Friday, February 25, 2011

The Engaña Tunnel (South entrance)

The Engaña tunnel is one of the biggest civil engineering works during the dictatorship of Franco. It is a railway tunnel between the provinces of Cantabria and Burgos which never came into operation.


The tunnel is part of the Santander-Mediterranean railway (now mostly abandoned), and it is located between Vega de Pas in Cantabria and Pedrosa de Valdeporres in Burgos. It is 6.976 m. long, and it goes under the mountain pass of Estacas de Trueba. For a long time it was the longest tunnel in Spain with all its length inside the country, until the Barcelona tunnel (in the Saragossa - Barcelona railway) surpassed it. Nowadays the Engaña tunnel looks small compared to the twin Guadarrama tunnels, with over 28 Km. each. Anyway, it is remarkable the effort required to dig the Engaña tunnel, started almost seventy years ago and with very reduced resources.

The Santander - Mediterranean railway

The construction of the tunnel started with the foundation of the two villages for the workers in 1942. Those workers were political prisoners from the Spanish Civil War. The villages, located near Vega de Pas and Pedrosa de Valdeporres, had a population of 190 and 370 respectively.

The works were firstly appointed to the Ferrocarriles y Construcciones ABC company, with a deadline of 52 months. Eventually, the section between Vega de Pas and Pedrosa de Valdeporres was not (partially) completed until 1961, 19 years after being started. The works included the villages for the workers, four tunnels and three stations. All these buildings can still be seen, although some of them are in very bad condition.

Later on, in 1950, the works were transferred to another company called Pórtoles y Cía, which managed to increase the digging pace up to 10 m. a day. In that time almost no machiney was used, and sometimes dynamite was the only way to dig. This was a slow and dangerous process, and the number of deceased workers is not clear, but it is between 11 and 20. One of the biggest problems they faced were water leaks. The biggest one happened in 1956, when workers had to cope with a leak of 39.600 litres per hour. This forced to use a lot of water pumps and reduce the shift duration.

Workers digging the tunnel
The digging was finished in 1959, but the rails were never installed. After that, works were stopped until in Ney Year´s Day of 1985 the Government decided to abandon the project when there reamined only 63 Km to complete the Santander - Mediterranean railway. Thus, the tunnel was abandoned even before it was used. For some time, it was only used by trucks when the nearby Puerto del Escudo (pass of the shield) was blocked by the snow.

There are no certain data about the number of workers who took part in the construction of the tunnel. Some sources claim there were 400 workers (250 prisoners and 150 civilians), but others go much further, saying there were more than 9.000. What is certain is the massive pardon of 1945 ordered by Franco, which affected many political prisoners taken during the Civil War. Although prisoners were not forced to keep working in the tunnel from then on, most of them remained there.

Entrance to the workers´ village of Pedrosa de Valdeporres

The station

As we can see, it is in very bad condition and it has been used as a stable.

The village also had a church, which also served as a theater.

Houses of the workers near the tunnel

Next to the south entrance of the tunnel, there is this huge tower. It is a silo with a watchtower attached to it. Now the ladder to the top of the watchtower has dissapeared.

In forn of the tower we can see this power plant. There can be seen the transformer tower, and under the entrance gates the furnaces which powered the station.

The Santander - Mediterranean crest

The engineer´s houses

The south entrance to the tunnel

Now the tunnel is in really bad condition, because of the low quality of the materials used in its construction. In 1999 there was a collapse wich made it impossible to pass through the tunnel with a vehicle, and in 2005 there was another collapse which blocked the way almost completely. In fact it is very hard to go through the tunnel on foot. Anyway, we strongly discourage entering the tunnel, because in addition of the great risk of collapse it is always flooded since the water leaks have never stopped.

But what we do reccomend is visiting the entrance itself, which is perfectly signaled. The local authoriries have tried to recover the place, creating some trekking routes. It is also frequent seeing neighbours from the nearby villages there, enjoying a walk in this privileged landscape.

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