The bosses of El Trenico, a narrow gauge train with the soul of a woman | The traveler

It could have been perfectly called the women’s train, but all its users baptized it as El Trenico, a narrow-gauge railway devised in 1882 that connected Bergara, in Gipuzkoa, with Estella, in Navarra, crossing Álava from north to southeast, until its It closed in 1967. Almost a score of station chiefs then managed to put order in the traffic of people and goods between these three provinces. Another group of women has now managed to turn the Alava section into the longest greenway in the Basque Country, some 120 kilometers that more than 300,000 walkers and cyclists they visit every year.


  • The Greenway of the Vasco Navarro Railway It is about 123 kilometers long, divided into three sections, from Estella-Lizarra to the port of Arlabán, passing through Tierra Estella, Montaña Alavesa, Llanada Alavesa and Vitoria-Gasteiz
  • More information about El Trenico:, and

“Women had a lot of weight until the machines stopped dragging the wagons on New Year’s Eve 1967, and another group of women has transformed it for tourism with a concept that invites you to visit it as you taste a good coffee, with all your senses” , explains the expert in heritage and tourism from Álava Arantza Cordero. The layout has achieved several European Greenways Awards for how it has mixed art and technology in the renovations and for how it has fused the past and the future to recover its historical protagonists.

Follow the path of the The Anglo Vasco Navarro Railway Company Limited, as it was originally called, is a way to enjoy forests, hermitages and unique places Throughout its different sections: the Guipuzcoan, the Alava -the longest and awarded for its interventions- and the Navarrese, which takes the traveler to the town of Estella. But, in addition, it transports you with sounds and murals to the early days of steam in which the noise of the machine and the column of hot air announced the arrival of merchants and visitors to the different stops along the way. Taking advantage of that almost 70% of the route runs through protected natural areas and areas cataloged as Outstanding and Singular Landscapes, in addition to long tunnels, the architect, urban planner and landscaper Irene Zuniga and the artist and muralist Irantzu Lekue They have turned their layout into a leap in time.

The Leorza-Cicujano tunnel immerses those who venture into it in a world of sounds, colors, murals and testimonies. “When I presented the participation project, I did not imagine the response it was going to get. We wanted to make visible the importance of the women who worked there, but also of those who suffered accused of being witches in the towns through which they passed and were unjustly condemned ”, explains Lekue. The second intervention was the fusion of participatory mural art with augmented reality in the Alava town of Maeztu. Several QR codes allow you to listen to the historical voices of its protagonists or see in augmented reality how the machine and its wagons arrived. The third awarded intervention is the rehabilitation of an old railway warehouse in Antoñana following the original twenties designs of the engineer Alejandro Mendizábal, which Zúñiga found and has followed as if they were a score. “The figure of Mendizábal is very interesting. In the morning he controlled incidents throughout the route, and in the afternoons, at his home, he designed, one by one, and all different, the stations of the El Trenico stops ”. “It was the 1920s, a century ago now, and he could have made them all the same, but he left us an extraordinary and varied heritage,” recalls Zúñiga, who invites us to locate them along the greenway. Even the ones that are in bad shape.

“The trip is much more than a trip, it is an experience that can be done alone, with family and friends, because around the road there are many inns, some of them unique, and a lot of heritage to visit and comment on,” says Arantza Lamb, while explaining the cultural heritage that can be enjoyed along the itinerary. One of those palaces to stay in is that of Luko, in Álava. The technical architect Jesús Laskurain fell in love with his nobility and decades later he was able to rescue him from the ruins to attend to the traveler.

File photo showing Laría Leorza, Ullíbarri station chief.
File photo showing Laría Leorza, Ullíbarri station chief.

Tell the story of pioneer women

The Director of the Environment of the Diputación de Álava, Nati López de Munain, and the person in charge of Heritage, Elena Gomez, were conspired years ago to recover the layout with a gender perspective. A station manager earned 15,000 pesetas in 1954 and female bosses 8,040 for the same work. “Our ancestors told the stories in the caves and we are doing it in the tunnels,” explains López de Munain, recalling that many people who knew El Trenico, and many of the descendants of those pioneer women participated in the paintings of the Cicujano tunnel. . Elena Gómez defines the work, which the institution began in 1992 and still continues, recovering tunnels and stations little by little, as an “emotional green corridor”.

One of its protagonists was Mercedes Olejua that together with his sister Candida they directed several stations in the Llanada Alavesa. “The workers were like a big family, they all agreed on that”, says Javier Suso, who has been reconstructing the history of the old railway for 20 years. “To better show that past, we are going to try to get the people of each town to participate in theatrical performances that describe life around the train and the stations,” explains the president of the Alavesa Mountain Squad, Anartz Gorrotxategi. “We do not know if they will be in theatrical format or for a few days, but it must be organized for the summer,” he sends a wink to the Alava County Council. “Far from dying, the communication experience of El Trenico has been reborn to spread through its old ways the culture, heritage and the example of some women who fought very hard in a world in which they had many things against them”, remembers Arantza Cordero.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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