Malta Railway

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This article is part of the history of rail transport by country series
Malta Railway
Exit of a train from Valletta station.
Locale Malta
Dates of operation 1883–1931
Track gauge 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) metre gauge
Length 7 mi (11 km)
Headquarters Valletta

The Malta Railway consisted of a single railway line from Valletta to Mdina and was the only railway line ever on the island of Malta. It was a single track line in metre-gauge, operating from 1883 to 1931.


Building of "Museum" station, a terminus of Malta Railway outside Mdina (photo from 2010)

From 1870 proposals were launched to connect the capital of Malta, Valletta, with its ancient capital Mdina by rail. The time of travelling could be reduced this way from three hours to half an hour. More concrete was the planning of the engineering firm of Wells-Owen & Elwes, London. Due to problems with the expropriation in favour for the line its building could not be finished until 1883. On 28 February 1883 the line was opened between Valletta and Notabile (Mdina).

Finances of the railway always proved critical. On 1 April 1890 the first proprietor, the Malta Railway Company Ltd., went bankrupt and the railway stopped running. As a result of this the government took over the railway, invested in its infrastructure and reopened traffic on 25 January 1892.

From 1895 on an extension of the line was under work aiming for the barracks at Mtarfa behind the historic city of Mdina. This extension was opened for traffic in 1900.

On 31 March 1931 the line was closed due to economic insufficiency. In 1903 a company was founded which ran tramways on Malta from 1905 on, partly parallel to the railway line. It gave up this traffic in 1929. But both, tramway and railway fell victim to the oncoming bus traffic. The railway-tunnel running under the fortifications of Valletta was used as an air-raid-shelter during World War II. Long stretches of the former railway line were converted into roads. Some of the railway buildings are still in existence.


The line connected Valletta and Mdina and a number of settlements in between. The first two stations, Valletta and Floriana, were underground. The Line extended over 11.1 km / 7 m, climbing 150 meters / 500 feet at a maximum of 25 Per mil. The line crossed roads by 18 level crossings of which 14 were staffed. The roads were chained off when a train was approaching. Originally the line was constructed with rails of 42 pounds per foot and replaced when the government took over the railway in 1890 by those of 60 pound per foot to allow heavier locomotives to run on the line.



During its lifetime the railway had only 10 locomotives. These were built by Manning Wardle & Co. Ltd., Leeds, Black, Hawthorn & Co Ltd., Gateshead, and Beyer, Peacock & Co. Ltd., Manchester. Most of them were 2-6-2 and 2-6-4 engines. They were painted in olive on black frames. None of them are preserved.


The carriages were wooden on iron frames. First and third class was provided. The seats were parallel to the line on both sides of an aisle. Originally illuminated by candles, this was changed to electricity, powered by batteries, in 1900. When the railway stopped running, 34 carriages were in use. One third-class carriage is preserved, was restored and placed beside the former station building of Birkirkara but, as of 2014, is now rather dilapidated.


A train usually consisted of five carriages, while trains running over the maximal climb before Notabile had only four. After more powerful engines were used, trains up to 12 carriages became possible. During World War I, even longer trains were run using two locomotives. Travelling time inland (that is, uphill) was 35 minutes; downhill, in the direction of Valletta, 30 minutes. Initially quite a busy timetable was in use with 13 pairs of trains running the whole of the line and an additional two or three pairs between Valletta and Attard, Valletta and Birkirkara and Valletta and Ħamrun.


Former entrance for trains into Valletta station

Since 1998 a little private Museum in Attard shows photographs, documents and other memorabilia of the railway additional to eight segments of the line reconstructed as a model railway in 1:148 by Nicholas Azzopardi during the years 1981–1985. The museum is open to the public on demand.


After an air-raid on Malta by the Italian air force in 1940 Mussolini proclaimed to have destroyed the Maltese railway system – nine years after its closure.

See also[edit]


  • Joseph Bonnici, Michael Cassar: The Malta Railway. Malta 1992.
  • Eisenbahnatlas Italien und Slowenien. Atlante ferroviario d'Italia e Slovenia. Schweers + Wall 2010, S. 110. ISBN 978-3-89494-129-1

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