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Report - Mdina Tunnel (The Malta Railway), Malta - September 2015

Discussion in 'European and International Sites' started by Bertie Bollockbrains, Sep 21, 2015.

  1. Bertie Bollockbrains

    Bertie Bollockbrains 28DL Regular User
    Regular User

    Sep 1, 2014
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    The Malta Railway was the only railway ever on the island of Malta, and consisted of a single railway line running from Valletta to Mdina (about 8 miles) and operated from 1883 to 1931. It seems forgotten from history and of the many Maltese friends I have - not one even knew that there used to be a railway on the island!

    The railway had two tunnels - one under the Valletta fortifications (with an underground station at Floriana) and a second tunnel under the walled city of Mdina.

    It has appeared on these forums before. @Bovine did two excellent reports back in 2010 (Valletta end here and Mdina end here) but it seems that he was chased out by an irate farmer in the Mdina tunnel after taking just a single photograph. So for the first time, and I cant find photos anywhere on the internet of the Mdina tunnel, here is a full report of the Mdina tunnel with no irate farmers in sight - loose rabid dogs yes but irate farmers no.


    The first proposal to build a railway in Malta was made in 1870 by J. S. Tucker. The main reason was to connect the capital Valletta with the former capital Mdina so the journey time between the two cities would be reduced from 3 hours to less than half an hour. A narrow gauge railway system designed by John Barraclough Fell was initially proposed. In 1879, this was dropped in favour of a design by the engineering firm of Wells-Owen & Elwes, London. In 1880, the newspaper The Malta Standard reported that "in a short space of time, the inhabitants of these Islands may be able to boast of possessing a railway", and that the line was to be open by the end of 1881.

    There were some problems with the acquisition of land to build the railway, so construction took longer than expected. The line was opened on 28 February 1883 at 3pm, when the first train left Valletta and arrived at Mdina after about 25 minutes.

    Finances of the railway always proved critical. On 1 April 1890 the first proprietor, the Malta Railway Company Ltd., went bankrupt and the railway stopped running. As a result of this the government took over the railway, invested in its infrastructure and reopened traffic on 25 January 1892. From 1895 on an extension of the line was under work aiming for the British barracks at Mtarfa behind the historic city of Mdina. This extension was opened for traffic in 1900. In order to build this extension, a tunnel had to be constructed under Mdina and this is the focus of this report.

    The introduction of buses contributed to the decline of the Malta Railway. In 1903 a company was founded which ran tramways on Malta from 1905 on, partly parallel to the railway line, and this competition had a negative effect on the railway's finances. The first buses were introduced in 1905 and became popular in the 1920s. This contributed to the decline of both the railway as well as the tramway. The tram company closed in 1929, while the railway line stopped operating on 31 March 1931.

    During the siege of Malta in World War II, the railway tunnel running under the fortifications of Valletta was used as an air-raid-shelter.

    Over the years, long stretches of the former railway line were surfaced with tarmac and converted into roads. Some of the railway buildings are still in existence. The Mdina tunnel has been used for mushroom farming but now stands derelict.


    First things first, a Ryanair flight does not allow me to carry bulky cameras or tripods, so these photos were all taken with a handheld compact camera. Apologies for the crapness of the photos but please don't blame me, blame the Ryanair luggage allowance.

    The line originally terminated at Notabile, a place in the middle of nowhere short of Mdina. From here passengers had to walk the last little bit to Mdina. The booking office remains as does the tunnel portal. Sadly this area is infested with loose vicious dogs and I couldn't even safely get out of the car and that meant I had to enter the tunnel at the other portal - a prospect I was not happy with as firstly I knew that Bovine was chased out here and secondly there's a popular restaurant there.


    From Notabile, the line was extended in 1900 to Museum Station just short of Mtarfa and on the other side of Mdina. This required construction of a tunnel. Air vents can be seen marking the line of the tunnel:


    And this air vent lies in the defensive ditch of Mdina


    The final terminus of the railway was at Museum, in the valley between Mtarfa and Mdina. The old station is now a restaurant. The Gods of Exploring were on my side for a change, and the restaurant was closed for renovation, not a soul was around - yay that makes things much easier for me.


    I passed the old platform buildings (all empty and stripped bare)



    Probably the nicest calendar I have ever seen on an explore - not the usual Fluffy Kittens calendar we usually encounter. It was an hot evening and I needed the rest. I had a long perving break.


    Perving break over, now to the portal


    And in we go



    The tunnel was divided in compartments every 50m or so with breeze-block walls. Plastic sheeting showed that this used to be used for mushroom farming


    The tunnel was about 1.5km long, and had 2 distinct bends





    It was very loud in here. I could hear the city of Mdina above me and I could hear the sounds of voices from above. I could also hear the sound of lots of water flowing. This is just one of many water pipes I found:


    Looking up one the air vents. It was miles up to that far speck of daylight


    As I neared the far portal, lots of little side chambers on the sides. I have no idea what they would have been for. Each about 3-4m deep


    And finally the far Notabile portal, and this is as far as I went as I knew that savage rabid dogs were at this portal.


    So I turned around and walked all the way back

    Thanks for reading

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  2. The Queen

    The Queen Super Duper Moderator
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    Nov 27, 2010
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    Great Stuff!
  3. Oxygen Thief

    Oxygen Thief Admin
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    Oct 17, 2005
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    Yeah, excellent find and well documented mate.
  4. Seffy

    Seffy Bally up lads!
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    Feb 23, 2011
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    Proper sweet effort there Bertie, jolly good show :thumb
  5. drhowser

    drhowser Bespectacled & irrelevant
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    Dec 11, 2008
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    Nicely done.

    The little alcoves are obviously for the dogs to live in..
  6. Lenston

    Lenston Bajo Tierra
    Regular User

    Mar 9, 2013
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    Pretty cool that.
  7. Bovine

    Bovine 28DL Regular User
    Regular User

    Oct 18, 2008
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    Great stuff, mate, it certainly was your lucky day to find nobody about at the Museum end, which was my downfall!
    The other end was securely fenced off, so you might have had problems apart from the dogs!
  8. Oort

    Oort The Spice Must Flow.
    Regular User

    Aug 26, 2014
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    Cool little tunnel, glad you had no dogging issues with the visit :thumb
  9. Nickindroy

    Nickindroy A Porky Prime Cut
    Regular User

    Feb 20, 2012
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    Brilliant that mate. :thumb
  10. wildling

    wildling 28DL Full Member
    28DL Full Member

    Sep 9, 2015
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    excellent report, and cracking photos despite the camera
  11. pauln

    pauln too old to be reckless
    Regular User

    Jul 12, 2006
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    Another good one. There are bastard vicious dogs loose in loads of otherwise interesting places in Malta. Two or three of the forts I tried to visit had them loose. One of the forts had a dog sanctuary where I had permission to walk round but was in fear of losing a limb or my nuts to one of the maltreated and vicious looking beasts.
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