Since I am not watching the NFL anymore, my interest was caught by an “off-Broadway-type” program on an obscure channel that featured engineering marvels and bloopers.
Hey! You never know what interesting facts are going to be sent into your living rooms without all the talking heads opining their opinions and talking all over each other either about good stuff or bad stuff The President did today (depending on the opinion of the talking head or his/her/its boss in the control room).
Something I did not know was being featured; and I just thought I would write a couple hundred words, put it out there, and see where it hits the bottom.
Back in the day, the two rail lines that covered the North-South route between Spain and France went up the east side and the west side of the two countries; and took “forever” to make the boring trip. And so, the engineers decided upon a route “right up the gut” (“the middle”) of the Spain-France mainlands; and cut through the Pyrenees Mountains, thus saving both miles and minutes over the east and the west lines that went around the mountain peaks. The line goes through a tunnel at the border; the French end of which was started in 1912 and completed in 1915.
A magnificent international railway station was opened in 1928, with a footprint of 790 feet sporting 365 ornate windows and 156 doors. This huge structure, “The CanFranc” was formerly opened by King Alfonso 13 of Spain and French Republic President, Gaston Doumergue.
This now deteriorating railway station was informally known as “The Titanic of the Mountains”. Its huge size was necessitated because it had to be duplicated in every detail into a French side and a Spanish side.
Somebody ask me, “Why?” Why did every passenger, every item of freight, every article of baggage and all the supporting stuff have to be transferred from one train to another? Why did all passengers have to go from one side of the station to another, crossing through customs in the middle and buy new tickets to board the second train either north to France or South to Spain. Why?
Well, since you asked; lemme tellya!
It was because the French railway was constructed with standard gauge separation of 4 feet, 8.5 inches; and the Spanish railway was built using a separation of rails at 5 feet, 5.656 inches.
This transformed an otherwise simple customs-control exercise into a lengthy logistics nightmare.
And that is not all! The site included a large locomotive depot (duplicated, of course), two sheds for the handling of freight between French and Spanish trains, various other outbuildings and a resultant extensive layout of tracks with spare parts (in both sizes of course). Since part of the station was considered French territory; a school was established in the village for the children of French staff.
And then, there were a couple of little incidents known as “World War I” and “The Spanish Civil War” in which France had the tunnels sealed on the Spanish side to prevent arms smuggling.
During World War II, the railway authorities came to an operational agreement with the Nazi German Wehrmacht authorities, and allowed German-operated freight trains carrying tungsten to run north for the war effort and then run south with French grain and Swiss gold for … well, who knows why.
On the positive side of this fiasco, it must be noted that since passenger services also continued, the railway provided an occasional escape route into Spain for some Jews and Allied soldiers.
So, there it sits, a once beautiful structure in a beautiful setting; but now abandoned — partially because nobody could give in to use the other guys’ ideas of track gauge.
Glad I am going to Heaven! How about you? We’ll get along up there because God will be in charge and it will all be according to His Standard – His “Gauge”.
Tom Mooty has served Newport’s West End Baptist Church as Supply Pastor, Interim Pastor, Pastor, Senior Pastor, and now Medicare Minister; and writes this column twice-weekly. You can contact Mooty at email@example.com or through the Newport Plain Talk Editor with comments. Unsigned letters, non-descript e-mails, and anonymous phone calls are routinely deleted.