Canfranc International Railway Station, Spain
– updated 14th April 2016 and again on 1st October 2017- see bottom of page.

It would appear that vanity projects are not a new thing in Spain! This absurd construction had a working life of just 42 years, from 1928 to 1970.


The present day station and train is dwarfed! More pictures of the whole place here. These were taken on 13th August 2013.

Canfranc is the Spanish side of a border crossing over (and now under) the Pyrénées mountains on the route between Pau and Zaragoza. In old times, you went over the top using the Somport pass. A railway tunnel was built in 1912 (tunnel breakthrough) to connect the French and Spanish rail systems.  The railway station at Canfranc was opened in 1928 to act as a transhipment point between French and Spanish trains. France and Spain used different track gauges, therefore trains could not run on both systems with the technology of the time. The vast station site includes the monumental main station building, 240 metres long and several stories high, two huge freight transhipment sheds, a massive locomotive depot and sundry outbuildings. All are now redundant and decaying, except for the main building which has been re-roofed and is in a reasonable state of preservation as a national monument. (Guided tours are available in July and August, all were fully booked at the time of my visit so I have no interior shots.)

Miles of rusting track cover the site. French trains used to run through the tunnel into Spain, so there are some mixed gauge loops and sidings. To add to the air of dereliction several abandoned items of rolling stock are scattered here and there.

Amid all this mess sits the present day passenger station of Canfranc (pop 530)  which has two trains a day to and from Zaragoza via Jaca and Huesca. The 215km trundle takes just over three hours. The little train seemed to be well filled with walkers and hikers, it seems to serve no other purpose. There is also a working grain silo with, at the time of my visit, a rake of eight wagons sitting in a siding. I have no idea how often freight trains run, but the rails were quite shiny.

The line’s brief history is the result of an accident on the French side in 1970. A freight train lost traction on slippery rails and stalled on a gradient. Train crew went to apply sand etc to the rails, but in the attempt to re-start the train the wheels slipped badly. The train´s motors burned out and somehow that caused a flashover in the principal power supply for the electrified line. The train lost all power, including brake power and the whole lot ran back down the slope, derailing at a bridge which was demolished. The French decided not to rebuild the bridge, the line was closed and overnight the reason for Canfranc International disappeared.

The tunnel now has two interesting functions. It runs parallel to the Somport road tunnel, opened in 2003, and is connected to it by a series of 17 galleries which would act as evacuation tunnels in the event of an emergency in the road tunnel. It also houses underground laboratories for a Spanish university, where they conduct experiments looking for those mysterious particles that make physicists get all excited.

There have been noises about re-opening the tunnel for rail use, the most recently in October 2012 when the regional  governors on both sides of the border attended a ceremony to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the original tunnel breakthrough.

Some chance! Although most of the track formation (in fact even the track)  on the French side is intact, it is a single track railway running through a thinly populated area. There  certainly appears little justification for a cross border passenger service, demand for which is currently satisfied by three or four buses a day.

Update 14th April 2016

– this document in French provides a short pictorial history of the line, including the accident that resulted in its closure.

The short extension on the French side from Oloron Sainte Marie to Bedous opened in June 2016.

The website of the local organisation working for that and the eventual re-opening of the whole route is

Update October 2017

This article appeared on the UK BBC news website in September 2017 – describing the interior of the station with some pictures. The article goes on to say that plans to re-open the railway are advancing, with a possibility that the complete route through the tunnel and across the border could be open within five years. If it does come to pass this would rank as one of the most scenic rail journeys in the region.

This map shows the area. The path of the old railway, which is easily visible and still has the track in place in several locations, follows the line of the road and river south of the present terminus at Bedous as far as Urdos. The long railway tunnel is to the east of the modern road tunnel, passing under the Somport summit before emerging a few hundred metres north of the Canfranc station edifice.

canfranc temp



Canfranc International Railway Station, Spain

Tagged: , on August 16, 2013 by cubsur51


4 Responses to “Canfranc International Railway Station, Spain”

  1. Tom- great Blog!- I would like to visit CanFranc- have you access to any recent info asto whats happening to it please?

    • The only new info I have is that the line has been closed following a landslide and derailment of freight wagons. It’s open again, for the two daily passenger trains that remain.

      The main station building can be visited as part of a tour (in Spanish only, so far as I know) but as you will have read these were fully booked when I was there.

      The scheme to re-open the line through the tunnel into France has so far come to nothing. Meanwhile the huge building and tracks are sitting there, slowly falling apart.

  2. Hi your blog makes interesting reading. I have just visited the station whilst down near Pau and I have to say that you can not fail to be impressed by its size and history. One can only imagine how busy it was when it was funtioning. Its history regarding Nazi Gold movement is interesting too. Yes it is disused now but its still a wonderful sight. Apparently the tours are only undertaken in the summer months and you can get English & German translations of the text. What I can tell you that for miles on the French side leading up to the Somport Tunnel a massive refurbishment of the track, bridges etc is taking place so I don’t know if it will re-open sometime soon.

    • On the day my visit the tours were fully booked. I am aware that the local councils on both sides of the border wish the line to be re-opened for both passenger and freight traffic. Certainly on the French side, work was just getting under way to extend the current line south to Bedous (Bidos) and I have found this YouTube video showing work taking place last year –

      That short section is supposed to be opening later this year. Seems a lot of work for only six trans a day at best!

      And this clip from a Spanish TV programme with some nice aerial views

      I also found this interesting document which I shall add to my item

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