Memories of Q1s in Bilbao

  Click on picture [E1108] for an enlarged version

From: "David Towers" <>

I have now managed to locate a copy of my letter to Robert Jowett, which you may [or may not!] find interesting.

I am particularly fond of Bilbao photo E1108; if you zoom in there is a chemist's shop on the right-hand side. I actually lived in the flat above the chemist's, five floors up!

The pictures shows a Q1 turning from Calle Fontecha Salazar into Calle Huertes de la Villa

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I am writing to say how much I have enjoyed reading your articles on Spanish trolleybuses in recent editions of Classic Bus. I would like to bore you with a few ramblings of my own, if you don't mind!

In October 1970 I embarked on the second year of a course in Modern Languages, whilst studying at Leeds Polytechnic. One of my languages was Spanish, and this involved a stay of some five months in Bilbao. Political unrest was abundant at the time in the Basque country, with the result that the University of Deusto, where I was an attached student, shut down after only a few weeks of my arrival and I am fairly certain that it did not open again prior to my return to England in February 1971.

This meant, of course, that there was plenty of spare time to do a thorough study of Transportes Urbanos del Gran Bilbao S.A., more particularly of the trolleybus system and even more particularly of the workings of the ex London Q1s. There was a flat fare of just two pesetas at the time and much time was spent travelling on all the routes and stood on street corners taking wiring details, raising a few eyebrows as the same time! Unfortunately, I did not take many photographs, something I now regret.

I have since tried to find out abandonment details, with a degree of success, having written to TUGBSA, who very kindly sent me, free of charge, a large book entitled "Historia del Tranvia Urbano en la villa de Bilbao". This has provided me with a good deal of information, which I have tabulated below. Although I have no closure details for one route, all the others seem to have been converted by 1978, although I would be interested to know if the Q1s operated as late as that year. I read somewhere that Q1 operation finished in Spain as a whole in 1979, so some other city obviously kept them going a little longer, unless, of course, the missing date in my Bilbao list was actually 1979. The letter that accompanied the book stated that no one was bothered about keeping information on trolleybus withdrawal dates as "no sirve para nada" and so we must assume that enthusiasm is not as keen as in the United Kingdom!

At the time of my stay in the city, routes 1 and 3 were operated by single-deckers, the remainder by Q1s. One oddity of the above is that it appears there was only one route for the first eight years of the system! The flat where I was staying overlooked the terminus of route 4, which was also covered by a microbus route, which charged a five peseta flat fare. Needless to say there was no contest for my custom! Perhaps an inspired guess might be that the system was abandoned on 28/10/78, with perhaps the number 6 at the time also being operated by single-deckers.

I occasionally ventured further than the city itself and certainly had a few rides on those two diesel Q1s, which I think were 277 and 287. They operated on route 15 from Bilbao to the port of Santurce which I seem to recall was about half an hour's ride. I would be interested to know if these two made it to 1978! Funnily enough, I would have to say that they were not the strangest vehicles I travelled on whilst over there. Route 15 was also operated by some very boxy-looking double deckers. I could barely believe my eyes when, on venturing upstairs, you almost literally had to crawl along the floor to get to a seat. Without exaggerating the headroom can have been no more than four feet or so, but the Basques didn't seem to blink any eyelids so obviously this was the norm. Heaven knows what would have happened if a fire had broken out, or any other emergency; it would have been a difficult job to evacuate at any speed.

Bilbao seemed to be a fascinating place for transport enthusiasts but unfortunately, although I was there for some five months, I didn't make the most of it. I seem to remember also that there was a railway running from Bilbao to Algorta, independent from the main-line system and also various funicular railways running up to the cliff-tops; it's so long ago now though that I can't remember what was at the top when you got there!

I hope you don't mind me babbling on about my memories of Bilbao! If, however, you are able to answer any of my queries or provide any additional information, I would be delighted to hear from you.