A replica of La Mataró, the first train on the Barcelona-Mataró line. / SUR

28 October 1848: The first train line in mainland Spain is inaugurated

The 30-kilometre route between Barcelona and Mataró was opened and it marked the start of rapid expansion of train services in the country

SHAY CONAGHAN

On 28 October 1848, the first train line in mainland Spain was inaugurated after two years of works and it was the beginning of a rapid expansion of the rail network. The route was a 30-kilometre journey between Barcelona and Mataró, in the Catalonia region.

The train that made the inaugural journey, nicknamed La Mataró for the line's ultimate destination, was a Crewe type, steam-powered locomotive. These types of trains were designed and built at the Crewe Works factory, in England.

The idea for the train line was conceived by local Mataró sea merchant, Miguel Biada. Impressed by the train line he helped fund in 1837 in Cuba, which was still a part of Spain, Biada vowed to connect his home town with Barcelona.

Biada returned to Spain in 1840 and got to work on the rail project. In 1843, he applied for permission from the Spanish government, who approved his request. Biada then attracted some 100 shareholders from Barcelona, Cuba and Puerto Rico before going on to establish a company to take on the rest of the project.

But Biada would fall ill and die at the start of 1848, never seeing his vision come to fruition.

However, the Barcelona-Mataró line would help usher in a wave of enthusiasm for trains, as different rail projects began to flourish across the country.

By June 1855, the Spanish government established the General Railways Law. It was a decisive piece of legislation, as it promoted the development of a national rail network, which was believed to be key to Spain's economic growth and future modernisation.

The law made it easier to secure foreign investment that was needed to finance the network, as well as establish full technical guidelines, such as its radial structure and track gauge.

As a result, Spain's train lines grew from 459km in 1857 to over 5,000km in 1866.