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A large number of articles about the socioeconomic changes that took place in Spain with the arrival of the rail industry, in the mid of the 19th century, has already been published. It was a period in which the situation of the country was really precarious; and such technological improvement meant a huge boost in the industrialization in many aspects. Nevertheless, we must not forget that, as any other human action, the railroad brought a strong transformation in the Spanish territory, as well as in the urban development of several settlements.

The preexisting cities where building stations was suitable, stimulated their growth and activity around them; and still nowadays preserve traces of that time that remain reflected in avenues and streets which are still called “station street, avenue,…”.

In the cases in which, due to territorial strategies or socioeconomic restraints, the stations were not placed in already existing settlements; the railroad exercised such an attraction that it provoked the creation of new population. There arises the concept of “railway towns”.

In order to give a more scientific definition, the railway towns are human settlements of new creation that gave rise to developed areas with a completely bounded growth to the railroad. In most cases, those towns were inhabited by the employees of the exploitative companies as MZA or the company of the North; as well as their families. They were usually placed in points with an important railway activity such as classification yards, railway turnouts or end of tracks.

As they were at first uninhabited zones, it became soon necessary to complement the railway facilities with others that gave services to the population. They were already built schools, churches, hospitals, etc. In other words, complete areas were constructed from the railway activity; and with the help of public subsidies.

At the beginning, those settlements were growing slowly; but concerning 1860 (being the most expansive stage of the railroad between 1860 and 1890) an important increase in the number of inhabitants took place. The workers obtained then houses from the railway cooperative societies, but those houses were still insufficient for the number of inhabitants. At the same time the expansion was being consolidated by the construction of facilities and exploitation buildings.

Four recognizable types can be distinguished in railway town’s morphologies:

  • The town between tracks (entrevías): the buildings were inscribed in the split of tracks. It is a typical morphology of the railway turnouts. The objective was to take advantage of the empty spaces between the tracks to build the houses.
  • The town around tracks (en torno a las vías): unlike the previous type, the houses enclosed the tracks. They were usually located next to the exploitation building where the inhabitant worked (tower of interlock, travelers' building, etc.). The different zones of houses were not connected, and they were usually located a few meters from the tracks.
  • The town near tracks (junto a las vías): the railway activities were not the decisive factor of the house location. Instead, the population was arranged, in some way, "attached" to the facilities; but even with a clear interrelationship with the dynamics of the railroad.
  • Micro-neighbourhoods (microbarrios): they were structured as a traditional town, keeping more similar to a rural settlement; and slightly more detached from the railway activities.

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The railway town concept does not only exist in Spain, where the examples are numerous; but in many other countries such as France, with the Tergnier Garden City; in The United Kingdom, or in Portugal, where there exist two cases of railway settlements.

Nowadays, the railway towns are really different from what they managed to be decades behind. Even though the railroad was a key factor for the social modernization, with the arrival of the high speed train, and the much more restrictive parameters of it, lots of new tracings were constructed. Therefore the previous ones were practically left in disuse; provoking the abandonment and the deterioration of the railway towns.

Nevertheless, those settlements can nowadays represent, for the town planner, a real opportunity of reutilization. 


Alumna Máster Planificación Territorial y Sostenibilidad

ETSI Caminos, Canales y Puertos

– Cuéllar Villar, D., Jiménez Vega, M. y Polo Muriel,F. (2003). Los poblados ferroviarios en España: un modo de vida junto al ferrocarril. Guijón. <>

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