There are relatively few places in Europe where diesel locos can still be found on several-hundred-mile-long cross-country routes. Spain remains something of an exception.
It’s fair to say that if you like the Class 67s in the UK, then the 28-strong RENFE Class 334 will be up your street. Built between 2006 and 2008, these are 200km/h (125mph) Bo-Bos that feature 12-cylinder General Motors 710-series power units in an “Alstom” bodyshell too. Indeed, they were built in the same factory in Valencia. The main difference, of course, is that the Spanish machines are built to the wider Iberian gauge (1668mm, as opposed to 1435mm of our “standard gauge”). They are also 3,300hp – slightly more than the 67s’ 3,200hp. Link to the Vossloh information sheet on the class.
334013 departs Madrid Atocha Cercanias, 31/01/15 (JW)
In something of a Spanish tradition, they are not entirely-new locos, but did in fact re-use certain components from previous generations of RENFE GMs.
Their work is almost exclusively on long-distance passenger trains, which makes them an excellent choice if you just want to effortlessly sit back and relax behind diesel traction, passing through fantastic scenery for up to 700 miles a day with a lunchtime break at an interesting destination. It’s much less straightforward, however, if your personal aim is to get as many different machines for haulage as possible!
Mainly, this is due to all of their work requiring a compulsory seat reservation (as is the norm in Spain), and trains sometimes travelling for upwards of 100 miles in between stops. Even if you have an “all line rover”, you can’t simply get the deckchair out at a station and wait for your machine of choice to roll in; if anything, the system steers you towards committing yourself to a “move” before you leave home.
334013 at Madrid Atocha Cercanias, 31/01/15 (JW)
However, if that hasn’t put you off, then I can highly recommend giving them a go. Arguably the best place to base yourself is Spain’s capital city; Madrid. Being the third largest city in the EU, there is plenty of accommodation to suit any budget, a generally excellent standard of English spoken, and plenty to do and see away from the railway if trains aren’t your sole focus (or if you have the family in tow!).
Spanish diesel-hauled routes (JW)
For a relaxing but rewarding “bash”, two of the main routes for 334 power radiate from the capital, and are the 350-mile journey to Almería, in Andalucia, and the 330 miles to Cartagena, in Murcia; both seaside towns on the Mediterranean. I would actually go as far as saying that the departure from Almería at the edge of the stunning Sierra Nevada mountain range is one of the most scenic parts of the Continent that you can experience with a diesel at the sharp end.
There are morning departures from Madrid to both Almería and Cartagena that give you a lunch break at the seaside, and can get you back to the capital in time for “last orders”. To Almería:-
Talgo 276, 08:00 Madrid Chamartin – Almería arrive 14:17
Talgo 279, 16:05 Almería – Madrid Chamartin arrive 22:33
You actually have two options for a round trip to Cartagena (or, indeed, can mix and match):-
Altaria 222, 09:00 Madrid Chamartin – Cartagena arrive 14:12
Altaria 225, 16:00 Cartagena – Madrid Chamartin arrive 21:00
Altaria 228, 12:34 Madrid Chamartin – Cartagena arrive 17:28
Altaria 227, 18:20 Cartagena – Madrid Chamartin arrive 23:40
Both yield an interesting day. Indeed, it’s possible to do the either route out and back to Alcazar de San Juan (92 miles distant from Madrid, and the junction of the two routes) and then have a break there in order to complete the journey on a different 334. Be warned, though, I have not found punctuality to be great on these trains, and my 90 minute wait at Alcazar de San Juan one night turned into nearly 4 hours on my own, with little information as to when (or even if) my train would arrive! Some consolation, however, was a good amount of freight traffic passing through to keep me entertained.
334012 runs round at Almería, 30/01/15 (JW)
All of the trains on these routes are 334-hauled, though, and you can easily piece together a “move” that can feature up to five of them in a day, should you so wish. This would be my personal suggestion for a long day (but with built-in breaks):-
Altaria 220, 07:13 Madrid Chamartin – Hellín arrive 10:22
Altaria 223, 10:49 Hellín – Alcazar de San Juan, arrive 12:34
Talgo 694, 13:15 Alcazar de San Juan – Villarobledo, arrive 13:46 *
Altaria 228, 14:29 Villarobledo – Murcia del Carmen arrive 16:43 **
Altaria 225, 16:47 Murcia del Carmen – Alcazar de San Juan arrive 19:28
Talgo 279, 20:59 Alcazar de San Juan – Madrid Chamartin arrive 22:33
* This is a Class 252 electric – you can wait for the 334 behind if this isn’t your cup of tea.
** If sweating on a +4 doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, you can instead “leap” at Albacete, 15:00-18:34. This certainly wouldn’t be something to be avoided; it’s not the stereotypical “bit of tarmac with a bench and a sign, miles from civilisation” but is in fact the largest city in its province and is certainly somewhere you could spend 3.5 hours.
334018 departs Madrid Atocha Cercanias, in the very early hours of 31/01/15 (JW)
It would, however, be completely wrong of me to suggest that these are the only places you can ride behind 334s.
There is further 334 haulage on offer in Murcia, on the Talgo services between Alacant and Murcia del Carmen (some continue to Lorca Sutullena or Cartagena, and vice versa). Occasionally, the loco change occurs at Valencia rather than Alacant.
334s are also used on the Altaria services from Madrid to Algeciras – Spain’s most southerly station and only about 25 minutes on the bus from the border with Gibraltar. These trains are worked from Madrid (Atocha) to Antequera by standard gauge class 252s, where the train goes through a gauge changer – after which a 334 picks it up on the other side and takes it forward to Algeciras on the standard gauge. There are two trains a day in each direction from Madrid to Algeciras – 08:35 and 15:05 from Madrid and 08:43 and 15:03 from Algeciras. These can all be covered by the same 334.
Diesel haulage – from both class 334 and the Co-Co class 333.4s – is also available in the north-west of the country on the unelectrified sections of the remnants of Spain’s decimated overnight train network – from Monforte de Lemos to Ferrol and A Coruña, from Medina del Campo (although this will imminently change to Salamanca) to Vilar Formoso (on trains to and from Portugal) and also under the wires from Ourense to Pontevedra.
There are also a number of heritage operations that feature diesel loco haulage – including the “Tren dels Llacs” (class 308) and the “Montserrat Classic Express” (ex-FEVE metre gauge Alsthom no.1003).
Many thanks to Philip Wormald, Charles Hinton and the posters to European Rail Gen for their assistance in keeping this article up to date!