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13 March 1861: First railway opens between Seville and Cadiz

An engine used in Andalucía in the 19th century.
An engine used in Andalucía in the 19th century. / JUNTA DE ANDALUCÍA
  • The project, which was carried out in two stages, ran into several legal obstacles and took nearly nine years to complete

Travel and the transportation of goods in south-west Spain became much easier after 13 March 1861, when the railway line between Seville and Cadiz was inaugurated. The project had been planned some years earlier but it turned out to be problematic as it came up against legal obstacles.

The railway was constructed in two different sections: one heading north from Jerez to Seville, and the other going south from Jerez to Cadiz. In August 1852, before any plans had been drawn up, the contract to build the northern stretch, with stations at Lebrija, Cabezas de San Juan, Utrera and Alcalá, was assigned to Rafael Sánchez Mendoza, He was also authorised to construct the southern section, if the company which already held the concession agreed to cede its rights. In November a team of 12 British engineers arrived to draw up the plans.

The government approved the northern section of the route and the start of the works a year later. About 800 labourers worked on the line and by January 1854 the plans for the southern section were approved. All appeared to be going well, but then it was discovered that the project was illegal because there had been no special allocation of funds for it under the State Budget and the awarding of the contract had been irregular. Therefore, in May 1855 it was announced that the contract awarded to Rafael Sánchez Mendoza was null and void, and the works were put to tender.

The contract for the 102.5 km stretch of line between Seville and Jerez was assigned first, and the works began in Utrera in November 1856. The line was inaugurated on 1 March 1860.

Work on the southern stretch resumed in January 1857, and on 13 March it - and therefore the whole railway between Cadiz and Seville - was inaugurated. The trip took several hours. Nowadays, it can be done in 1 hour 40 minutes, with trains travelling at up to 200 kilometres an hour, and there are about 15 trains a day. Santa Justa station in Seville is the third busiest in the country, handling over eight million passengers a year.