By train through Valmalenco

by Marcello Abbiati

On the wall of a peaceful bar in Primolo in the Valmalenco nonchalantly hangs an altimetric profile, carefully drawn by the engineer, Moser (*) and dating back to 1903.

The title page of the project

Hard to believe but, together with a badly worn little book kept in the Pio Rajna Municipal Library in Sondrio, this illustration is one of very few documents to hand down the memory of a project, which could have turned the social and economic history of the Valtellina of the last century upside-down.

Carefully drawn up and meticulously and tersely written, the brief report is the work of the engineer, Giacinto Orsatti: printed in the type of the Quadrio in 1903, Railways Link in the Valtellina with the Engadine Railways shows the local result for the Valtellina of a debate and a trend which, between the nineteenth and twentieth century, involved all the nations near the Alpine range. The need to encourage the osmosis of goods and people across the Alps spurred France, the Swiss Confederation, Germany, Kingdom of Italy and the Austrian Hungarian Empire to find alternative vehicles and ways of communication. The traditional methods had become obsolete and unsuitable for the intense flows of trade in a continent with a demographic and economic increase, which had rocketed sky-high. It was, therefore, the second of two major discoveries which characterised the 19th century – photography and the "double T-shaped” girder – to provide the ideal vehicle to safely and rapidly transport large quantities of goods and people over geomorphologically hostile territory: the train.

(Our special thanks go to the owners of the Bar Primolo, who allowed us to scan the illustration for the project.)