The second part of this fascinating route along the Sierra Menera mining railway line starts where the first part left off, near the border between the provinces of Castellón and Teruel, 6 km away from the town of Barracas in Catellón. The starting point can be reached by taking the turn-off for the Camino de Fuen del Cepo on the N234 road, unless of course we arrive directly on foot or by bicycle from the magnificent Ojos Negros Greenway I from the Community of Valencia.
Like the previous part of the route, this new section has the advantage of running parallel to RENFE’s regional Valencia-Teruel-Zaragoza railway line for most of the way, which means we can join or leave the Greenway at any of the stations along the route. In this particular section we can choose between the stations of Barracas, Rubielos de Mora, Sarrión, Puebla de Valverde, Puerto de Escandón, Teruel, Caudé, and Cella. At any point on the Greenway, whether we get tired or just because we feel like it, we can go back to where we started or get to any other place on the route by catching any of RENFE’s regional trains (except for the TRDs – Rapid Diesel Trains) from a nearby station.
Although in the first part of the Greenway that runs through Community of Valencia we used the original railway distances, in this part, until the Greenway restoration work is completed, we will count distances from a Km 0 which will be taken to be at the border between the two autonomous communities.
The recently opened Greenway starts off with a comfortable walk (or ride) through a gently undulating landscape in which the railway curves this way and that. At Km 1.8 and Km 3.1 the trail crosses the Jaquesa and Chopo streams over a couple of nearly identical viaducts, both 50m long and in a perfect state of repair.
Although the “official” start of our Greenway is on the border between Teruel and Castellón, it has the disadvantage of being a long way from anywhere, so we recommend starting the route at the nearby town of Barracas (Castellón) where RENFE trains stop. From here we can enjoy the final kilometres of the Ojos Negros Greenway I, which was developed by the Generalitat Valenciana (Government of the Autonomous Community of Valencia) from Algimia to the inter-provincial border. From this “Kilometre 0” our new Aragonese Greenway will travel through unspoilt land at the foot of the Javalambre mountains, thanks to the recent development work performed by the Regional Government of Aragon.
After the second of the two viaducts our Greenway winds closer to the active railway line. We actually converge with the line at an abandoned railway station, built to provide service to the mining train traffic that Sierra Menera transferred to RENFE when the former closed down its own railway. This small siding station, named “Albentosa”, was built to enable trains travelling in opposite directions to cross, although in the end no train ever stopped at the station. After an uneventful few kilometres we arrive at Km 8.2 and another Albentosa station (this time the station belonging to the mining railway), just a few metres away from the RENFE station of Rubielos de Mora. From here we embark on a section leading to one of the most interesting features of the Greenway: the Albentosa viaduct (Km 12).
The Albentosa ravine is a deep cleft cut into limestone rock by a narrow river. In order to cross it, the engineers who built the broad gauge railway were obliged to build a spectacular viaduct, and the mining company had no option but to do the same for its narrow gauge line. So they built a slender 104m long viaduct with 7 arches, rising 50m above the river. Stopping at this viaduct is a must: from above the tall poplar trees look like toys while the waters of the Albentosa river thread their way beneath them. Above is the town of Albentosa, standing guard over the two railway lines and the river.
Our route now begins a gentle climb towards the curved Albentosa tunnel, nearly 400 metres in length. After the tunnel was closed to railway traffic, it was used for growing mushrooms, but the mushroom growers have now moved on. At the other end of the tunnel the trail continues in a northwest direction, rubbing shoulders with the other line until reaching the Sarrión tunnel, 352m in length and perfectly straight. Until recently you could see the remains of hundreds of sacks where tons of mushrooms were grown over a number of years.
Shortly after leaving the tunnel we cross the Los Judíos ravine by means of a viaduct rising 17m above the valley floor. After this bridge the trail traces a long arc before reaching the town of Sarrión (Km 19)
There is always a good excuse for going into a town and taking a walk around its typical streets and houses. The train station is situated at the edge of the town and the regional trains that stop here provide travellers with an opportunity to join or leave the Greenway at this point.
Sarrión signals the start of another of the most delightful stretches of the Greenway, with the added advantage that it has been recently resurfaced and signposted. After leaving the town we head down a very long, straight track leading to an area called La Dehesa. Here we travel through virgin Mediterranean forest, where the peace and quiet is only interrupted by the occasional passing of a train on the nearby RENFE line. With every curve our Greenway gains height before rejoining the active railway line at a curiously named place, Tripa Azul
Here a somewhat scary bridge (“scary” because of its decrepit state) used to take the mining trains over the broad gauge line (Km 25.8). However, we do not need to test the safety of the bridge’s rusted iron: 100m further on there is another bridge, a nice solid stone one, that provides a safe and easy passage over the broad gauge line.
Once on the other side, our Greenway runs between conifers alongside the RENFE line for several kilometres. This straight, well surfaced section passes a succession of railway buildings and other infrastructure belonging to the two railways, until we reach the abandoned out-of-the-way RENFE station of Pozo del Fraile (Km 28.4)
Once through the station, the Greenway makes its way through a forest of holm oak, conifers, and deciduous trees. We continue under the canopy of the forest for about 2 km before reaching the apeaderos at La Parra (Km 31.2). Shortly after passing what is left of this old station the Greenway arrives at another spectacular viaduct spanning the Peñaflor ravine, popularly known in these parts as the “Puente Chispo”. The viaduct is an impressive 22 metres high and 89 long; it runs parallel to the one serving the active broad gauge line and is similar in most aspects. By way of anecdote, the middle section of the latter viaduct was blown up during the Civil War (and was later rebuilt), and a similar fate was to befall other infrastructures of the twin railways, which became strategic military targets during the hostilities.
Once over the viaduct, our Greenway route ran into one of the most serious problems of continuity of the entire route. The rail bed was occupied by an aggregates plant which meant that the Greenway needed to find an alternative route. As if that was not enough, a short way beyond the plant the rail bed was once again invaded, this time by a landfill, and a bridge over the RENFE line was rendered unusable. We therefore need to skirt around these obstacles to the right before regaining the original route some metres further along. Fortunately the works involved in upgrading the N234 enabled us to design a safe alternative route for our Greenway.
Once safely on the other side, we regain the former railway before reaching the twin stations of Puebla de Valverde. If we wish we can take time out to visit the pleasant village that gives its name to the two stations. It is easy to get there; we simply follow the almost abandoned old road which starts just behind a service station. Afterwards, to get from the village to the station we just have to follow the Camarena road for about 1,500m before arriving back at the Greenway.
Nowadays the area around the stations of La Puebla (Km 33.7) is very quiet, although in days gone by there used to be a hostel to cater for railway passengers and other travellers. Today the easiest thing is to go into the historic village of Puebla de Valverde, just 2 km away down the old road, and take a well deserved break from this long Greenway.
On the other side of the station the old rail bed has been buried under a new road, forcing us to cross this road before pressing on to Puerto de Escandón station. While it is well signposted, care needs to be taken in crossing the road. The landscape now is predominantly scrubland and we pass over a number of small gullies.
Beyond Km 38 we cross a fair number of small bridges over various ravines, before embarking on a long straight taking us up to the Escandón pass through gently rolling hills. We reach the top of the pass at Km 43, where we find the Puerto de Escandón RENFE station and what little remains of the mining railway station. Until not so long ago the busy traffic of iron ore trains made this remote station at the end of a long climb up from Teruel a key logistical centre. Now this traffic no longer exists, and the station faces a bleak future. For the Sierra Menera railway this station used to be a place where the locomotives pulling trains laden with iron could catch their breath after the long climb from the mines. Except for the remains of the turntable pit where the locomotives used to be turned around, nothing remains of what was once a busy and strategic station.
This is as far as the Greenway developed by the Regional Government of Aragon goes. But not to worry: the Ministry of the Environment is already developing an additional section of Greenway from the Puerto de Escandón to Cella, although we will have to wait until Autumn 2007 before this new section is fully operational.