The Orange Train (Palma to Sóller)
The Sóller Train transports the traveller from the hustle and bustle of Plaza Espanyol in central Palma past Bunyola's olive groves and Alfabia gardens and into the tranquillity of the Tramuntana Mountains. Although some call it the Red Lightning, it only travels slowly, taking an hour to reach Port Sóller. Others know it as the 'Orange Train' even though there is only orange paint on the lead and tail carriages of the train running to the Port. So why did it get its name?
Sóller is a unique place, hidden in an isolated valley and the market gardeners of Sóller had been looking for a way to get their produce to Palma for years. They had to rely on horse drawn wagons to make the difficult ten hour journey over the steep mountain pass. While farmers across the rest of the island looked forward to using new petrol driven lorries to move their produce to Palma's markets at the start of the 20th Century, they were unable to negotiate the endless hairpin bends on the road to Sóller.
While it looked like Sóller was destined to remain isolated from the island (and the tunnel used by drivers today did not open until 1997), the discovery of Vitamin C and its health benefits at the end of the 19th Century meant that the demand for citrus fruit escalated.
The people of Sóller wanted to cash in and Jeroni Estades was commissioned to study a railway from Palma to Sóller in 1893. He chose a route which went via Valldemossa and then along the coast through Deià, rather than rely on a tunnel to get under the Sóller pass. The plan was rejected as being too expensive.
In 1903 the industrialist Joan Morell proposed a direct route, which would cross the Serra d'Alfàbia, then pass through a tunnel under Coll de Sóller before making a 180 degree turn to reduce the gradient down into Sóller town. It too was turned down but Jeroni Estades i Llabrés , a local politician, persisted and engineer Pere Garau's plans were given a favourable response when they were made public in Sóller's Town Hall.
Most of the families in Sóller bought shares in Estades' railway company, the Compañía de Navegación Sollerense, raising 3.5 million pesetas, in the hope they would cash in on the orange trade.
Work started on the line in 1907 and the workmen carved a route through the mountains, building bridges and blasting thirteen tunnels through the mountain range. After only five years of hard work, the railway was ready. Steam driven trains had been bought from England and they were similar to the San Francisco style street cars. On 16 April 1912 the first flower bedecked train was cheered as it rolled into Sóller station; the market gardeners had fulfilled their dream and the first trainloads of citrus fruits rolled into Palma during the season.
To begin with the train line between Palma and Sóller was steam driven but in 1929 overhead electricity cables were installed. The shorter section to the Port was always electrically powered. In the 1980s it seemed that improvements to lorries would take much of the Orange Train's business while plans to install a tunnel under the mountains threatened its very existence. However, the huge rise in the tourist industry was going to throw the 70 year-old railway a life line. The first class carriages were restyled with leather seats, mahogany panelling and luggage racks while the second class carriages had wooden benches.
In recent years, the Train and Art Foundation was established to commission art exhibitions to enhance the train trip. An exhibition of Mallorcan landscapes can be found in the Palma station, while exhibitions of Joan Miró and Picasso ceramics can be visited in Sóller town railway station; the Ca'n Prunera Museum of Modernist Art has been set up in a Sóller mansion.
Travellers can now enjoy the regular service between Palma and Sóller, enjoying the views as the train rattles through the olive groves north of Palma before diving under the two mile long tunnel under Coll de Sóller. The driver then makes a short stop at Mirador des Pujol d'En Banya, overlooking Sóller town, before making the long descent. After a look around the town there is time to continue the journey into the Port.
Times for the trains are advertised in the Daily Bulletin. If you do not feel like searching for a parking place near the station in Plaza Espanyol in the centre of Palma, consider parking at one of the stations along the route to Bunyola.
For timetables and prices visit the official Soller Train Website
Back to Tramuntana (East) Page | Go to Mallorca Days Out home page
www.mallorcadaysout.com is the property of Andrew Rawson and all content is his copyright and no part of it may be reproduced without his permission. Webmaster: Ian Morrison, Apartado 59, Porto Colom 07670, Felanitx, Mallorca.