could continue. We had lost some 50 minutes at Narbonne, but unbelievably we arrived on time at 07.28. At some point during the night (presumably whilst I was asleep) we must have had another change of locomotive. Normally diesel locomotives travel via Poiters, but I think we had travelled on the high speed TGV route via Bordeaux as when we arrived in Paris, an electric locomotive was on the front. We crossed Paris and boarded the Eurostar. It had to make a stop at Ashford to pick up passengers from a failed Bruxelles - London service, which delayed our arrival at Wateloo by 20 minutes.

Percy, Roy and I headed for Euston and Kings Cross and home, whilst Pheby went to Paddington, Thelma and Ernie went to Marylebone and Cath & David were almost home.

I would like to thank John Lunn for organising this holiday, it has been one of the best.