The restoration of a Spanish ‘railway cathedral’ reminds us how seductive train travel can be

Earlier this month, a 12-metre-long model train carriage was deposited at Barcelona’s El Prat airport, which the Spanish airports authority controversially plans to expand. “More trains, less planes” was the accompanying message from Greenpeace activists, who intend to take their model on a European tour in the coming months.

As they do so, a celebratory stop-off at the French-Spanish border might be in order. In a village high in the Pyrenees, Europe’s most stunning railway station is to be restored to its former glory, and the line it majestically served reopened. Completed in 1928, Canfranc international station was conceived as a railway “cathedral” as grand as anything that the world’s greatest cities could offer. Overlooked by mountains, the vast edifice is 240 metres in length and has 365 windows and 156 doors, dwarfing London’s St Pancras; but mere numbers cannot convey the sense of grandeur evoked by its architecture and ravishing setting. Intended to combine in one building the French and Spanish border stations, Canfranc is a moving monument to the internationalist spirit and pride in architectural achievement that marked the golden age of rail.

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