At the beginning of the 20th century the town of Sóller, with its booming industry and famous orange groves, needed to put an end to the virtual isolation that was hampering its development. The majestic setting of mountains surrounding it, and in particular the Alfàbia mountain range, prevented passengers and goods being transported to and from the port of Palma and the rest of the island, which was already strengthened by the structure of the growing Mallorcan railway network.
Until then, in order to travel to the capital (Palma de Mallorca) it was necessary to take a stagecoach and cross a high mountain via the Sóller pass, or Coll de Sóller, a steep, narrow dirt track which was exhausting for the draft animals. Still remaining from that era along the Sóller road today are the inns where passengers and animals rested and were supplied with victuals, and which have now been converted into restaurants.
It was a citizen of Sóller, Sr. Jerónimo Estades, a provincial parliamentary representative and businessman, who echoed the inhabitants of Sóller’s desire to set up a Palma-Sóller railway that would pass through Valldemossa and Deyá. A request was then made for the franchise of this railway, in 1893. However, the project was ruled out because of the high economic cost involved.
Years later, in 1903, the industrialist Juan Morell proposed the building of a direct Palma-Sóller railway which would pass under the Sierra de Tramuntana mountains (below the Coll de Sóller pass) via a tunnel. Initially this idea was rejected, but Jerónimo Estades himself proposed this project a year later, commissioning the drafting of it to the engineer Pedro Garau. The study was made public on 15th November 1904 in Sóller Town Hall, and received the support of the town’s residents.
The construction of the railway was commissioned to the building contractor Luis Bovio, who purchased a small 020T locomotive manufactured in 1891 in England by “The Falcon Engine & Car Works Ltd., Loughborough” from the Ferrocarriles de Mallorca railways; its works number was 198 and it was used as a marshal traction engine in the port of Palma for the tram line that crossed the city. He christened this locomotive with the names of his daughters – “María Luisa”. Such was the exceptional service rendered by this locomotive that even today its feats during the construction of the railway are remembered.
Work started simultaneously from Palma and Sóller on 3rd June 1907.
After one year the squad that had started out from Palma reached Bunyola, where they met with the main challenge offered by the line: the Sierra de Alfàbia mountains, which had to be crossed via a tunnel 2856 m in length that would come out on the other side of the winding Coll de Sóller. Several tunnels and trenches had to be dug out. On 19th August 1911 the victorious locomotive, María Luisa, had reached the ‘Mirador de’s Pujol de’n Banya’ viewing point. The first working train reached Sóller on 30th September of the same year.
The small locomotive, Maria Luisa, was granted the privilege of inaugurating the line unofficially, drawing a saloon car loaned by the Compañía de los Ferrocarriles de Mallorca containing the outstanding figures of the concluded project: Jerónimo Estades, Pedro Garau, and Antonio Maura, on 7th October 1911.
The official inauguration took place on 16th April 1912, with locomotives no. 1 – “Sóller” and no. 2 – “Palma” drawing the inaugural convoy, whilst no. 3, “Buñola”, awaited the arrival of its counterparts in Sóller. All the rolling stock of the Sóller railway was functioning on that day, the three locomotives from the Maquinista Terrestre y Marítima (M.T.M.) and the six cars manufactured by Carde & Escoriaza. It was on that same day that a maritime catastrophe shook the world – the legendary “Titanic” had sunk on its inaugural voyage.
A year later a fourth locomotive from the M.T.M. joined the company, no. 4, called “Son Sardina” (in late August of 1913). The four remaining cars initially ordered from Carde & Escoriaza arrived in the same year.
On 4th October of 1913 Mallorca’s first electric tram line was inaugurated, running between Sóller and the Port of Sóller.
Construction of the Sóller tram began after the inauguration of the Palma to Sóller railway line. The project for this line was designed and directed by Pedro Garau, and 4868 metres of track were laid. One outstanding feature of it is the iron bridge over the Torrent Major which was constructed by Maquinista Terrestre y Marítima.
Initially the tram had an electric power station located in the Sóller station. The station was fed by a 65 horsepower explosion engine which worked a Siemens-Schuckert dynamo, providing a continuous 600 volt current.
Although the Sóller tram was designed for the transport of passengers, it was also used to transport merchandise down to the port. Fresh fish was carried from the Port to Sóller in a small isothermal car and coal was taken to the former military submarine base in the Port of Sóller and the “El Gas” factory on trailers; mines and torpedoes were also transported from the Caubet magazine.
The three motor trams, numbered 1 to 3, and their trailers 5 and 6 are the originals, dating from 1912, ordered from Carde & Escoriaza in Zaragoza. The open ‘jardinera’ trailers were acquired from Palma trams in 1954.
The Sóller tramway also has five motor trams from Lisbon, numbered 20 to 24 and re-gauged to fit the 914 mm track gauge.
ELECTRIFICATION OF THE TRAIN
On 14th July 1929 electrical traction was inaugurated between Palma and Sóller, with hundreds of people turning out to welcome the inaugural convoy. In the 1930s the first direct Palma-Port tourist services were run, trips consisting of a combination of train and taxi. Four brand-new Carde & Escoriaza-Siemens Schuckert-Brill motors were used, each weighing 33 tonnes with 360 horsepower.