Spain’s FEVE Regional Light Railway – A Model For The Valley TramTrain?


The following came via the Light Rail Transit Association’s members group.

The FEVE is a Spanish narrow or metre gauge railway, what could be termed a ‘light’ railway, operating light rail style articulated electrical multiple units, diesel articulated multiple units as well as freight or goods trains. It is this type of operation that is envisioned for the Rail for the Valley interurban.

I visited last week the northern Spanish coast around Santander, and had the opportunity to travel frequently on the FEVE metre-gauge semi-light rail system, notably on the electrified bit between Santander and Cabezon de la Sal, which operates a regular service using high-platform tram-like articulated railcars. The stopping service uses double-articulated cars, and the “express” service single-articulated ones, both as single units. Current feed is by pantograph (I think 1500 vdc) to fairly basic but robust catenary, either span-wire or bracket-arm.

The stations are either unstaffed rural halts or else town stations with electronic gates and a “pay on arrival” ticket machine. Sometimes there is a roving conductor selling tickets on the railcar, but more often not. Disabled access is provided, either by new lift installations in the town stations or by using the ramp at the end of the platform in the rural case. There is also wheelchair space at one end of the railcar, and a lavatory at the other end. Bicycles are permitted.

The system is ferociously punctual, with a railcar every half-hour off-peak and more frequently at peak times. Rural halts seem to have spacious (and full ) car parks during the day, and even the off-peak services normally have a half-full load of passengers (in contrast to the competing local buses, which are frequently seen running empty). Fares are cheap, typically 1.90 euros single full fare for a 20 km trip (many concessions are on offer, and if my Spanish had been better I would have been tempted to try my ITSO pass and see if it worked !)

There is also a regular goods service, involving long trains of low wagons loaded with sheet metal hauled by a pair of diesel locos. At the frequent un-barriered rural level crossings these rely on massive air horns to announce their imminent passage (the passenger railcars use a whistle). This is one of the few visible weaknesses of an otherwise excellent system.

Whereas the goods trains go slowly, the railcars certainly don’t. I paced one from the adjacent motorway going at least 80kph, and they don’t slow down for the frequent sharp curves (the Spanish coast has very hilly topography – the new motorways have frequent tunnels, and the FEVE has frequent sharp curves rather like a full-size Hornby Dublo trainset.) Railcar brakes are interesting too: each trailing axle has a centrally-mounted disc brake of considerable size, but there are no track brakes. Despite that, the railcars can stop pretty quickly if required (see item above about “near-misses”)

I couldn’t get any information about the railcars’ build, but I would guess within the last decade and from a Spanish local supplier. The system seems to be subsidised by the “Ministerio de Fomento” (almost impossible to translate ‘Fomento’ – “public works and transport” is probably the closest, though it also means “encouragement”. We could do with that in the UK !)

A good example of European rural Light rail/Metro/Tram-Trains; exactly what we are attempting to achieve in the Fraser Valley.

Following photos by David Orchard



  FEVE Station

Interior of a FEVE EMU




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