Mon. Nov 29th, 2021

The rattle of the rack railway on the sacred mountain of Montserrat has been interpreted by Cristina Pascual’s vital band for more than twelve years. Over time, his has evolved into an existence dedicated to uniting, in a way, the underworld with the heavenly aboard the iconic rack railway ‘, created in the 19th century and reopened in 2003 to bring parishioners and tourists up to one of the most popular sanctuaries in Spain. “It all started as a summer job when I was 19, and in the end, I fell in love with this,” he explains. Pascual, who is barely forty years old, had never driven a train but after taking the controls of this vehicle for the first time, he knew he was born for it. «In 2009 I was a photographer and I was looking for a job for the holidays, so I called Montserrat. They liked me, they caught me and told me that one of my tasks would be to drive the rack, I was hallucinated, but I also had an intense training, “he says. «I remember a lot my first trip, I was the youngest of the group and at that time there was still a bit of machismo, in fact, some passengers, the oldest ones, said that they did not want to ride if the driver was a woman … a problem because many days we were all “, recalls with humor this Barcelona woman now focused on coordinating the system of trains and cable cars that communicate Montserrat with the rest of the world. The history of the Montserrat train that machinists like Cristina pilot today is a checkered one. Its origins date back to the 19th century, a time when the railway was expanding throughout Europe and a time when the new Catalan bourgeoisie, then clinging to a very practicing Christianity, began to flirt with what we now call tourism. By train. That was the response found by the entrepreneurs of that time to the need to connect bustling Barcelona with the peaceful natural enclave that still houses ‘La Moreneta’, patron virgin of Catalonia. The work began in the second half of the century, when a wide-gauge route was built to the town of Monistrol, at the foot of the mountain. From this point, a road was also opened that went from the station to the monastery along a path traveled throughout the day by a horse-drawn stagecoach service that took more than three hours to climb. The constant increase in visitors, devotees and pilgrims that the new railway brought to Barcelona made people quickly think about the need to design a new system to climb the mountain in a faster, more massive and efficient way. Finally, Joaquim Carrera, an engineer in love with Swiss mountain trains, convinced businessman Josep M. González to make a ‘vertical’ rack. The challenge was enormous, but within the reach of a society fascinated at that time by the technical challenges and the leaps of modern engineering that were exhibited at fairs and world events such as the Universal Exhibition of Barcelona in 1888. Thus, in 1881 it was created the company Ferrocarriles de Montaña a Grandes Slopes. Eleven years later the new mill was inaugurated, specifically on October 6, 1892. On that date, amid great jubilation and with the presence of the senior staff of the bourgeoisie and the Catalan church at the time, the new a train that, according to the chronicles of the time, was “a locomotive that climbed to the heights to increase the Faith from Barcelona to La Moreneta” (La Vanguardia, 1892). From that moment on, a Monserratian madness was unleashed that made the rack railway the most popular train in Catalonia. The pilgrimages took place daily (up to 200 each year) and the place, once silent and empty, populated only by a community of Benedictine monks, became a mass pilgrimage point halfway between the popular fervor of the Andalusian Rocío and sentimentality. of Covadonga, in Asturias. The great revolution that this infrastructure supposed for its time was that it allowed to go and return to Montserrat from Barcelona in a single day. In a short time, the rack railway became an economic booster for the entire area, the spring that fed one of the first Catalan towns dedicated almost entirely to tourism in a region consecrated first to the countryside and then to the expanding industry on the banks of the Llobregat river, “the hardest working”, it was said then because it fed the steam textile colonies that rose non-stop on its banks. Closing in 1957 The 1920s were the first heyday for this railway, which was accumulating extensions and records. However, its record was reached in 1947, when it transported more than 270,000 people after the Civil War, which turned the rack into an ambulance train to bring the wounded to the military hospital installed in the sanctuary. However, the lack of investment and a series of accidents ended up causing the service to close in 1957 and not be provided again, already completely renewed, in 2003. «The return of the Rack Railway was like a reunion with an old friend who would never have to be gone. In fact, next to the abandoned tracks there was always a ‘suspended service’ sign that kept us hopeful “, explains the Benedictine monk Valentí Tenas. Not in vain, the religious community of Montserrat depends on the Rack Railway to receive pilgrims and tourists and to maintain the Sanctuary as the epicenter of Catalan spiritual life. “The people who go up to Montserrat expect to find the Escolanía (the choir of children singers of the temple), a well celebrated liturgy and many priests to confess”, explains Tenas, who highlights the religious value of a mountain that is also a place natural highly valued by hikers and climbers. “Without the train this place would be a collapse doomed to access controls and police, thanks to it we can welcome thousands of people, and maintain the aura of peace that characterizes us,” he adds. Cristina, the driver, goes further and highlights the experience of going up the mountain by train on autumn mornings. There is fog, and it is magical.

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