Walking along old rail: The Saline-Volterra Rack-railway

MAPThis line is the last section of the Cecina-Volterra Line. The line was built at the beginning of XXth century but was always operated as two different sections.
The Cecina-Saline section is an ordinary, single track line, along the river Cecina, still active (althought one of the more endangered of Italy, with weekdays only usage, see also here ) , while the section from Saline di Volterra to Volterra, on top of the hill, was operated as a rack railway but was closed in 1958.
If you observe the map the line is going toward Colle Val d'Elsa, where another abandonet section of line is going.
In the projects of the promoters of the lines that lines had to be joined somewhen, but the project obviously did not go further, since it would have become an extremely slow line (gradient up to 135/1000 and curves of 90m )

In the image below you can see the end of line in Saline.
This picture have been shot in 1972, It is of a certain historical value because it was one of the first whith railway subject I made and also because the view was still unobstructed by some temporary building and trees that now would not allow a single unobstructed view.

The trees have grown, but the end of track is still here, aven the old, rusted signal is still here (or at least was in february 1996, when i got att the other images). You can observe the steel ties, quite rare.

While the Cecina-Saline did not required any particular kind of locomotive, being almost flat, the final section, climbing from 92 to nearly 500 m in less than 10 km required the usa of rack.
This one was the first standard gauge rack railway built in Italy (and one of the few one in absolute) and was operated by steam locomotives of group 980 , one of wich is now at the Pietrarsa Railway museum). The passenger had to change train in Saline, where most of freight traffic (salt from the mines) originated. (currently the salt is loaded on railway cars, to Pisa, where is loaded on ships, one of the few that enter in the land trought the Navicelli "New" Canal.

The walk begins soon after the Saline Station. You can arrive there by car, or even by train (althought there is only a very limited service) or Bus. Upon arrival at the station of Saline follow the road to Volterra, and turn right on the first unpaved road. You will be shortly on the railbed, more or less in the place where the picture on left is taken. It is the opposite view (you recognize the signal ?) of the introductory picture.

Along the first metres of the old line have been built these barracks, but the line is almost (see later) clean and can be done walking, cycling and for very lazy even by car.
Here is the small group that accompanied me refitting backpacks (Note for walkers: the walk is very easy, but is anyway nearly 2 hour long going up and the same going down.)
In the images below, in the midst of a warm late winter afternoon you see the cicty of Volterra approaching (It look nearer than it is) and the raod, still with original railroad gravel.

As we went along the way we did some curious discovers:
On the picture on right You can see a dump of chess knights ... The origin of this strange waste is explained that in Volterra the manifacturing of object in alabaster and other stones has a large diffusion.
Of course even marble chesses are a product.
Unfortunately, differently from the othre pieces knigth require much more passage and so it is very easy to cut one incorrectly, or split it somewhere, hence in our waste all but one were knights ...

On the picture on left we see an original artifact of the line. This is a piece of rail placed to anchor the ties to the ground. Remember that tis was a rack railway, and the gradients was high.
This one was well casted, so when the line was dismantled was found convenient to leave it. On the picture below you can see the place where we find it:
The rocky substrate is very high, so I assume that the ties in this place had been posed with very little ballst, hence the necssity to fix to the substrate,

The view from the line on the hills of Toscana.

Along the line there are very few manufacts: This is an house un correspondence of one of the two grade crossings with secondary roads.
This is still in the non-rack section, near Saline.
The next one, after another grade crossing, that is not original, since in origin there were an underpass, now unused for convenience of the "road" user (the farmer that have the house on the opposite side of the road of his field) is a small bridge where on left (going up) you see this small stream coming directly from the city of Volterra.

You have to be careful here.
The road, that until this place if very clear seem disappering .
You have to follow the small path that is on your left, climbing a little.

The reason for this is the same one that lead to the closing of this section in 1957: This area is subject to landslides, and were necessary continuous works to keep the line open.
Eventually the row slided down, and if you watch carefully between the weeds you see at least the remains of an arch of a diruted bridge. (not on these pictures).

You end climbing on a small path (If you are going by cycle you ahev to walk, or you could take the road that depart from there) and will arrive more or less on the old station, in perfect shape, since it is now the bus station

The station in the building in above picture on right on the very background.
The second person is in the place where actually the path arrive.

On the right the railbed continue (picture on right and then below these lines) to the point where thewe wera a backup.
If you look behind the wall at right you can see another wall, wrom there arrived the railway (and you would have arrived too if you walked along the weed on the cliff)
Trains arrived up to the end of toad and then backed in the station, that was on horizontal.

For those interested I recommend to arrive with a bicycle to Saline (Weekdays there are train services from Pisa that carry bicycles) then ride to Volterra along the railway, from Volterra return on the opposite site, on the road of the balze to Pontedera, where you can even get again the train to Pisa

If you will come here I will be happy to arrange a trip together

  • While here you can see a movie of a trip on 2000

  • You can reach me by e-mail at: leo@freedom.dicea.unifi.it