Visiting Floriana Underground Train Station
On the 15th October 2017 as part of Floriana’s Genna ta’ Gonna event I had the opportunity to visit Malta’s only underground railway station. The Floriana station is open to the public only once a year thanks to the Floriana Local Council and The Malta Railway Foundation. On this occasion, anyone interested in Malta’s railway history could attend one of the scheduled guided tours to the Floriana Railway Station tunnel by Paul Galea.
There were 6 talks scheduled through out the day. I attended the one at 2 pm and as you can see on the pictures in this photo blog it was a very busy day and pretty special Sunday for all history lovers and Malta railway enthusiasts.
The event was free of charge, but anyone who wanted to support The Malta Railway Foundation could get printed replicas of the train tickets against a small donation.
On the way down to the Floriana Train Station we passed by the old ammunition depot situated within the St Philip’s Garden bastions. This room used to store ammunition and supply for the cannons that were situated on the bastions as part of the defence system.
The tunnel of the train station is situated under St Philip Gardens and was open to the public after its closing on March 31, 1931 for the first time after 80 years on October 23, 2011. Since then it turned into an annual event. This train station forms part of a 900-metre long tunnel that runs from the Yellow Garage beneath Valletta’s City Gate up to the Pinetum, next to Portes-des-Bomber (the cover photo).
To enter the tunnel, we had to walk through this room, which used to be ammunition magazine. The ammunition used to be loaded on the train and taken to Mtarfa and from there transported on trucks to the Victoria Lines, Malta’s northernmost defence system.
As you can see this room is in a quite poor state as most of the railway tunnel itself. The site is not very well maintained and filled with rubbish. Which is a shame, however that didn’t take away my enthusiasm and excitement. And what Paul Galea said during the tour, this used to be much worse and a lot of work has been done in the past years.
At this point we are about to enter the Floriana Train Station tunnel. This tunnel was dag by hand. One team would start from one side and the second from the other and when these two groups met, they would only be few inches apart. It took 1 year and half to finish it.
And here we are! If you were expecting to see railway tracks or the train itself those were unfortunately dismantled and sold as scrap over the years.
The Maltese train, known as Il-vapur tal-art, was in service for 48 years, running between 1883 and 1931. The 11 km trip from Valletta to Mtarfa, the train’s last stop, lasted about 20-30 mins. Otherwise it would take minimum of 3 hours. On the occasion of a football game being played at Blata il-Bajda, the train would slow down, or actually stop so the engineer and the passengers can see part of the game.
The Malta Railway consisted of a single railway and had 12 stations, including the first station in Valletta and the last station in Mtarfa. Even though the train had scheduled stops at particular platforms and stations it would occasionally slow down to pick up people that were on their way to the station. They would just wave at the train engineer to let him know that they would like to get on board.
Normally there would be two trains operating at the same time, one starting from Valletta and one leaving from Mtarfa and they would meet at the central station in Bikrirkara. Although Malta only had single-track lines, most stations had a side track. The train station in Hamrun had number of workshops to maintain the trains in a good condition as well as the train sheds to park the trains and carriages overnight.
It’s also worth mentioning that each train had letterboxes on its carriages for people to mail letters and correspondence. And what was sent before 7 am would have been delivered the same day.
Even tough it was a very useful and time saving way of transportation, it wasn’t affordable for everyone. An average worker couldn’t afford to use the train as the ticket was more expensive than his daily salary. The only way how these guys could benefit from this service was to jump into what was called the ‘workers carriage’ once the train started moving as like this they avoided the conductor and get the trip for free. Well, we cannot really blame them as life must have been hard in those days.
Here we are about 200 meters below the surface at the exact place of the Floriana Train Station platform used to be. If you look around with a bit of imagination it could remind you of the underground in London, which was introduced in 1863, just 20 years before Malta’s railway. Well, no wonder there are certain similarities. At the end of the day it was designed by the engineering firm of Wells-Owen & Elves, London.
The Malta Railway Foundation hopes to restore it to its former glory. However the fact that there are number of stakeholders involved it’s slowing down the renovation process. All these wires and cables are our telephone lines, TV, Malta high tension cables and so on. This is the current use of the tunnel.
In the past, the tunnel served as a shelter during WWII for the people of Valletta and Floriana who were seeking protection from the aerial bombing. During the same period of time, part of the tunnel was also the used as the telephone exchange, which continued its operation until the early 70s and it was known as the Valletta Exchange. The main distribution frame is there until today. All in all everyone made a very good use of the Floriana Underground Train Station tunnel.
Here is another side of the tunnel, which I was trying to explore, but as you can see it was closed. However I still managed to take a picture through the wire netting to show you what it looks like inside. This tunnel would finish at the end of the bastions connected with the bridge that’s shown at the cover photo of this blog.
I hope that you enjoyed this blog and that you learnt something new today. The map below shows the exact location, just next to the Wignacourt Water Tower, where the tour started. If you would like to see for yourself, make sure you attend next year’s Genna ta’ Gonna event. 🙂
For those of you, who cannot wait another year for an event like this I have a suggestion. There is a small private museum in Attard, The Malta Railway Museum, which opens to the public on demand. It’s on my list to visit, so if why don’t you also give it a go?