Monday, December 05, 2016

The Short Life Of The Arenal Tram

We all know, or at least I assume we all know, about the Soller tram. But do we all know about the Arenal tram? The chances are that we don't: it ceased to be a long time ago.

The story of trams in Palma dates back to 1891. The first tram wasn't quite as we came to know them. It was driven by mules and it wasn't really a tram at all; it was more like a bus. But they still referred to it as a tram or as a "rippert" after Monsieur Ripert of Marseille, the carriage-maker who came up with the design, which others then borrowed (which is a nice way of saying they ripped it off).

It was a hundred years ago that the first electrified tram started to operate in Palma. It covered the same route to Porto Pi that the mule tram had. By then, trams were starting to become faddish. Soller already had its, and then in 1921 the Arenal tram was inaugurated. It was referred to as Es Carrilet de S’Arenal, the "carrilet" being a popular name for a narrow gauge railway.

The route took it from Coll d'en Rebassa via Can Pastilla to Arenal, where a garage was built by where the yacht club now is. While Coll d'en Rebassa was by then an established urbanisation, Arenal wasn't particularly and Can Pastilla most certainly wasn't. There were very few properties along the route, but Arenal had started to become popular with summer visitors. There were also fishermen and stoneworkers.

The track ran right by the beach. There were a couple of obstacles in its way, i.e. the Sant Jordi canal and the Torrent des Jueus, so they built bridges, and the engineer responsible for the track was someone who was to become famous in Mallorca's engineering and tourism history. If anyone has ever wondered who the Gabriel Roca is who has lent his name to many a road in Mallorca, he was the engineer.

A news report at the time of the inauguration spoke of the new tram service. It was operated by the Sociedad Tranvia del Arenal company. Gabriel Roca was named in that report. At the time he was 25 and had just graduated from the school of engineering in Madrid. He was to become the director of the board of works for the port of Palma and was to initiate the project to create the Paseo Marítimo in Palma. The other name - the official name - for the Paseo is the Avenida de Gabriel Roca.

That report went on to say that the tramline of some eight kilometres was attractive because of the "panorama" - an incomparable beach and a splendid forest. The tram itself was driven by motor tractors and was in perfect condition to be electrified at any time. Palma, it was said, welcomed the fact that it could count on there being a tram network that goes to different "suburbs", all of them important because of their natural charms; ones that the tourist can also admire enthusiastically.

It is interesting to note that there should have been a particular reference to "the tourist". The year before the tram was inaugurated, the Hotel Ciudad Jardín was built in what was the first garden city resort in Mallorca. In Arenal, some years later, there was there was the plan for the Bellavista garden city. The tram had almost mapped out was to eventually become Playa de Palma. Gabriel Roca would have taken note. In 1949, he also became the president of the Mallorca Tourist Board.

The Arenal tram wasn't to last very long. The Sociedad Tranvia del Arenal, burdened with debts, ended up bankrupt. In fact, it is reckoned that the company, very soon after the line had opened, realised that it wasn't especially viable. It couldn't really have been, given that hardly anyone lived along the route and that visitors - such as they were - were only going in the summer. Less than a year into its operation, the company tried to sell it to the Palma tram company. They turned the offer down but a few years on did acquire it in order to prevent any competitor from doing so.

As to when the tram eventually ceased to be, there is some conflicting evidence. 1935 is given as the year that it "disappeared", but a different version suggests 1941, a key reason being the scarcity of petrol for the tractors. Whenever the end actually was, it was some years before Palma's trams went into extinction: that was 1959, by which time Palma had a bus service and Arenal was well and truly part of the project for Playa de Palma.

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