A trip in the past : Trento - Bolzano and back

by C.Vianini

Let's image to have a time-machine and the ability to go back in the past, in a nice summer morning in 1933. Why right in 1933 ? Reasons will be explained later in the issue.

1.     Trento - Bolzano

I'm going to start a long desired travel. I'm in Trento station and i'm waiting to board on the direct train 66S that at 11.03 a.m. will take me to Bolzano. The route is in the valley of Adige river and is 56 km long, covered in about 1 hour with an ending time at 12.02 a.m. The steam loco of 685 group is heading this train made up by boogies coaches: a baggage van, 6 second class old coaches in brown and green livery, 1 first class coach and a CIWL sleeping coach; it leaved Rome at 10.00 p.m., has travelled all the night and will end its run at Fortezza. I can see some working gangs planting poles for the forthcoming three-phases electrification of the entire line ( it will be opened the next year).

The train is on perfect time, but this is not the route i'm interested in. By the way, my train meets an huge quantity of steam locos with wagons and coaches of many different series. I'm sitted in the second class, in a narrow room. Cigarettes smoke taste is inside seats and carpets. These last even if fixed moves themselves a bit. I like play a bit with the leverage blocking windows and with the moving ashcraft. We arrive in time at the end of the trip, with only two intermediate stops at Mezzocorona and Ora. 

At Bolzano, 262 msl, i have few time for me. I take a walk in the center of the city and i see tramcars with the typical wooden bodies.

2.     Bolzano - Caldaro

I go back to the station around 1.00 p.m. The place is nice and well-mainteined. I still have some time to take a look to the north side of the station where there are rack locos of  the Renon line; so i promised to myself  to come back to Bolzano another time to travel on that route. 

I'm on the platform of the first track, in the shadow of the platform roof. It start getting hot. The train will take me to Sant'Antonio in Caldaro is ready, taking me finally to Mendola's pass. It's made by two little cars with wooden bodies and two axles, the first one is motorized; it seems more a tram than a train. On the roof there are two trolleys both connected to the wire. The next year, with the inauguration of three-phases electrification, these units will get some modifications: instead of trolleys a single pantograph will be installed, and overall, from Bolzano station to Oltradige junction will be placed a third electrified rail on the side of the existing rail, to avoid problems with FS electrics.

The line came from the austrian property after the end of the great war and until 1923 has been worked by FS, then another society started its services under the new label of SAFT, Ferrovia Transatesina. I board the motorized unit hoping to see the line from the front cab. There are few passengers, ma the ambience is good. Our train with no number on the timetable leaves at 1.23 p.m. The little train moves shacking itself on switches and then it takes the line to Merano; we join this line until the junction mentioned above, where a switch take us on the left along a single track line bound to Caldaro. This area is rich of wine grapes and we stop at Appiano, 411 msl. We climb slowly, with a constant gradient. At Caldaro we arrive at 2.03 p.m., in perfect time. Right before to enter the yard we pass on a switch which right direction take the line to final part of the line to Sant'Antonio.

3.     Caldaro – Sant’Antonio

I don't go down from my train, my trip doesnt' stop here! The train leaves after few minutes in the opposite direction, exits the station and it stops right after the switch seen before. The chief conductor go down, put the key taken in the station in the switch and moves the leverage. The train moves then in the right direction, but it stops right after some meters.The chief blocks again the switch with the key and comes up on the train. Now we travel a pair of kilometers until Sant'Antonio, the climbing it's really steep, so much than originally they projected this section with a rack rail. We arrive at 2.16 p.m. at 513 msl. This is the real terminus of the line, with the station common to that one of the cable line to Mendola's pass. I have not so many time, i've to aboard the red elegant cabin of the funicular line.

4.     Sant’Antonio - Mendola

I leave the train. The cable car is ready and waiting. The route bound to the pass is 2100 meters long and climb until 1364 msl, with a really hard gradient. The line is a wide curve to the left, mostly after the half-line meeting point. The climb is made at a really slow velocity. Engines are in the upper station, so the only rumor is coming from wheels and creeping of the cables on the main center wheels on the ground. After half an hour, the cab slow down near to the final upper station; it's 2.42 p.m. There is a noisy wind. Outside the station, on the balcony where one can see a wonderfull scenery, a long boogie car with wooden body waits for us on a narrow gauge track. When the Ferrovia Alta Anaunia, this is the name, will be closed in 1935, this unit will be trasferred to the Renon line. This is the reason i've chosen the year 1933 for this tale. I lose the third rail in Bolzano station but i can made the complete circle trip, even using for the last part a tramway exercised directly from FS (see under). 

5.     Mendola - Fondo - Dermulo

Now starts the steep slope, made of continuing curves and reverse curves, at 2.48 p.m. Even for this line the general timetable doesnt' report the number of this train. The 24 kilometers line will take us about 2 hours to be completed. Excluding the Trento-Bolzano stretch, as you can see, medium timings are really slow. Tourists hardly decide to start a similar circle trip, the majority of passengers make just a part of the travel, the traffic is substantially local.

The emu has wood seats and trails a little wagon loaded with mixed parcels. Scenery is beautifull, first made by great wood of pine-trees, then changing gradually as the line slopes down on the sea level. Even architecture changes while the trip goes on: we pass from the south-Tirol ambience to that typically italian. The difference more evident is on the roof of churchs.

We arrive at Dermulo, 548 msl, at 4.22 p.m. after having passed Fondo, a station with a wide yard, with sheds for the rolling stock of the line. In Dermulo there are 2 stations, but i have not so much time to look at the FEAA building, similar to a castle, because i have just 4 minutes to take the meeting train.

6.     Dermulo - Trento

This is the last part of our trip. The one-meter gauge line, tramway Trento-Malè, like the Ferrovia Transatesina has been built under the Austrian Empire and is now owned by the FS; still some years (1936) and it will be given to a local company which in the future will trasform it to a real railway. It links the city of Trento to the Non valley.

The car waiting for me has same charactheristics of the other seen before: two arch trolleys, wooden bodies and even wood seats inside. Essential, but elegant. In the middle there is a wide baggage room, which separate first class from third class rooms. Two short trailers are coupled to this unit, similar in style but with two axles. The train is n° 4667 and departs in time at 4.26 p.m. It will run to the terminus for about 39 kilometers. The route is interesting, mainly on road bed, full of bridges and tunnels, even in the "low" part. The trip is quite relaxing, the tramcar is more stable respect the units used before. Main stops are at Mezzolombardo and S.Michele with its two stations and where the line level-cross the Brennero FS route.   

From Gardolo, km 4+323 from Trento, for about 2 kilometers the track will become with double gauge due to an industrial spur linked to FS line in Trento yard, still not operating. The entering in the city is with the track layed on the road and arrives to the station Trento Torre Verde, a nice building, exactly at 6.37 p.m. I leave the train. Some hundreds meters by foot and i reach the FS station. Here i stop my trip. A nice day passed i will not forget easily.

7.     What remains 

Let's return to present time. It's not yet possible today do a similar route all by rails. The high Non valley line and the Ferrovia Transatesina are long gone and no one shows the need or the nostalgia for a comeback of trains. Buildings of some stations are still in place and easily identifiable, like for example Caldaro and Fondo. The cable line for Mendola pass is still operating and a visit is well worth. Surely even the Trento-Malè railway is interesting to run, with its diverse dmu trains, its bridges and nice landscapes. In Trento trains arrive directly in the FS station, since 1995. When the tramway was trasformed in railway, the station in Torre Verde was demolished and trains arrived in P.zza Centa, where the building typical of the 60's was ugly and even umconfortable.

Check the map and pictures here !

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