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The Marble Railway

August 4, 2022 | MARBLE STORIES

Even though today it seems incredible, there was a time when the marble of Carrara was carried down from the mountain on a steep iron path used by locomotives and carriages of the Private Marble Railway of Carrara. The marble railway was a real masterpiece of engineering that in just over 10 kilometres connected the marble basins (its highest point was 445 metres a.s.l) to the port of Marina di Carrara.

A remarkable work of engineering and architecture, considering that along the twenty-one kilometre track there were fifteen tunnels crossing three of Carrara’s four marble basins that stretched for over four kilometres in the heart of the mountains, sixteen bridges and viaducts, many of which still exist today, and the connection to the port with the tracks reaching the docks to facilitate loading onto ships.

The Private Marble Railway Company of Carrara was set up in 1874 and in just over two years, on  September 10th 1876, the first part of the track was inaugurated, connecting the base of the marble basins to the Port of Marina di Carrara. The remaining part of the track to the heart of the marble basins, with the Raviccione and Colonnata stations, was finished in 1890.

The arrival of the train saw the end of the millennia-long transportation of blocks on carts pulled by powerful pairs of oxen. It was a decisive milestone in the modernisation of  the entire stone sector that meant acceleration of transport times for the blocks and consequently increased production volume. It was not a pain-free change and provoked strong protest among the cattlemen who had been leading the powerful beasts for centuries and who saw them disappear with the triumph of modernity.

The story of the Marble Railway lasted just under a hundred years because the destiny of technology is constant innovation.  Thus,  what in the late 19th century was the absolute dominion of iron and steam over animal power would be replaced some decades later by road transport and trucks instead of the slow convoys.  In 1964 the glorious story of the Marble railway came to an end and was replaced by road transportation which, ironically, used and still does today, the old rail route that is still the only connecting road between the city and the quarries, including the bridges, viaducts and tunnels. In just a few months, trucks replaced locomotives and the blocks could reach the deposits faster without being forced to follow the railway track. Thus, this story of engineering and economy, of great interest still today  for the courage and skill involved in its creation, came to an end.

Autore: Luca Borghini

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