Spain’s Oldest Train Line Crumbling Into Sea Due to Climate-Fueled Erosion

Floods In Catalonia
Floods caused by the Gloria storm with the overflow of the Tordera river on January 25, 2020 in Malgrat de Mar, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. Miquel Benitez/ Getty Images

There is something haunting about once-functional mechanisms of transportation crumbling and falling into the sea, harbingers of change brought about by the rising seas and pounding waves of the climate crisis.

In Spain, the historic train line that runs along the Maresme Coast ⁠has been plucking passengers from Barcelona and sweeping them down the shimmering coastline since 1848, according to The Guardian. The oldest train line in Spain, it runs so close to the water that, in places, it is being overtaken by the sea.

Climate change has caused erosion and sea level rise to eat away at the Maresme coastline, part of the scenic and popular Catalan Coast.

Portions of the tracks on the Maresme line are just feet from the shore and at sea level, as Surfrider Foundation Europe reported. Each year, the railway line transports more than 40 million passengers.

Flooded train tracks are pictured in Malgrat de Mar, near Girona on January 22, 2020, as storm Gloria batters Spanish eastern coast. Josep Lago / AFP / Getty Images

Recently, intense waves caused part of the Marseme coastline to crumble into the sea, very nearly pulling the earth out from under the railroad tracks. A replacement bus service was put into place between La Pineda and Malgrat de Mar, reported The Guardian.

The historic Marseme train line has been pummeled by heavy rain and pounding seas before. Gloria, a 2020 storm that brought 12-foot waves, caused several sections of track to be put temporarily out of service. The entire train line is at risk due to the erosion of the coastline.

“One more Gloria and that will be the end of the train line,” said Antoni Esteban of the organization Preservem el Maresme, which represents regional conservation and community groups, as The Guardian reported.

A railway infrastructure company spent about $13 million to replace a bridge and 1.4 miles of track.

Running approximately 31 miles along the coast — from Barcelona to Blanes — the Maresme line covers 16 towns and 37 beaches, according to Kiratas. The most frequently used in Catalonia, the train line serves an average of 100,000 people on weekdays.

“We can resist a Gloria, but not two.”

With the growing towns on the Maresme Coast have come changes that have contributed to erosion, reported The Guardian.

According to Observatori del GeoRisc Director Joan Manuel Vilaplana, turning rivers into canals leads to less drainage and more deposits of sediment, which causes more erosion. Marina quays also trap sediment that would otherwise have been moved naturally by ocean currents, said Vilaplana.

Vilaplana said that sea levels have been rising 3.3 millimeters annually for the last 30 years on the Catalan Coast.

“We have to rethink what we’re doing. Nature is doing its work, and climate change is causing it to accelerate,” said Vilaplana, as The Guardian reported.

Structures like breakwaters and seawalls may make the erosion on the already fragile coastline worse.

According to the PEW Charitable Trusts, “shoreline armoring” can accelerate erosion by stopping sand and sediment flow downshore from where the structures are built and cause wave impacts to be greater on nearby portions of the coastline.

“Building breakwaters is a huge outlay of public money that will solve nothing in the long term as storms get stronger and more frequent,” said environmental biologist and head of the biodiversity projects at Greenpeace Spain Pilar Marcos, as The Guardian reported.

Regardless, changes will have to be made if the historic Maresme train line is to survive.

 “We can resist a Gloria, but not two,” said Vilaplana, as reported by Kiratas.

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