In 1850, the Monteponi Company was established with its legal headquarters in Genoa, with the aim of taking over the management of the Monteponi Royal Mine for a period of 30 years. The first president of the company was the banker Paolo Antonio Nicolay.
Upon obtaining the concession, the company immediately initiated the modernization of the mine, which had previously been organized with outdated techniques. One of the company’s initial projects was the improvement of the mule track that connected the Monteponi Mine to the nearest point for ore shipment, which was the Fontanamare beach.
Nel 1854, the new director, Engineer Keller, reorganized the transportation of minerals within the mine’s galleries and external yards to the processing sites, introducing the innovative narrow-gauge railway system.
In 1861, Engineer Adolfo Pellegrini took over the management of the mine.
The arrival of Pellegrini and the appointment of the new President, Count Carlo Baudi di Vesme, in 1862 marked the beginning of the famous Heroic Period. During this time, the company faced significant challenges, with the primary one being the transportation of minerals to the loading points.
To address the problem of increasingly costly transportation, the company was awaiting the completion of the Royal Railway, which was supposed to connect Iglesias to the port of Cagliari. This project was strongly supported by Minister Quintino Sella to enhance the prestige and importance of the capital’s port. However, the construction of this railway was delayed. Consequently, in the winter of 1867/68, the President of the company decided to build a private railway. He tasked Engineer Pellegrini with the project’s realization.
The chosen port of embarkation was the Cannelle Beach, on the outskirts of Portoscuso. The works for the first section (Gonnesa – Cannelle Beach) started with the arrival of Engineer Eynard on April 26, 1870. In December of the same year, the first three locomotives from Brassey Canada Works in England arrived.
After overcoming some technical issues due to inexperience, the first convoy departed from Gonnesa in the spring of 1871, pulled by a locomotive heading to the port constructed on Cannelle Beach. In the meantime, this beach had been renamed Porto Vesme (by Engineer Pellegrini) in honor of the President with the same name.
It wasn’t until 1875 that the locomotives reached Monteponi, as the second section of the railway was completed four years later. This required the construction of two tunnels and an inclined plane to reach the mine located halfway up the mountain.
The Monteponi – Porto Vesme Railway was decommissioned in 1963 after 92 years of honorable service.
Today, only a few traces of this railway remain: the Monteponi Station, part of the inclined plane with its winding house, some bridges, and especially the Pellegrini Tunnel located in the area of Funtana Crobetta.
In the early 20th century, Sardinia had already developed a sufficient railway network. The Iglesiente region had its two steam-operated railway lines, and Iglesias was connected to the capital city by the Royal Railways. Thanks to the Iglesias-Monteponi branch line, an interchange was created between the Royal Railways and the privately owned Monteponi-Porto Vesme railway, which, from 1880, also provided a passenger service in connection with the ferries to Carloforte and the trains to Cagliari.
In this context, Sulcis remained an isolated territory with limited road infrastructure.
On December 11, 1914, the Southern Sardinian Railways Company was established in Rome, and on April 20, 1915, an agreement was signed for the concession, construction, and operation of a narrow-gauge railway from Siliqua to Calasetta with a branch line from Palmas Suergiu to Iglesias.
The construction of the first civilian railway line in Sulcis was almost ready when the outbreak of the First World War forced a delay. After the war, the great economic crisis delayed its immediate realization, and it wasn’t until 1923 that construction finally began. The work lasted for three years, and on May 23, 1926, the two railway sections, Siliqua-Palmas Suergiu-Calasetta (79.322 km) and Iglesias-Palmas Suergiu (33.135 km), were opened for operation.
On April 3, 1926, an agreement dated February 18, 1926, was approved, allowing for the transfer of the Iglesias-Monteponi section, previously built by the Royal Railways and in operation since 1898, to the Southern Sardinian Railways. On April 24, 1926, the reassembly of the line began, transforming it from standard gauge to meter gauge (950 mm).
The early years of operation were quite complex and not economically successful. The 8 Breda steam locomotives were insufficient to generate enough passenger and freight traffic to bring revenue to the company. It wasn’t until the arrival of 4 Fiat ALn motorized railcars that the first positive financial results were seen, mainly due to the transportation of lignite extracted from the mines along the railway.
The autarkic period, however, was the most prosperous and productive. The construction of the double track from Carbonia to Sant’Antioco (the first example in Italy for narrow gauge) allowed unprecedented ore and cargo transportation. The motorized railcars were temporarily retired due to a lack of fuel, and steam traction was resumed and intensified.
After the war, things became very difficult for the Southern Sardinian Railways. Despite maintaining excellent passenger and freight traffic, on March 21, 1955, the company went into receivership. With government management, the Siliqua-Narcao section was closed on July 13, 1968, and the Iglesias-Monteponi section was closed on January 18, 1969 (due to a partial collapse of the Campo Pisano Gallery). After forty years of honorable service, on September 1, 1974, the Southern Sardinian Railways was permanently closed to traffic.
Do not stray from the marked path, as the surrounding areas may contain hazards from abandoned mining structures such as furnaces, tunnels, excavations, and mining waste dumps, which are often not marked.
Along the route, avoid handling materials found in the mining waste dumps located nearby.