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It is not the oldest railway on the island but surely the most nostalgic. It does not have the longest route but certainly the most adventurous one. Surely, the train is not the fastest, but the one with the highest passenger volume per year.
We are talking about Sóller´s very own Tren de Sóller, affectionately but wrongly named "Orange Express" or even "Red Lightning". Since 1912 it connects Sóller with the island’s capital Palma de Mallorca.
Sóller, at the end of the 18th Century an economically emerging town, rich in citrus fruits, almonds, olives and weaving products., but isolated from the large market of Palma, its greater port and the rest of the island. The only connection with the rest of the island was an awesome mountain pass through the Alfabia Mountains via the "Coll de Sóller" with donkey- or horse-drawn carts. The route was not only long and difficult but also dangerous. Poor weather and bandits made the journey an adventure and often transported goods were lost.
Seeking a way out of this dilemma, the idea of a railroad arose, in order to get goods to the markets in a faster, cheaper and safer way – literally of an "Orange Express". A citizen of Sóller, Jerónimo Estades, took on the challenging project and made a first plan for a route to Palma via Deia. The costs, however, made the idea vanish, it took almost 10 years to conceive and realize a direct link to Palma through the mountain range of the Sierra de Alfabia . This ambitious project was presented in 1904 to the citizens of Sóller and a year later the Ferrocarril de Sóller SA was founded. Owners of the corporation were citizens from Sóller who could participate and become part of the business by purchasing shares with a nominal value of 500 pesetas.
The construction of the tracks began in 1907 and was started at the same time from both sides, Sóller and Palma. After only 4 years of construction work, the heroic historic locomotive "Maria Luisa" crossed the Sierra de Alfabia via 13 tunnels. On April 16th 1912, the railroad was opened to the public.
In 1918, the three-mile-long tram line to Puerto de Sóller was completed. It mainly served to transport passengers, but was also for transporting goods to the port like citrus fruits and olives ready for shipping as well as fresh fish to Sóller, but also carbon and even ammunition for the military base.
A truly unique aspect of the Tren de Sóller is that a century gone by without leaving almost a trace. Although the line was modernized to electricity in 1929 and relieved from the steam locomotives, everything except the main traction engine remained the same. The leather seats, individually foldable for forward or reverse travelling as well as the wooden interior, the windows or the chassis are meticulously being taken care of and maintained ever since.
Today, the “Red Lightning” is less of a transport for locals but a tourist attraction. The train travels the nearly 30km from Palma to Sóller in about one hour - too slow for “Sollerics” but, often too brief an experience for the tourists. The journey is not only recommended for train fans. With 13 tunnels, some of them up to 2.8 km long and various bridges such as the "Cinc Ponts" viaduct called after its five arches, the ride is a little adventure of its own. Particularly the section of the Tramuntana between Bunyola and Sóller (most of it goes thru tunnels) with its blooming gardens, orange and olive groves is a delight.