Since I wrote this page in 2007 the amount of information about the GSSR and the people involved has increased tremendously. As a result, so has the number of pages. These pages will have appropriate links when you get to them but to go directly to a particular page, I have constructed the following table which describes what is on each page and gives a link to it.


The GSSR was a British undertaking, built in southeast Spain at the end of the 19th century. Its original purpose was to link Murcia in the province of the same name with Granada, also in the province of the same name. A lack of money and an underestimation of the terrain to be crossed meant that the final project only linked the three towns of Lorca, Águilas (Murcia) and Baza (Granada). The remaining sections of the line were eventually constructed by other companies. Although the termini were in other provinces the major part of the line went through the scenic Almanzora Valley in Almería. I have written a book on this railway.


Picture of Book

If you already have a copy of the book (thank you for buying it!), select here for the corrections and updates page. This page and its links contain the many new things that I have found out about the railway. These include corrections, updates on the line and its stations, information from a new set of archives that I discovered and new stories on some of the important people associated with the line. A lot of this information has been due to my friends who are mentioned later on this page and for which I thank them.

Select this page if you would like to Purchase my book.


For those who like pictures, I have a number of galleries. Virtually all were taken between 1997 and 2006. Sadly the railway lines and many of the artifacts have now gone but enough remains to make exploration well worth the effort. See my book for details on how to find them.The galleries are as follows.

Gallery 1 goes from Guadix to Almajalejo

Gallery 2 goes from Almajalejo to Lorca

Gallery 3 goes from Almendricos to Aguilas

Gallery of the Menas mines (that supplied most of the iron ore for the GSSR).

Operation and pictures of El Hornillo, (the loading pier where the ore was sent by ship).

Marshall  A gallery of pictures of GSSR engines in the 1960s by Lawrence Marshall.

Books and web sites by my friends

Picture of Antonio's Book Picture of Cemetery Book

The book on the left (in Spanish) has been written by my good friend Antonio Hernández Moreno. It is a compilation of newspaper and magazine articles covering the time of the GSSR. This is an ideal book for an in depth investigation into the social and economic aspects of the railway and its associated industries. At present, the only place where you can buy it is "Manuel Gris bookstore" in Águilas (beside the roundabout {Glorieta} in the centre of Águilas).

The price is 30 euros. It may be possible to order by mail, their email address is "info at manuelgris dot com"

The book on the right (in English) is one of a series of books written by Carla Jacqueline Sorel and Gerrit Visser who look after the British Cemetary in Águilas, which is to be found half-way round the town by-pass. It is not easy to spot and will in any case be locked so if you want to see inside contact Jacqueline on SORVIS at telefonica dot net (at=@ dot=.). These can also be obtained from Jacqueline, price 5 euros each, proceeds to the cemetary fund.

John Hearfield and I have worked together for many years and have acted as mutual proof readers and critics since our early days when we taught electronics. He has his own site which includes many interesting articles by him and his wife, Marion.

A brief history of the line now follows.

The Concessions

Before construction could begin, documents called “concessions” had to be obtained. These were mostly issued by the government, although provinces and even towns could do so.

E S Hett

Concessions could be issued in a number of ways but the GSSR route used a closed bid process. The winning (and in fact only!) bid was made by an Edmund Sykes Hett. The government would make a grant for every kilometre of working line as it came into service.

The story of the concessionary period is complex. I cover it in detail in my book, but the following extract gives a flavour of the situation. Note, all quotes from the book are shown (on this page) in italics

Francisco de Laguardia reported to the corporation that work had commenced on 15th April 1875. Just what he started is not clear since he doesn’t seem to have achieved much. One of his problems was that Águilas Port was not considered to be in a fit state to import or export goods, so Águilas Council would not financially support his scheme. Four years later Lorca Council was ready to pull the plug on him. Other concessions were starting to appear and the Council felt that these should be supported as well. Just how much was Laguardia’s fault and how much was bureaucracy is not clear but certainly records show that he spent a long time and a lot of effort meeting all the legal requirements. Having read some of the problems that the GSSR encountered later on, I have some sympathies with Laguardia.

Whatever the case, the Council decided to re-allocate some of Laguardia’s money to other concessions.

Once more the courts were involved. Laguardia presented a petition comparing Lorca’s offer with that of other towns. He makes a passionate plea for more money.

“The money offered is a meagre quantity. It represents a value not even reaching 3 pesetas per inhabitant. You wish to present a scheme like this to society when you have a budget of many millions? You want to represent this figure as your wish? … Lorca should make the supreme effort when Lorca will be the first to benefit”

He accuses the town of Lorca of continuing in its historic lethargy and considers that it will have to regenerate. His words fell on deaf ears and the council rejected his proposal.

The diagram and table below show the complex concessionary situation and a timetable for the GSSR concession (No 3).

The Concessions


Jul 1870 Concession 3 authorised. Edmund Sykes Hett paid the deposit for this allowing him to bid.
Sep 1879 Lorca Council recommended a route to Baza via the Guadalentin depression rather than that of Almanzora valley (the latter was eventually chosen).
Oct 1881 A petition from Crédito General de Ferrocarriles S.A. to be given concession 3 was rejected.
Aug 1884 Murcia – Lorca section removed from concession 3 as Crédito General de Ferrocarriles S.A. has already constructed a line.
Nov 1884 Auction for concession 3 announced.
Nov 1884 The tariffs and fares for concession 3 were set out.
Mar 1885 Edmund Sykes Hett gets concession 3
Nov 1887

Concession 1 (Lorca to Águilas) transferred to the GSSR and route changed to Almendricos – Águilas.

Concession 3 transferred from Hett to the GSSR.

Aug, Sep and Dec 1894 3 ROs issued agreeing to the cessation of concession 3 at Baza.




A construction company was set up to build the line. It was called the Hett, Maylor Company Ltd. It signed a contract with the newly formed Great Southern of Spain Railway Ltd. to build the line at a fixed price. This was a mistake. The terrain was much harder than they thought and a subcontractor was causing trouble. The net result was that the construction company went bankrupt after only a third of the line had been built. The GSSR had to pickup the pieces including resolving disputes with the sub-contractors. Construction continued but it was soon obvious that a restructuring was needed. The Murcia to Lorca section had been built by another company and the GSSR would only go as far as Baza, just over the border in Granada province (see the concession diagram above).

The following extract illustrates the sort of problems faced by the GSSR.

Also Hett, Maylor & Co had other bigger problems. It had agreed to work for a fixed sum and was also being ripped off by subcontractors. The result was that in 1890 it was bankrupt. I tell the story of how this happened in Appendix A.

The consequences for the GSSR were dire.

To set the scene, the situation was as follows. So far the line had been completed between Lorca and Águilas and trains were running. The section between Almendricos and Huércal-Overa was also up and running. The section between Huércal-Overa and Zurgena was built but not officially approved. The rest of the line to Granada had not been built. Hett, Maylor was bankrupt and Loring had not been paid.

Miguel Lloret Baldó told the story of what happened next in El Boletín, the GSSR’s magazine, in issues between 1917 and 1919. Here is my translation of that story.

“At the end of 1890 there was a suspension of payments due to the bankruptcy of Hett, Maylor. They had sub-contracted out most of the construction work so the result was that a pile of problems and disputes from the main contractor, the Marquis de Loring, plus some others, fell into the lap of the GSSR. The GSSR turned to one Neil Kennedy. He had previously represented Hett, Maylor, was living in Spain (probably Lorca where Hett, Maylor was based) and thus knew all of the events relating to the line. He was the ideal person to face up to Loring, a clever and wily man.”


So the line got built, or at least a part of that originally planned did. The diagram below shows when each section was completed. But apart from Murcia to Águilas , there was no connection to Granada (and wouldn’t be for a long time).

Completion Dates

Early Days

Passenger traffic was never great and to start with it was very small indeed, particularly along the Almanzora valley - after all there was nowhere much to go except between Baza and Águilas! It was goods traffic that really supported the line and in the beginning even that relied on primitive iron mines with most of the ore being shifted by hand.

There was some income. Águilas and Lorca were now connected and in they turn were connected to the north via Murcia so there was a reasonable trade in agriculture, esparto and marble, plus some passenger traffic. Also the mines in the Sierra de Enmedio were producing quite a lot of iron ore. However, the railway cul-de-sac between Almendricos and Baza was more of a liability than an asset. The 1897 timetable shows just one passenger train a day on this section.

A major difficulty that dogged the railway for all of its steam powered life was the water for the boilers.

Water supply presented a serious problem. It was not only the lack of it but also its quality, because it contained huge amounts of impurities such as calcium, selenium and magnesium. It was so bad that one worker at Águilas is reported as saying that the boilers were not so much water heaters as limestone makers! The problem was truly immense. El Boletín reported that when operations started between Águilas and Almendricos there could be as many as 8 out of the 25 boilers under repair.

However, from the beginning of the 20th century, things began to pick up. Much credit for this must go to Gustav Gillman, a go-ahead general manager who pushed for modern iron mining in the Sierra de los Filabres and a pier at El Hornillo to export it.

However to get the money needed to finance the scheme a second restructuring was required. This left the long-suffering shareholders with certificates hardly worth the paper they were written on. To quote from Sr Baldó , again in El Boletín;

“Those that had invested in the company came out very badly. The moneylenders got debentures for their money and paper of dubious value for their interest. The debenture holders lost 50% of their capital with the remainder in shares that today (1918) are quoted on the stock exchange at 10% of their value. The shareholders lost 90% and 95% respectively of their money. So the first shareholders (if they had not already burnt their certificates in desperation) now owned 5 pesetas for every 100 pesetas invested. Probably they had sold them as scrap paper!”

Another effect of the restructuring was a name change. Although the company itself continued to be called the Great Southern of Spain Railway Ltd., the line itself was from then on known as the Lorca Baza Águilas Railway or LBA. In fact some of the later engine plates and many of the wagons had LBA on them rather than GSSR.

The potential for mineral exploitation in the Sierra de los Filabres was just beginning to be recognised. Gillman could see the potential for the GSSR but it was not easy for him to persuade investors. Mining concessions were only just beginning to be issued and there was no real certainty about the amount of ore present. Add to this the location of the mines, high up in the Sierra de los Filabres and one can see investors’ reluctance. However, persuade them he did, not only to create a mining company but also to erect a cableway to Serón where he built a huge container for the ore.

His other success was getting El Hornillo loading bay and pier constructed. On 18th August 1903 it opened and the first ship to be loaded was the British ship Swetland.

With the pier open, other mining companies began to spring up, and further loading bays were built at Tíjola, Los Canos and the short-lived Tesorero between Hijate and Serón.

The line was at least working and even making a profit. Had they but known it, these were the golden days for the railway. Looming on the horizon was the first world war.

The War Years

During WW1 the price of coal rose tenfold to a staggering £21 per ton in November 1918, falling to £5 in January 1919. It then gradually dropped almost to pre-war prices (£2-3).


Item Positive factors Negative Factors
Iron Ore Demand for iron was considerably increased in Great Britain. Ships were attacked and sunk, and companies were reluctant to risk the long journeys. Merchant ships were commandeered for military and emergency use. The pre-war German market for ore disappeared.
Marble Because Spain experienced modest growth, demand for marble steadily increased. The political situation meant fluctuations in building programs. A drought between 1912 and 1916 meant a lack of water for the sawmills. Marble was never transported in large quantities.
Esparto Some local industry sprang up, but it was in Almería hence there was only a small benefit to the GSSR. The same transport problems as for iron ore, plus the fact that paper-making in Great Britain was severely curtailed with many Scottish factories closing or severely cutting back.
Fruit and Veg A long period of drought between 1912 and 1916 meant that the railway carried a lot of produce into the region from more productive areas. Overall the plusses and minuses balanced out. An agreement between Spain and Great Britain resulted in the compulsory allocation of space for fruit and veg in the ore boats. The drought caused many people to leave the area; also local transport of produce was hit.
Cereals Initially much the same situation as for fruit and veg. When the drought broke, there was a strong revival, despite government restrictions on export. Overall the negative effect of the drought was stronger because there was a balance in favour of local carriage; also there was an export trade, which was hit by the war.
Sugar Caniles factory re-opened in 1917 after closure in 1913. A competing factory at Guadix took quite a lot of trade away.
Passengers The slow improvement in life style gave a similar slow growth in passengers. Cars and roads had not yet posed a serious threat. The move away from the country due to drought and poor conditions reduced the local passenger base.
Overall A small increase in trade locally and throughout Spain. A severe loss in export trade. Enormous increases in the cost of coal and spare parts.

The worst time was 1921. There was a general mining crisis over all of Spain due to a combination of strikes, wage demands and a general falling off of demand.

Why was there such a fall? The answer was to be found in Britain. The manager at Águilas, George L Boag, addressed a staff meeting at which he gave bad news. The British steel industry was being asked to pay £2 per ton for coal and it was refusing to do so, saying that it was not going to pay more than £1 per ton. As a result, production was down and the steel companies had accumulated large stocks of iron ore, so did not want any more. For the GSSR this meant that there would have to be a large number of dismissals.

1929 to the Civil War (1936)

This is pretty well a story of unrelieved gloom. Internationally the stock market crash affected trade and in Spain the political situation was deteriorating rapidly. The Civil War delivered the final blow.

For those who do not know about the Spanish Civil War my book contains a very brief summary, particularly how it affected Almería. As far as the GSSR Company was concerned, it didn’t really matter who was winning. A “Workers Cooperative” seized the line and threw the management out (The poor General Manager - John Gillman, the son of the aforementioned Gustave Gillman was thrown into jail and only later managed to escape to Gibraltar).

Franco won and created RENFE, the state railway. Steam continued until the 1960s when diesel took over. The Steam engines were scrapped and only “Águilas” remains on a plinth in Águilas Harbour (shown on the front cover of the book).

In 1985 the Almanzora section was closed for ever. Today the Águilas to Lorca and on to Murcia still has a limited passenger service but for how long I do not know.

Not quite the end!

When the management was thrown off the railway, they continued to meet annually, writing a letter to Spain demanding compensation. Somewhat surprisingly, in 1951 they actually got some! The sum of £144,434 was sent. This was divided up among the remaining debenture holders and the board and the GSSR was finally wound up.


Information and articles (in Spanish) can be found at the Friends of Almeria Railways (ASAFAL) site

The Aguilas museum site (in Spanish) can be found at the Aguilas museum (Labradorcico) site

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