UPDATE: This post was originally written several years ago – before the construction work on the new City Gate in Valletta. The tunnel exit from Valletta station, and bridge across the ditch, now look very different.
I first read about the Malta Railway in Nicholas Monserrats book, “The Kapillan of Malta”. This book was mostly set during the second world war and manages to weave a great deal of Maltese history into the story of ‘Dun Salv’ and his troglodyte parishioners.
The steam railway was opened in 1883 and ran from Valletta to Mdina. It lurched from financial crisis to financial crisis for the next 48 years and was almost forgotten by Dun Salv’s day. At the time of writing this, 78 years after the railway ceased to exist, there are still traces if you know where to look.
I didn’t know where to look but luckily a bit of googling turned up an excellent guide to “Walking the old Malta Railway” by Don Gaunt. Armed with a printed copy of this, I set out to walk the first few kilometers of the railway. I was only in Malta for a weekend so the rest of the route would have to wait for my next visit.
Crossing the bridge in front of Valletta’s city gate you can look down to your right and see the low arches of another bridge, emerging from a tunnel and crossing the Great Ditch that was part of Valletta’s ancient fortifications. Access to this level is via an unmarked door and a steep set of steps close to the tourist information office, just inside the city gate. Try to ignore the strong smell of urine and make your way down to the bottom of the steps. A garage now occupies the site of the original station.
Cross the bridge to the other side of the ditch and you will find the tunnel entrance has been sealed with limestone blocks and an iron gate.
When I visited, the gate was loosely secured with a chain and padlock. If I had been considerably thinner and armed with a powerful flashlight, I might have been tempted to squeeze betwen the gates and investigate further.
As it was, I retraced my steps up to the Valletta bus terminus and followed Mr Gaunt’s directions to Floriana.
The path of the tunnel is apparently interupted by the large underground car park next to the RAF memorial. It continues underneath the narrow gardens next to the square in front of Floriana’s parish church. Who knows what state the tunnels are in these days. I would love to find out!
Don Gaunt’s guide locates the remains of Floriana railway staion close to the end of these gardens. He notes that in 1995 there was a demolition order posted. I was unable to find the station so presumably the order has been carred out. From here, I wandered down to the left and joined the main road into Valletta. Not far along this busy road is the Porte de Bombes, and to the right of this is the Notre Dame Ditch where, after about a kilometer of inky blackness, the tunnel finally emerges into the Maltese sunlight. Of course, this entrance is also sealed.
Now we are at the last row of Valletta’s defences, the so-called “Fausse Bray” Here the little trains passed through one more set of ramparts before crossing the low ditch on a stone viaduct to continue their journey towards Hamrun. My journey stopped here this evening in this beautiful, overgrown, secluded place, a stonesthrow from Malta’s capital city. I will come back soon and resume my walk.