'The loss of the railway heritage is not a strictly Spanish problem, it´s a global phenomenon'

Lunes, 15 febrero 2021

Jorge Magaz Molina, PhD student at the Architecture Program of the University of Alcalá and member of the Research Group of the UAH 'Architecture, History, City and Landscape', explains in uah.esnoticia the result of the study on the heritage value of the railway complex of Ponferrada (León) that HispaniaNostra has recently included in its Red List of endangered heritage.

- What was the report approved by HispaniaNostra?

In 2013, the School of Architecture conducted a first study to analyze and evaluate the RENFE railway workshops and loading docks in La Placa, Ponferrada (León, Spain), which in the mid-20th century was one of the main coal export centers in the country. This research continued with a follow-up on the progressive deterioration of these facilities, which accelerated once the last inhabitants left the houses of the complex.

Besides presenting the results in congresses and facilitating publications to local agents, it was considered that the historical, social and technical relevance of these facilities for the energy policy of Franco's regime was susceptible to be the object of a public debate of national scope. For this reason, it was considered appropriate to respond to Hispania Nostra's call for collaboration by presenting a report on the case in which it´s proposed to the Scientific Committee the inclusion of The Plaque in Ponferrada in the Red List of heritage in danger of disappearance of this organism.

The report explains the heritage value of these installations, their social relevance and technical significance; it underlines the situation of abandonment and negligence, as well as the absence of legal protection figures or an intervention plan. The report specifies the circumstances that have led to the deterioration, its state of conservation and degree of vulnerability, describes the most severe pathologies, and the potential threats. The report is accompanied by bibliographical references and a selection of news about the controversial state of this installation. The data presented were sufficient for the Scientific Committee of Hispania Nostra to consider favorably the inclusion of this set in its Red List.

Esquema funcional del conjunto de la Placa. Jorge Magaz Elena Marcos

 

- What is Hispania Nostra? - Does UAH collaborate with this organization?

Hispania Nostra is an association dedicated to the defense, safeguarding and promotion of the Spanish Cultural Heritage. For several decades it has been promoting programs to raise awareness or to disseminate information to the public and campaigns to denounce the situation, such as the Red List.

Several professors from the University of Alcalá have collaborated, and continue to collaborate, in the management of Hispania Nostra and in the editorial team of its magazine. In addition, the University itself was awarded in 2018 for the restoration of the facade of the Colegio de San Ildefonso with the Europa Nostra Awards which are also managed by Hispania Nostra.

- In Spain, you comment that there are many abandoned railway sections, why are they at risk of disappearing?

The legacy of the railroad is extremely broad in our country, and it grows naturally as society evolves and the technological obsolescence of the means of production or transport advances. RENFE declared in its 2001 environmental report that in Spain there were seven thousand kilometers of railroad lines out of service or that they never got there because their works were unfinished (such as the Alicante-Alcoy line).

Since the end of the last century, the closure of mining or manufacturing facilities that supported their activities on the railroads (as was the case of the Andorra-Escatron line promoted by the National Institute of Industry that we are now studying), the policies of structuring the country that dispensed with 'peripheral' lines (such as the Astorga-Plasencia-Seville line), and the changes in the way we move around left behind numerous abandoned facilities. At present, the closure and dismantling of the thermal power stations and of the coal mining groups as a result of the decarbonization policies explains the dismantling of industrial branches such as the Central Térmica de Cubillos del Sil (León). The new high-speed lines also displace the conventional train, and the closure of stations in small towns due to lack of profitability adds new elements to this list of disused buildings.

Beyond the abandonment, plundering or vandalism, it is also necessary to consider among the threats to the railway legacy the policy of administrative demolitions based on the lack of autonomous or municipal cultural protection figures. In the absence of systematic regional protection programs, the catalogs of the PGOU are not usually very sensitive to the testimony of the railway legacy either. Especially controversial have been the demolitions of the stations of Loja (2017, Granada) or Durango and Deusto (2017, Euskadi), and this summer ADIF invited tenders without much response for the demolition of several nineteenth-century buildings at the Huerta de Valdecarábanos station (Toledo). In the best of cases, the catalogs only protect the 'passenger station building' (the one we all know), but often there is a lack of a minimum protection ordinance for the rest of the facilities in the complex that allowed it to operate: water tanks, docks, railway tanks, warehouses, workshops or fences, which sometimes, even older, are left unprotected. The 'reproductive' space, such as the railway villages and neighborhoods, shops and schools do not usually receive special attention either, despite their social value, and often constitute spectacular heritage sites such as the villages of Arroyo-Malpartida in Cáceres or Monfragüe.

In any case, the loss of railroad heritage is not a strictly Spanish problem; it is a global phenomenon that the organization EFAITH is trying to denounce in Europe. On the occasion of the upcoming European Railway Year, it has launched a call to register cases of endangered railroad heritage.

 

- What proposals do you think would be the most appropriate to recover the heritage?

Total conservation is practically impossible, nor is it strictly necessary; not all assets deserve equal consideration and their eventual disappearance is part of the logic of progress and the evolution of the landscape. However, before approving a demolition it is necessary to evaluate if it is the only alternative. In any case, it is advisable to document these properties and sets, characterize them, have a rigorous inventory, and study their testimonial and technical value and select those elements that are most representative for their conservation.

Railroad routes are capable of accommodating new uses. For several decades, the Fundación de Ferrocarriles Españoles has been promoting cycle-pedestrian routes under the tourist label of Vías Verdes, such as that of the Laciana Valley, the protagonist of one of Jesús Calleja's latest programs.

The railway architecture of stations, workshops or depots has a dual value, as part of a territorial system and at the same time as an everyday enclave with a very strong local significance. These architectures are flexible and can accommodate new uses, from community facilities such as the depots of Leon and Burgos to hotel facilities, as proposed for the old station of Canfranc (Aragon).

The fundamental question is to find an adequate, environmental and socio-economic sustainable use that allows to keep these spaces active and their memory alive. In this sense, in Portugal, the municipal chamber of Entroncamento is promoting an interesting project to recover the residential railway legacy of this city born around a railway junction, and which already has the workshops, warehouses and commissary adapted to house the National Railway Museum.

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