December 2017 News

141 R 1126 Returns to service

After an overhaul lasting five years Toulouse based 141 R 1126 returned to mainline service on Monday 13th November when it successfully completed a loaded test run from St Jory to Castelnaudary and return, as part of its re-certification process. With BB 66304 in tow the test train is seen above arriving at Castelnaudary. The previous day, Sunday 12th November        141 R 1126 and BB 66304 had travelled from St Jory to Toulouse to turn on the triangle, the first time it had been on the mainline since 15th December 2012. 

Subject to mainline certification by SNCF, operator ACPR 1126 plans to run three steam hauled specials on December 10th,16th and 17th. Further details on the Events Page. Photo Georges Turpin

Orient Express at St Pancras International

On Thursday, November 2nd, Twenty Century Fox organised a press event at Saint Pancras International to launch the remake of "Murder on the Orient Express" based on the novel by Agatha Christie. Twentieth Century Fox brought over the SNCF Orient Express rake from France.

  There were 3 CIWL restaurant cars, a Pullman car with kitchen and two Pullman Salon Bar cars. The rake was completed with a modern fourgon in blue. 

 The Orient Express train was brought through the Channel Tunnel ( a first !) and then hauled to London on HS1 by a pair of Eurotunnel diesels. The train was parked at platform 10 during Nov 2nd and was used for press interviews with the cast. The train quickly returned to France overnight

The Orient Express train preserved by SNCF comprises the following carriages:

 2973, 2869 (Anatolie ), 2976 (Taurus), 2979 (Riviera). - CIWL Restaurant cars, built 1925 - 1927. 

 4151 (Etoile du Nord) 4159 (Flèche d'Or)  - Pullman restaurant cars built 1929 
 4148 (Côte d'Azur), 4160 (Train Bleu)   -  Pullman Salon Bars built 1929 

Thanks to Didier Delattre for the photos and D Michel Costes for the research. .

Farewell Nantes - Bordeaux Intercité Corail

October 31st was "officially" the last day of regular diesel locomotive hauled intercité services between Nantes and Bordeaux. From November 1st, Coradia Liner bi-mode trains have been scheduled on all the 6 daily services between the two metropoles. 

 The last Corail train (No 3833  12:25 Nantes-Bordeaux) was hauled by BB 67542 and 67558. It arrived at Bordeaux 30 minutes late. Passengers were offered coffee and cakes for the end of an era. The photo above taken by Georges Turpin shows the final locomotive hauled intercité 3833 Nantes - Bordeaux  between Nesmy and Champs Saint Père, a section listed at 60 kph.

Some eighteen months ago the Comite de pilotage who for the last ten years have been deliberating on the future of the Nantes - Bordeaux line agreed to a €138 million package to renovate a single line between  La Roche-sur-Yon and La Rochelle, restoring the line speed to 120 km/h. The package provided for a crossing place at Lucon with the option of crossing at Marans.

The Comite met on the 8th November when SNCF Reseau presented a new signalling option based on a system that will be introduced elsewhere on the network. The new system is more modern and more economical and was adopted. However, this solution will now require detailed studies according to a schedule to be specified by SNCF Reseau in early 2018. Will restoration work ever start!

 72186 works Farewell CC 72100 tour

PVC's 'LE TRAIN DE LA COQUILLE ET DU HARENG' from Sotteville to Dieppe on the 18th November advertised as the Farewell Class CC 72100 tour, was operated by CC 72186. This is one of the three CC 72100s transferred to the INFRA Division for leaf-clearing duties on the Granville line. Seen here ready to depart from Dieppe with an eclectic selection of rolling stock. Photo Philippe Armand

Flooding on Paris RER Line A

On Monday Oct 30th an exploratory drilling at Porte Maillot (in connection with the construction of RER E (Ouest)) accidentally penetrated the roof of RER A tunnel 30 metres below the surface. The drilling bit had passed through the nappe phréatique and created a hole of 15 cm diameter in the roof of the tunnel. Water and mud poured into the tunnel of RER A, Europe's busiest railway with 1 million passengers a day 

 RER A had to be closed between La Défense and Auber creating huge problems for travellers forced to find alternative routes. 48 hours after the incident, a quantity of mud and water equivalent to the capacity of two olympic swimming pools had poured into the railway tunnel. The temporary solution was to plug the hole with resin which solidifies in contact with water and then to repair the tunnel. Logistically it was complicated to organise and 50 engineering staff had to be allocated to the job. All of central Paris transport systems were saturated, compounded by RER B services being stopped across the centre of Paris due to creation of an over bridge at Arcueil Cachan. 

 After closure for nearly 3 days, RER A re-opened on Thursday morning, November 2nd, Effects of the closure were limited on the Wednesday which was a Public Holiday. The Minister demanded an urgent report by independent experts. This report confirmed that the drilling operation had not been advised in advance nor approved by the project manager. It was improperly prepared and executed in the absence of a geologist. 

 The total cost of the accident is now being calculated and RATP will claim a full reimbursement from the Eole Consortium (principally Bouygues Construction, Eiffage). The sum involved is likely to be colossal. 

First Container Train from China to France

On the 22nd November the first through freight service from China arrived at Dourges, near Douai. Organised by logisitics company GEFCO (a subsidiary of Russian Railways) the train shipped 40 containers for the PSA Group (Peugeot Citroën Automobiles). Leaving Wuhan (China) on the 3rd November the train had travelled 11,000 km and crossed Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus, from Dostyk  (Kazakhstan) to Brest  (Belarus ) over 1520 mm track, before continuing through Poland and Germany to reach Dourges. Having cleared customs the cargo was delivered directly to the nearby PSA Group’s Française de Mécanique factory in Douvrin.

The above report is based on an RZD (Russian Railways) press release. We understand that the first through freight service from China to Dourges actually arrived the previous week with a consignment of stock for sports chain Decathlon. The first train from China ran to Lyon in 2016 and now runs weekly. 

BB 17000s - still at work

Although the Class BB 17000s have not had any planned work since last year, seven members of the Class (17053/54/55/68/71/75/77) have  yet to be withdrawn. On most days recently, three of the remaining survivors have been working out of St Lazare covering for non-available class BB 27300s. On 7th November BB 17053, introduced in April 1967, is seen at Meulan-Hardricourt in the winter sunshine with the 11.22 from Mantes to Saint-Lazare. Photo D Michel Costes

Modernisation of Gisors - Serqueux Begins

The final stage has been reached to complete a new, dedicated route for rail freight operations between Le Havre and the Paris region. The project is to electrify the double track line from Gisors to Serqueux (Normandie) which is 50 km. The line was recently rebuilt and is used by a few TER trains. These will be suspended from December 12th during the engineering works. A number of level crossings will be suppressed and the line will be re-signalled with block automatique. A GSM-R radio telephone system will be installed. At Serqueux a triangular junction will be created so that traffic to and from the Le Havre direction can pass directly to/from Gisors avoiding a reversal. The total cost is budgeted at 260 million euros. 

 The plan for future traffic is for a maximum of 25 freight trains per 24 hours of which half would operate along this section between 22.00 and 06.00. 

 The project has met with considerable opposition locally and legal battles are in progress to cancel it. But the project moves forward at present. There are objections for noise, level crossings closed which separate communities and in Ile de France there is concern that extra freight slots on Transilien lines will threaten punctuality of commuter trains. Some propose that the new rail freight corridor be diverted via Amiens.

Nimes - Montpellier bypass ("CNM") to open in December 2017

The Contournement Nîmes - Montpellier ("CNM") is a new double track electrified line that runs from the LGV Méditerranée near Avignon, passing south of Nîmes and Montpellier to join the main line to Sète, Perpignan. It is 60 km long plus 20 km of connecting lines. The by-pass will be accessible to all types of train, TGV, IC, TER, Freight. The speed limits are 120 kph for freight and 220 kph for TGV's (*). It will be opened from Dec 10th to freight and passenger traffic. 
The purpose of this by-pass is to relieve congestion on the historical main line between Nîmes and Montpellier. CNM was built by a public/private consortium called OC'Via (***) which will also be responsible for maintenance for 25 years. Construction started at the end of 2013 and the total budget was 2.25 billion euros, including the two new stations. The original plans provided for a rail connection from the CNM east of Montpellier to enter the city centre St Roch station. But this configuration was cancelled and replaced by a new TGV station on the CNM situated close to Montpellier airport. 
The TGV Montpellier-Sud-de-France station(**) has been completed and will be delivered to the operator on Dec 10th 2017. It has been designed to receive a branch of the urban tramway but at present the tram terminus is situated at Odyseum, 1 1/2 km away from the new TGV station. The planned extension of the tram line to the TGV station will only be completed in 2020. 
There is also to be a TGV station on the CNM near Nîmes ("Nîmes-Manduel-Redessan"). Construction work only began in Sept 2017 and the station will open in 2020. SNCF has announced that the first TGV's to stop at Montpellier-Sud-de-France will operate from 8th July 2018. There will be 4 TGV's a day initially. SNCF has not disclosed its detailed plans for future services on the new by-pass. The CNM is the last of four high speed railways approved for construction by President Sarkozy in 2008. Currently there are no more TGV lines under construction in France. Plans for new TGV lines are suspended. 

 (*) The CNM has been designed for 300 kph for which a different signalling system (ERTMS 2) will be required.
 (**) Description of Montpellier TGV station in Rail Passion No 241 November 2017. 
(***) Consortium OC'Via: Bouygues Construction, Colas Rail, Alstom, Spie Batignoles , RFF (now SNCF Réseau))

Re-development of Mulhouse Station

SNCF Reseau has announced plans for the re-development of Mulhouse station. The present layout dates from 1957 and reflects the traffic levels of that era. Today Mulhouse, the second busiest station in Alsace handles 4.7 million passengers a year and 250 train movements a day covering TGV, TER and freight services. Traffic approaches the station from five routes, Strasbourg, Kruth, Müllheim Basle and Belfort. and with its mix of French and German railway heritage sees both left and right hand running. The present layout results in congestion and limited capacity. 

 The re-development will consist of two components. The first is a €68 million re-signalling that is part of the overall centralized network control (CCR) operation for the French network, conducted and financed 100% by SNCF Réseau, and aimed at consolidating traffic control from the current 1500 locations to 16 main centres across France. The opportunity will be taken to increase the flexibility of the Mulhouse layout with more either way running, particularly on the Basle route, to avoid conflicts at crossovers. 

 The second element is a €47 million project, mainly funded by the State and the Region to increase capacity at the station. An additional running line and platform face will be created on the north-east side of the station to provide a dedicated platform and approach for services to Müllheim and Freiburg. This will allow a more frequent service, while Colmar services will use the opposite platform face to provide easier connections. Two of the island platforms will be extended at the east end of the station to increase to six the number of platforms able to accommodate double TGV sets. Some trackwork alterations will also be made, in conjunction with the re-signalling, to create new diagonal crossovers and increase flexibility. This will also enable the approach speeds to be increased to 60km/h improving the running times of the TER 200 services.

Lines to re-open in December 2017

SNCF Réseau reports that it undertakes 1,500 projects a year for repairs, regeneration and maintenance on the French rail network. It is clearly impossible for us to follow all those projects. But, below, we detail a small selection that caught our attention. 
Quimper - Landerneau. (Bretagne) 
 In the far west of Bretagne, a single track un-electrified line links Quimper to Brest (104 km) via Chateaulin and Landerneau. The stretch from Quimper to Landerneau was closed in December 2016 for a regeneration (RVB) along 70 km. The track has been replaced and optimised, platforms have been raised at key stops, the signalling has been modernised and bridges, a viaduct and a tunnel have been repaired. The total cost was 78 million euros. 

Below A Quimper - Brest TER crosses the down service at Chateaulin
From December 10th, the line will re-open with a timetable of 9 return services daily, an increase of 3 return services. The best time from Brest to Quimper will be 61 minutes compared to 100 minutes before the closure due to speed restrictions. A direct Brest - Nantes is proposed. However, the new timetable had not been published in mid November. Patience !! 

Le Puy - Firminy (Haute Loire)
This single track un-electrified line is built along the narrow, sinuous upper valley of the Loire and includes many short tunnels and bridges and overhanging cliffs. The line was closed in 2014 to renew 36 km of track, to repair bridges and tunnels and fix protections on the cliffs. In 2017 the line was again closed from April 4th until December 9th to complete similar work along 29 km. It is expected that trains will be able to operate at up to 100 kph along the line in the future. See October News
Paray-le-Monial - Lozanne (Bourgogne Franche-Compté / Auvergne Rhône-Alpes) 
This line will re-open on December 10th after closure since May 29th for repairs and renewals. The line is single track for 60 km and there is only one passing point at Lamure-sur-Azergues. There are only 4 return services on weekdays from Paray-le-Monial to Lyon. Two trains start from Nevers and one from Tours. The journey from Paray to Lyon takes approx. 2 hours. The engineering work in 2017 concerned renewal of sections of the track between Lamure and Lozanne, suppression of 3 level crossings and replacement of two bridges. The budget was 44 millions euros. 
Autun - Etang (Bourgogne Franche-Compté) 
A year ago SNCF suddenly announced the closure of this short branch line due to signalling problems. The local population was somewhat upset and the Region promised that the line would quickly re-open. This has now been confirmed locally and six or seven rail shuttles each way are scheduled from Dec 10th between Autun and Etang (connections with the TER railcars to Dijon and Nevers).
A pair of X73500 units at Autun

Further closures

SNCF have announced that the line from Rodez to Sévérac-le-Château will close from 10th December due to poor condition of the track. The closure is initially for four years pending track repairs estimated at €6m, for which no funding is currently identified. One eastbound and two westbound services operate Sunday - Friday over the route through this sparsely populated area. It seems unlikey that the line will re-open. 

 As anticipated in last month's News Page SNCF have announced that the section from Abbeville to Eu will close on 27th May. At present the majority of services between Le Treport and Abbeville are operated by buses. But the first two services from Le Treport to Abbeville in the morning provide onward connections to Amiens and Paris, and passenger numbers can be beyond the capacity of a bus, and are operated by three car AGCs. In 2015 SNCF estimated that €40 million was required to rebuild the line.

Another French rail magazine closes

2017 was fatal for two stars among French Rail Magazines. After Voies Ferrées, which closed with No 221 in the early summer, Objectif Rail published its last number ( "84" ) in November. The reasons for the closures were similar. The Editor in Chief had reached retirement age and prospects for the future (in France) of a regular specialised print magazine about railways were not judged sufficiently promising by the publisher (*). 

 Objectif Rail was generally judged one of the best. Launched in January 2004 by Jean Luc Tesson, Pascal Bejui and Philippe Morel with their friends, the bi-monthly magazine gave priority to high quality photos ( often in full page format ) and covered the heritage scene, the withdrawal of old stock and the arrival of new trains, "retro" pages recalling the glorious past and many studies on freight trains. The slogan on the cover ( "the train becomes the show") demonstrated that the magazine would search for the "train in the landscape" above all. 

 Unlike many competitors, Objectif Rail steered clear of the subject of modelling railways with the exception of a few numbers following the takeover by a Belgian publisher (Thierry Nicolas) in May 2012. Objectif Rail has published 18 special numbers ( Hors Séries ). All but Nos 1 - 3 remain on sale and maybe further special numbers will be published in the future from time to time. 

 Our best wishes for a well earned retirement to Philippe Morel, OR Editor from No 1 and formerly with VF magazine. He has much to be proud of.

The end of Class X 2100 / 2200 diesel railcars

The boxy X 2100 diesel railcar single units were introduced from 1981/82. They have never attracted passionate interest and now the last ones are about to retire discretely. Thirteen X 2100 units (*) are based at Rennes. Only 2 or 3 have been regularly used this autumn for TER Bretagne on services from Rennes to Retiers. The other units have been suspended for various minor problems. All are scheduled to be withdrawn in December 2017. 

 There are four X 2200 units (**) based at Limoges. Only X 2208 has been active this summer. All four are expected to be withdrawn in December 2017. For pragmatic reasons some heritage associations have taken over certain X 2200 railcars to provide trips for tourists. Below X2114 at Carhaix in Bretagne TER livery

AAATV Montluçon operates four units; X 2210, 2224, 2230, 2232. 
CFHA (Gentiane Express ) operates X 2233 and 2238.
 ATTCV in the Centre Var operates X 2204. X 2215 and 2217 are displayed at Ecomusée Breil / Roya and 2235 is to be found at Cité du Train, Mulhouse. 
Source: Le Train No 355, November 2017 (Olivier Constant)

Railtour Roundup - A look at the  remaining mainline railtours of 2017

 Despite CC 40110 receiving mainline certification in the summer the planned tour by MFPN from Paris to Amiens on 2nd December has not come to fruition, possibly due to low bookings on their 231 K 8 tours that resulted in the Paris - Compiègne trip in October being cancelled.

 ABFC has been obliged to cancel the two Tours du Jura that would have travelled over the Oyannax - St Claude section that will close on Dec 9th.The Picasso X4039 had been booked for an ultrasonic test of its bogies at the end of September in a workshop at Mézy Moulins in the Marne. But despite requests for 3 different dates the association has been unable to obtain a pilot for the move from Dijon to Mézy. Thus the Picasso is not authorised to operate. This situation highlights the extremely critical staffing level of drivers in SNCF. The shortages that were reported more than a year ago have not been resolved. Clearly heritage associations are bottom of the priorities. 

 By the end of November 141TB424 had only reached the TRANSVAP site at Connerré-Beillé on its return from Brittany to Longueville. The  delay has already caused the cancellation of trips by both PVC and AJECTA. Contingency plans are in hand to substitute a diesel if it is not available for the trip to Villers St George on the 10th December.

Work repairing the boiler stays of 141R 420 will mean that Train a Vapeur d’Avergne’s trips to Lyon (9th December) and St Germain des Fosses (16th December) will now be worked by BB 67400 and RER sets. As regular loco hauled push-pull working finished in Auvergne in the summer this could be the final opportunity to travel on a push-pull set from Clermont Ferrand. 
 The operators are being positive, advertising the substitution as providing better heating than the steam hauled heritage set of stock.The Festival of lights at Lyon on the 9th December will also seen green liveried APMFS CC6558 operate a tour from Chambery. 

 Assuming that ACPR receive mainline certification for 141R1126, three Père Noël trips are planned from Toulouse; Carcassonne (10th December), Agen (16th December) and Narbonne (17th December). The Les Aubrais (Orléans) - Tours trip with 141R840 on 16th December is now fully booked and AAATV have organised an additional tour on the following afternoon to Pithiviers, apparently the first commerical passenger train since 4th October 1969.

Above. 141R1126 at Castlenaudury on the 13th November. Photo Georges Turpin

Progress on restoration of CC 72064

While much of the attention this year has been on the final Class CC 72100 workings, a small group at Lyon, ARCET       ( Association Rhône-Alpine de Conservation d’Engins Thermiques) have been busy returning CC 72064 to running order. Over the last four year the engine has ben overhauled, and the bodywork restored and repainted. The group are now applying for main-line certification. 

In October the group took deliver of their next project - BB 67378. See and the video opposite for more information.

End of Season at Baie de Somme

On the evening of Saturday 4th November, the penultimate day of 2017 operations, CFBS Corpet-Louvet 2-6-0T No.1 'Aisne' arrives at Le Crotoy with the 17:30 service from St Valery. Two days later, on the 6th November, relaying of the track between Le Crotoy and Noyelles commenced as part of a €1.3 million rebuilding project. The project is being undertaken jointly by CFBS and Colas staff and funded entirely by the Département of the Somme, owner of the line's infrastrucutre since it was opened in 1887.

The work will involve the lifting of the current track  and relaying with 13km of new rails and 10,625 new sleepers, with 1,600 metres of track on concrete sleepers.  Most of the existing ballast will be compacted and 6,500 tons of new ballast laid. Some of the old ballast will be recovered for the numerous farm crossings and for use in the storage hangers at St Valery. The current refuge siding at Morlay will be converted into a loop to allow more flexible operation. Work is scheduled to be completed by the end of March 2018 to enable the line to be re-opened for Easter. A video showing the inital distribution of material is available via this link. Courtesy Maurice Testu.

Chemin de fer de la Mure, a new project !

At the end of June 2017, the département of Isère signed a contract with a French engineering group ( EDEIS* ) to re-open part of the Chemin de fer de la Mure tourist railway that has been closed for seven years. The line was blocked by the partial collapse of a cliff in 2010. It is judged unrealistic, at present, to attempt to clear the line as the cliff face is still fragile and potentially further land slides are probable. 

 The new project will be conducted by EDEIS. It concerns only the upper section of the line (15 km) with terminus at La Mure (a small village 38 km south of Grenoble). The concept is a trip by rail to a spectacular view point over the EDF reservoir (Grand Balcon, Belvedere de Monteynard). A panoramic restaurant will be built at Grand Balcon accessible only by the railway. There will be 9 electric trains a day. A railway museum will be built at the new station at La Mure. It will take 3 years to complete the constructions and repairs. EDEIS will then have the right to operate the line for 27 years. The forecast is for 120,000 visitors annually five years after opening. (the tourist line before 2010 carried 70,000 passengers a year). 

 The budget is 26.6 million euros. EDEIS will contribute 6.6 million, the community of La Mure 2.6 million, the Region 2 million and the département 15.8 million. The total investment is double that of the renovation of the Vivarais line, but considerably less than that for the Panoramique des Dômes which cost 86 million euros. 

 The lower section of the line is the responsibility of Grenoble Metropole which supports a rebuilding of the whole line, but in 7 years has apparently not produced a valid plan to achieve that. The village of Saint Georges de Commiers is the lower terminus where the depot is located. The Mayor has suddenly realised that his village will not benefit from the new solution and he has lodged a legal objection to the scheme. 

 Wait and see !! 

 * In December 2016, the EDEIS group took over the French subsidiaries of SNC - Lavelin, a multinational engineering firm based in Canada. EDEIS now has more than 1,000 staff and it supervises 20 small regional airports, the port de plaisance at Rouen and the Panoramique des Dômes near Clermont-Ferrand.
© Peter Lovell & Graham Skinner. The French Railways Society 2017. Thanks to Georges Turpin, D Michel Costes, Didier Delattre, Philippe Armand and Maurice Testu. Photos by authors unless credited. 

 Merci beaucoup à Georges Turpin, D Michel Costes, Didier Delattre, Philippe Armand et Maurice Testu.
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