Before the construction of the mining railway the transportation of goods between Riotinto and the Riotinto pier in Huelva was a difficult business. Donkeys, mules and wagons were used on the first leg as far as Valverde del Camino where the railway “El Buitrón” was picked up to go down to “San Juan del Puerto”. From here barges covered the last stretch of the Rio Tinto River to reach the ships moored at Huelva seaport.
The arrival of a British Holding “The Riotinto Company Limited” on the 14th of February 1873 to mine the deposit in Riotinto brought a technical phenomenon in keeping with the aspirations of profitability and efficiency of the new company. The railway was the great symbol of the arrival in Rotinto of the Industrial Revolution and with it the economical and social development of the region. The main aim of the railway was to connect the mine and the seaport in Huelva.
Of more than 300 kilometres of track laid 84 belonged to the commercial line to transport the ore extracted from the mines. Construction work on Riotinto´s narrow gauge railway commenced in July of 1873, and work on the line began in five different places because finishing it was very urgent. The construction work, which was supervised by George Bruce, ended on the 28th of July 1875 with total cost of 167,000 pounds.
The line was difficult to build because on its way to Huelva it very often had to cross streams and ravines. The tracks run parallel to the Rio Tinto River forcing the construction of eight iron bridges and five tunnels. Twelve intermediate stations were built along the line to control the merchandise traffic and security, but there were also many other stations in the different villages of the area to handle passenger traffic. In Huelva a pier 1,165, metres long was built to allow the railway to load the merchandise directly onto the ships. This pier, which was begun in 1874 and finished in 1876, was in use until 1975.
The railway provided three services: internal, which connected the different mining departments; a general line, to join Riotinto with Huelva; and last but not least, branch lines, to connect the villages of the area and provide transport for travellers and miners. This line opened in 1903 and closed in 1968 when it was replaced by bus services.
Te importance of the passenger traffic led to the existence of 2,000 light trucks, 1,300 good’s wagons and 40 passenger carriages as well as 143 steam engines and 7 electric engines used to transport the mining light tracks from the deposits to the treatment and smelting facilities. The 143 steam engines were of different types, made between 1874 and 1954. With the exception of six of them, they were British made.
The mining railway continued working all the time that “The Riotinto Company Limited” was in charge of the exploitation and also after 1954 when the mine passed into Spanish hands.
This line lost its usefulness when in 1964 the chemical development area was built in Huelva and the ore was not longer transported to England. From then onwards it became more profitable to transport it from Riotinto to Huelva by lorry. The pier in Huelva ceased operations in 1976 and the last train transporting mineral went down the tracks in 1985.
RIOTINTO FOUNDATION, in its endeavour to safeguard the mining and historical inheritance of the area has restored 12 kilometres of the former commercial line to Huelva. The trip can be done with restored carriages and locomotives of the former British company. On the exciting journey running parallel to the Rio Tinto River one passes through impressive landscapes belonging to the old smelting and industrial facilities as well as beautiful scenery normally inaccessible to the traveller.