Riding Portuguese Rails

My wife and I traveled to Portugal in May 2022. Portugal was one of those countries that are a little off the European tourist beaten path, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I really knew about Portugal was that it wasn’t Spain and they don’t speak Spanish.

Our plan was to fly into Lisbon and immediately go to Porto, stay a few days, then return to Lisbon for the remainder of our time in the country.

Lisbon, Briefly

We arrived at the Humberto Delgado airport, aka the Lisbon Airport. I was amused to see that the airport is operated by Vinci Airports. I work for a subsidiary of Vinci, which is a very large multinational company that builds, owns and/or operates highways, airports, stadiums and the like.

Subway cars in Lisbon

We took the subway from the airport into Lisbon proper. The Metropolitano de Lisboa is Portugal’s first and only rapid transit system. Currently it has four lines and they continue to be extended. I see that Stadler was awarded a contract in 2021 to supply 14 three-car trains.

Did you know Portugal is a major exporter of cork? I had no idea. They supply more than 50% of the world’s cork, and your wine bottle is likely sealed by Portuguese cork.

The seats in the subway cars were lined with cork instead of cushions!

Cork subway seats in Lisbon

We caught our train at the Estação do Oriente, a large multimodal station with trains, buses and the subway. We had a little time to wait on the airy train platform before our train arrived.

Trains in Lisbon Portugal

CP 1424 (CP=Comboios de Portugal) was rolling through the station and I captured it with my phone. Wikipedia tells me the class 1400s were “designed and engineered by English Electric, closely modelled mechanically on the British Rail Class 20 locomotives” and are about as old as I am!

Our Alfa Pendular train from Lisbon to Porto was reasonably comfortable. We hit a top speed of 204 km/hr but often we were traveling much slower than that.


Trains in Lisbon Portugal

The higher speed trains don’t go into the downtown train station in Porto, so we transferred at the Campanhã station to the São Bento station.

Sign: Porto-Campanha

I understand that the Portugese railway company has refurbished a number of 1960s era coaches, like the one below. I can’t throw shade on that as Canada’s VIA Rail operates a large fleet of mid 1950s rolling stock on the Canadian and other trains!

Trains in Porto Portugal

The interior of the São Bento train station in Porto is simply astounding. Who could imagine such a beautiful interior for a small stub-end station like this?

Portugal is well known for the use of tiles in its architecture, and the São Bento station had plenty of them, depicting various scenes.

I visited the São Bento station again on May 28, and found another 1400 class diesel-electric locomotive there, this time clad in orange with safety stripes on the ends.

Trains in Porto Portugal

We took a day trip to Guimarães, a beautiful and well-preserved medieval city. Naturally, we went by train, in one like this. These electric-multiple-unit (EMU) trains felt more like subway cars than trains.

Trains in Porto Portugal

One significant feature of Porto is the Duoro River, spanned by several bridges including the large Dom Luis I bridge that has trams on the top deck and automobiles on the bottom level. It was very strange to walk across the bridge and have trams pass right beside you. I’ll write more about this bridge when I write about trams in Portugal.

Dom Luis I bridge in Porto Portugal

We left Porto on May 29, heading back to Lisbon. The electronic arrival / departure boards in the São Bento station were not working, so these hand written signs were posted to advise of departure times and tracks.

En route to Lisbon, we passed through a large train yard and servicing facility in Entroncamento. I captured a few photos with my phone as we passed by, including this image of a little CP diesel shunter and a Medway locomotive.

Trains in Portugal

Lisbon, Again

Train in Lisbon Portugal

Here’s the train we took from Porto, just after arriving at the Santa Apolónia station in Lisbon. This class of trains are called “Intercidades” (Intercity). Locomotive 5616 is one of 30 locomotives built by Siemens in the early 1990s for the Comboios de Portugal. They are externally identical to the Spanish class 252 locomotives.

It’s not obvious from the pictures, but Portuguese rails are farther apart than North American rails. Portugal and much of Spain uses the Iberian gauge, 1.668m or 5′ 5 21/32″, the second widest gauge in regular use in the world (except for Indian railways).

This makes interchanging interesting, but since Portugal can only interchange with Spain, it doesn’t matter much for Portugal. Spain, however, has a problem interchanging with the rest of Europe. Some of the Spanish lines are standard gauge and some are Iberian. In fact, some of their trains can change gauge “on the fly” by running through a device that either squeezes the wheels narrower together or forces them wider.

We took a day trip out to Sintra to see the National Palace of Pena. Unfortunately it was pouring rain when we were at the palace, so that dampened our enthusiasm…

Rossio train station in Lisbon, Portugal

We departed from the Rossio train station (above) in Lisbon. The facade was quite ornate, and you can see the characteristic Portuguese tiled sidewalks in the foreground.

Apparently there are trams in the town of Sintra, but I didn’t see them. Our little commuter train was quite nice and the station itself is attractive.

Trains in Sintra Portugal

While in the Belem area of Lisbon, I did some railfanning from the top of the 52m-tall Padrão dos Descobrimentos, the “Monument of the Discoveries”. This electric multiple unit train was heading west along the coast line.

Trains in Lisbon Portugal

On one of our last days in Portugal, I walked to the Santa Apolónia station and did a little railfanning. There’s an overpass just north of the station that crosses all of the tracks leading from the station.

Trains in Lisbon Portugal

I was there for an hour or so, and I saw a lot of trains. It was a good location.

Trains in Lisbon Portugal

For my final bit of railfanning in Lisbon, I rented a bicycle and headed west along the coast line. I stopped at a few locations to capture the commuter trains heading in and out of the city.

Train under an overpass in Lisbon Portugal

For just taking a couple of train rides, we saw a lot of trains in Portugal. I’d love to go back and ride some of the lines out of Lisbon or Porto, like the Duoro steam train or the narrow-gauge Vouga train.

I have a lot to write about trams in Portugal, but that’s for another post. Here’s a little teaser photo, though…

Trams in Lisbon Portugal

7 thoughts on “Riding Portuguese Rails”

  1. Very interesting post Steve. Thanks for sharing. I’ll probably never visit Portugal but now I feel like I have.

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