Portugal has an extensive train network, some of which still uses narrow gauge for regular services. Unfortunately, many kilometers of track were closed in 1990, and the purpose of this page is to tell travellers about some of the impressive journeys you can still make, in the hope of attracting customers to ensure that the remaining lines will stay open for some time.
In August 1999 I travelled on an amazing narrow gauge train from Tua to Mirandela which runs several scheduled return journeys a day using a fairly modern diesel locomotive. The trip takes about 2 hours in each direction and the train winds down a spectacular narrow river gorge along track which is carved into the cliff face at places. There is no road along the gorge much of the time, and you can usually see large numbers of colorful birds along the way such as kingfishers and herons, so take your binoculars. Please note: I can give no guarantees about the availability of services at any one time - visit the Caminhos de Ferro Portugueses website for timetables.
I spoke to other tourists who took a similarly impressive narrow gauge train from Vila Real to Peso da Regua in a diesel railcar, a journey of nearly and hour. And the main line from Porto to Pocinho via Peso da Regua and Tua along the spectacular Douro Valley gives you views of numerous "Quinta" (farmhouse mansions) perched on the river valley among the vinyards.
You can get a map and historic notes of the Portuguese Railway Network from the Quail Map Company in Exeter, UK (tel. 0044-1392-430277) who are a specialist publisher for railway maps.
Eight of the railway bridges and viaducts in northern Portugal were constructed in Iron by Gustav Eiffel - famous for the Eiffel Tower in Paris - and you can get a set of pictures of the bridges from Edarte, Rua Adolof Casais Monteiro 101, 4050 Porto. The bridges were built around 1877 -1879 and many are still in use today. You can also find railway museums at Valença, Braga, Arco de Baúlhe, Chaves, Bragança, Lousado and Macinhata stations. I visited the museum in Arco de Baúlhe - fairly small but impressive with a number of antique railway carriages and locomotives and a large collection of smaller artifacts such as antique ticket stamping machines and railway lamps.
Many of the steam locomotives in Portugal were built by Henschel in Kassel, Germany, whereas the more modern diesel locomotives were built e.g. by English Electric. Other equipment such as turntables were supplied by W. European manufacturers, notably Germany.
It's some years since steam trains were used on regular services, but you can still see large numbers of steam locomotives rusting away in yards, e.g. at Peso da Regua and Tua. Historic journeys with steam trains are planned from time to time, e.g. by the English railway enthusiasts Portuguese Traction Group. Their site also has links to many other sites for railway enthusiasts.
In addition, Graham Garnell - an English entepreneur based in Portugal - is raising funds to re-open the narrow gauge Tamega line from Livração to Arco de Baúlhe via Mondim de Basto for both local people and tourists. In conjunction with several groups of railway enthusiasts, Graham organizes journeys along historic train routes in Portugal. Some of the tours use rebuilt steam locomotives. Contact Graham in Lisbon by fax at 00351-1-4211836.
On another subject, both local Portuguese bookshops and travel guides will tell you that's it's nearly impossible to get detailed maps of Portugal - many Portuguese were even impressed by my 1:300,000 road map which I bought in Germany and doesn't seem to be available in Portugal. So I was astounded to discover at a camping site a couple of high quality walking maps at a scale of 1:25,000 from a series published by the IGEOE (Portuguese Army Geographic Institute) in Lisbon (email email@example.com, tel. 00351-1-8520063 fax: 8532119). The series covers the whole of Portugal. Maybe you can order them from the IGEOE by post, but I didn't try so far. I have been told that these maps are also available in Hamburg from the bookshop Dr. Goetze Land & Karte , tel. 040-357463-11.
See also www.budgettravel.com/eurail.htm for more details of historic trains in Europe.
David Long, Hannover * Technical Translator and Author * Home