June 2018 News

BB 67400 return to Belgium on cross-border ballast

SNCF Fret BB 67400s have returned to operating the cross-border ballast traffic between Tergnier and the quarry at Quenast (between Mons and Brussels). Normally the train runs from Tergnier on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, reversing at Clabecq, as the branch is northwards facing towards Tubize. Above - On 10th May BB 67494 and 67629 are seen passing Hennuyeres. Photo Duncan McEvoy

Paris - Lyon LGV - €600 million investment to increase capacity

SNCF and the EU have announced a €600 million funding package to upgrade the Paris - Lyon LGV. The line at present carries a third of France's TGV traffic, with 44 million passenger journeys a year linking the French regions and France with Spain, Italy and Northern Europe. On an average day it carries 240 trains and has reached saturation point at peak periods.

The package will see the existing signalling system replaced by ERTMS (European Rail Traffic Management System) Level 2 at a cost of €470 million for the onboard computer systems and lineside equipment of which the EU will contribute €114 million. An additional €60 million will be invested to increase the power supply,  €53 million for infrastructure improvements at Paris and Lyon to increase capacity at peak times, and €23 million for environmental improvements along the line.

ERTMS level 2 allows the real-time management of the spacing between trains,  improving the line's capacity and its regularity while meeting the objective of interoperability between the different rail networks.  It is intended to eventually replace the 27 railway signaling systems in service in the European Union. The system sets the distance between trains by  indicating to the driver the optimum speed to adopt, according to the occupation of the line and the characteristics of the train (weight, speed limit, line profile, deceleration and braking capacity), or give an emergency stop order in case of problem. Its introduction on the Paris - Lyon LGV will increase line capacity from 13 to 16 trains an hour.

New CFTA livery

CFTA still operate the remnants of the Reseau Breton, using SNCF railcars for passenger services from Guingamp to Carhaix and to Paimpol. They have a small fleet of diesel locomotives for engineering trains and occasional freight work, based at Carhaix, and have recently obtained safety certification as an operator over the whole National network. CFTA BB 4817 has recently been repainted in red and grey and is seen at Guingamp. Photo Michel Joindot

National rail strike enters third month

After two months of strikes every three days the status of the conflict is unclear. We explained some of the issues in MAY NEWS. In the last few days the reform package moved to the Upper House (Sénat) and has received amendments including a certain number arising from discussions with unions. It is expected that the Sénat will approve the package on June 5th and it will return to the Assemblée for final review, mid June. 

 The prime minister announced that the State would to take over 35 billion euros of the SNCF Réseau debt (25 billion in 2020 and 10 billion in 2022). He presented this as a gesture by the Nation towards SNCF though there was in fact no choice in the matter. The chronic under-capitalisation of the SNCF Group over many decades has been perpetuated by successive governments. The new reform package changes the legal structure of SNCF and requires a reduction in the debt level. 

 The strike has already cost SNCF the equivalent of more than 15 new TGV Duplex double deck train sets. During the strike days, the busiest lines in France received a minimum service. (25% - 50%) but most intercité and TER rail services were severely cut and many rural lines had no rail services, a situation which has persisted even on non strike days. 

 The TGV division adapted its offer so that all TGV trains proposed on the OuiSncf booking site up to 15 days in advance are guaranteed to operate. The strike is likely to continue until the reform package becomes law, Currently only 14% of staff are on strike but just under 50% of drivers and 40% of guards.
An unidentified BB 15000 crosses the River Oise at Conflans on 21st May with an ECS train for Normandie. Class 15000 and corail stock  on Normandie Intercite services is due to be replaced by  Bombardier Regio 2N units in 2019. Photo Michel Costes

News in Brief

Vapeur de Trieux
The 2018 season was scheduled to start on the 5th May, but a broken bearing  was discovered on 141 TB 424 when it was being prepared at Longueville. Services were initially deferred until the 22th May, and now until the 4th June.

Goats to control lineside vegetation
SNCF Reseau has acquired six goats that are being used in a trial to control lineside vegetation. Goats are seen as being particularly effective against invasive and vigerous growing species such as Asian Knotweed.
The trial is taking place on a 4,000 square metre of lineside near Belleville on the Metz - Nancy line. If successful will this create a demand for HO and N gauge goats amongst modellers?
Montpelier Sud de France (CNM)
In May News we reported on the Marseille - Bordeaux Intercite services calling at Montpelier Sud on the Contournement Nîmes - Montpellier (CNM). Also that  Marseille - Bordeaux Intercite services use both BB 7200 and BB 22200 locomotives. Those services using the CNM are operated by BB 22200 locomotives as they operate under both AC and DC systems. Apparently SNCF have abandoned plans to use surplus TGVs on these services.

SNCF Railcards at half price
Until 15th June SNCF is offering it's range of discount cards (Carte Jeune, Carte Senior, Carte Weekend) at a reduced price of €29. They offer discounts of between 25-50% so cost can be re-couped in one long journey. Further details via this link

Future gets bleaker for branch lines in France

In preparation for the latest reform of the railway system, several reports were submitted to the French government at the beginning of this year. They included the Spinetta report which recommended closure of thousands of km of secondary lines. Edouard Philippe, prime minister, stated on 26th February; "The government will not follow these recommendations. The closure of 9000 km of lines is not decided from Paris on administrative and accounting criteria". The veracity of this statement can be doubted. In May, we learnt that the new rail reform pact will include provision for an audit of secondary lines to be organised from "Paris". 

 The procedure 
For many decades now, secondary lines have not been closed. They have been abandoned. The lines are no longer staffed and train services are reduced and repositioned so that they do not correspond to the needs of the travelling public. The lines are given minimum maintenance and then they are declared dangerous. Speed limits are arbitrarily imposed and, after a few months, SNCF Réseau (formerly RFF) will suspend all traffic indefinitely for security reasons. This is a well defined procedure ordered from "Paris" and executed by local offices of SNCF. No independent assessment is ever made. 

 Repairs and renewals 
Regions operate modern train sets on the ageing rural rail network. They finance repairs when needed because SNCF says it has no funds to repair lines that carry less than ten trains a day. Even lines that have been repaired are not safe from closure. A trick which is often used by SNCF Réseau. Repair a line without making it clear that no improvement in performance will be obtained. Another regular trick is to budget repairs, obtain agreement from the Region and a few months later double the budget with no explanation (Bergerac - LIbourne). 
Limoges - Angoulême (Nouvelle Aquitaine) Services on the western half of this line were suddenly suspended this spring and no repairs have been carried out yet. 

Gueret - Felletin (Nouvelle Aquitaine) After a temporary closure during the winter because of the wrong kind of leaves, a new timetable was introduced to double the train services, from one to two. Before, a TER came from Limoges to Felletin in the evening and returned to Limoges the following morning. The crew stayed overnight. Now there are two return services from Gueret to Felletin, one in mid morning, one in mid afternoon. One would have expected that more passengers on this line would want to travel to the sous-prefecture of Gueret for shopping, medical, administrative reasons rather than the reverse. 

Bergerac - Libourne (Nouvelle Aquitaine) 
Nouvelle Aquitaine Region succeeded this spring in closing the financing deal to modernise the Bergerac - LIbourne line after SNCF Réseau doubled the cost from 40 million euros to 80 million. 

Ligne des Cévennes 
The line was closed this spring for two months to conduct engineering work between Langeac and Langogne. However, it was discovered that ARA Region had transferred the budget to Chambéry. So no work was done in Auvergne but the line remained closed ! During the closure, the national rail strike started on April 3rd and no TER trains have operated between Clermont Ferrand and Nîmes since April 3rd, strike or no strike day and no replacement buses are provided. SNCF admits that this is because drivers have been transferred to the Lyon area. The status of the Cevenol train is unclear. Previously, the afternoon service between Clermont-Ferrand and Nîmes was intercité. It was announced that from 2018 Occitanie Region was responsible for the Cevenol and it would receive new Régiolis stock. But the train service is operated by SNCF Clermont Ferrand depot which is in Auvergne Rhône Alpes. No-one has yet explained who is in charge of the Ligne des Cevennes. Meanwhile those wishing to visit or travel on the line are advised caution, any train services are extremely unreliable or unpredictable if you prefer. 
Ligne des Alpes 
Only 2 return trains out of 5 normally scheduled have been operated between Grenoble and Gap. In fact the second train in the evening from Grenoble is terminus Veynes and does not even reach Gap. This minimum service applies daily since the April 3rd, strike days or not.
Le Treport-Abbeville   -  Le Treport-Beavais
Le Treport became the latest location to lose it's rail services when both the lines to Abbeville and Beauvais were suspended from the 28th May, due to the condition of the track through years of neglect. 

In recent years the Abbeville line has only seen two trains a day each way, while the Beavais line has had four trains each way. There are plans to rebuild the Beauvais line and re-open it in 18 months time, although cynics are pessimistic about this happening. The future of Abbeville - Le Treport is even less secure, although regional representaives are Meeting the Minister of Transport in July in an attempt to save it.

On Sunday 27th May, the last departare from Le Treport for Abbeville climbs towards Meneslies between Eu and Woincourt

Preservation News

Train à Vapeur des Cévennes - Steam Festival

The Train à Vapeur des Cévennes that operates between Anduze and Saint Jean du Gard (between Nimes and Ales) held it's Steam Festival over the weekend of 11th/12th May. 

Star of the show was resident 140 C 27 (NBL 21549 of 1916). One of the four operational 140 C s (not mainline certified) it is the only one with the large 34X pattern tender.

Also in steam were the line's two German tank locomotives 040 T Henschel 25724 (1949) + 040 T Krupp 1751 ( 1937), seen here operating in 'top-n-tail' mode with 140 C 27. Both photos Georges Turpin

More information at http://www.trainavapeur.com

Pacifics on Parade

Saturday 26th May saw two pacifics operating in Northern France.

231 K 8's season got off to an inauspicious start. Heavy thunderstorms the previous evening had caused flooding in the Paris area. (This resulted in the last Thalys to Brussels being cancelled and 200 passengers sleeping in the TGV at Gare du Nord). 

The outward train is seen here passing through La Faloise

The chaos got worse the next morning with a fatality near St Denis and departure for Arras was eventually 120 minutes late. 

The return journey from Arras to Paris should have been uneventful, but a hot box detector was mistakenly misread the firebox causing a 90 minute delay.

Passing Longeau on the return from Arras to Paris. Photo Michel Costes 

Pacific Vapeur Club's 231 G 558 took a step closer to mainline operation at the end of May. On the 22nd it was piloted to Acheres depot by celebrity A1A A1A 68081 to have the bogie wheels turned and re-profiled in preparation for it's loaded test run

68081 and 231 G 558 pass Mantes on the return from Acheres to Sotteville. Photo Jean-Louis Poggi

The loaded test run took place on the 26th May with a run from Sotteville to Serquigny. On the return the rear pony wheel axle developed a hot box, although the journey was able to be completed at reduced speed.

231 G 558 passes Orival on the return to Sotteville, with blue smoke coming from the hot box. Photo Jean-Louis Poggi

Bumper May for CFBS

Good weather and three bank holidays in May saw heavy loadings on the CFBS. Over 12,000 passengers were carried during the week of the 7th May. With the 8th May on the Tuesday followed by Ascension Day on 10th May supplementaires were operated to all the St Valery - Le Crotoy services for four consecutive days. The Whitsun weekend again saw supplementaires on the Sunday. Right Nord 351 and Cail 2-6-0T No 2 wait to leave Noyelles with the last supplementaires of the day on 20th May

Pithiviers Decauville returns to service

This 60cm gauge Decauville 0-3-1T was built in 1902 and acquired by the museum in 1965 in poor condition after working in different sugar beet refineries in the north of France. Ultimately it was reconstructed and put into service at the museum. The loco weighs 13 tons loaded and is a listed Monument Historique.  

In 2017, the engine was dismantled and the boiler sent away for re-tubing. During the winter 2017-2018 the engine was re-assembled and painted red (it had previously been painted dark green). 

 The characteristic Wild West chimney was fitted so that the loco could resemble (with the open carriages) the Royan tramway.

The Decauville takes a comfort break while running around at Bellebat. Both photos Jean-Louis Poggi


This month we cross into Switzerland and visit the Blonay-Chamby railway museum in the Canton of Vaud, overlooking Lac Léman. This is the leading museum in Europe for metre gauge trains and is noted for preserving both steam and electric stock. The museum was started by volunteers in 1968 and since then some 80 historic items of rolling stock have been preserved and restored. To celebrate 50 years of railway preservation, 2018 was chosen for a number of spectacular events including the Mega Steam Festival that took place in May during 6 days over the Ascension and Pentecôte(Whitsun) week-ends. 

 According to the Guide, this event required two years of planning and a budget of 300 000 CHF. Ten steam locomotives were operated daily during the festival including five invited from other museums in Europe. They are listed below:
Based at the Blonay-Chamby museum: 

 HG 3/4 (BFD) No 3 (1913). This locomotive was built to operate on the line from Brig to Disentis with rack sections over the summit. It has 4 cylinders. 2 cylinders operate the cog wheels on rack sections but this feature is not needed on the Blonay-Chamby. The BFD 3 was returned to service in 1989. 

G 2/2 No 4 "Rimini"(1900) This little Italian tram locomotive was built at the beginning of the last century and retired in 1960. It was found and acquired by Blonay-Chamby in 1970 and the latest overhaul was completed in 2012. The loco has been completely rebuilt to represent its original aspect. 

G 3/3 No 5 "Bercher" (1890) This attractive tank engine was built by Ste Alsacienne de Constructions Mécanique (SACM) for the Lausanne - Echallens - Bercher line. No 5 worked on the line until 1934. The loco was found and purchased by Blonay-Chamby in 1973. The latest overhaul was completed in 2015 when No 5 was returned to service in its original condition.
G 3/3 No 6 (1901) This Swiss tank engine was originally built for the Jura-Simplon company and was used on the Brunigbahn between Giswil and Lucerne. The loco was acquired by Blonay-Chamby in 1971. 

G 2x2/2 No 105 (1918) - This Mallet locomotive was the star of the festival. The very first trains at Blonay-Chamby museum in July 1968 were hauled by 105. This year is the centenary of the Mallet which received a major overhaul lasting 5 years before returning to service in 1998. 

Visiting locomotives: 
HG 3/4 No 4 (1913). This locomotive is identical to BFD 3. It is based at the Dampfbahn Furka Bergstreke (DFB), the association which operates in the summer over the original rack railway summit line Oberwald - Realp. 

G 2x2/2 No E164 (1905). This Mallet locomotive was built by Henschel & Son at Kassel in Germany. The loco worked in Portugal until 1978. E 164 was overhauled at Meinigen in 1998 and is now based at Pré-Petitjean in the Swiss Jura where it operates summer excursions on the Chemin de fer du Jura (CJ). 

G 3/4 No 208 (1913). This Swiss locomotive was built by SLM at Winterthur for the Brunigbahn. No 208 is now based at Ballenberg Dampfbahn, Interlaken and operates steam excursions to Meiringen. The locomotive was recently overhauled and returned to service in April 2018. 

G 2/2 "Ticino" (1889). This is the oldest metre gauge locomotive in operation. It was returned to steam in 2016 after being retired in 1941. 

TS 030T No 60 (1898) This Blanc Misseron steam tram was used on the Tramway de la Sarthe (TS) network at Le Mans until 1947. It is based at MTVS, Crèvecoeur-le-Grand.. No 60 together with sister tram No ? were saved from demolition in 1976 and formed the basis for the creation of MTVS, familiar to readers of these pages. No 60 was returned to steam in 2016 after its latest overhaul.


Our visit to the Mega Steam Festival began at Vevey CFF station on Sunday morning, 20th May. At 09.55, the double headed museum train arrived with a multi-coloured rake of 8 carriages.The two sturdy ex Furka-Oberalp locomotives arranged themselves at the front of the train. Meanwhile the sale of tickets began on the platform with a patient volunteer clutching a pad of tickets and a clipper, accompanied by a colleague with the money bag. They were, immediately, completely surrounded by a group of eager passengers. The concept of queuing in a straight line (well known in the UK) has never reached Switzerland ! However, after half an hour or so, most of the passengers had acquired tickets and clambered aboard. 

 Departure was at 10.41, three minutes behind the regular train. Vevey is situated by the lakeside at an altitude of 365 m. The Blonay-Chamby museum is located at 736 m. Our journey would take us, first, along the Montreux - Vevey - Riviera (MVR) suburban line to Blonay (620 m) The steam train climbed, twisted and turned among the lakeside villas, occasionally delayed by the regular Stadler electric train which stopped at various halts on request. By 11.15, we had reached Blonay where the museum line started*. Our train would now climb a further 116 m in 3 km ( a maximum gradient of 50°/oo). Though short, this line includes a curved viaduct, a short tunnel and electrification at 900 volts DC. Our two steam locos, built for mountain lines, had no difficulty with the train, but a stop at the viaduct was required. There is a weight limit and the front engine had to cross alone. While this manoeuvre took place we were inspected by a drone ! 
The Blonay-Chamby museum was created in 1968 and it is constructed on a small ledge that is only accessible by rail for visitors. The east side of the ledge is bordered by forest. On the west side, a steep meadow descends to the single track line. The museum can only be entered in one direction coming from the terminus at Chamby. The service area for coaling is squashed into a triangular space between the line to Blonay and the branch up to the museum. 

 After lunch, the hundreds of visitors to the Mega Steam Festival sat where they could on the terrace and 
watched the engines shunting and the trains arriving and departing. These were quite frequent considering that 10 engines were in steam. Most trains were double headed. The oldest engine of all was the recently restored 0-2-0T Ticino (1889) which shunted carriages, it was too small to go out of the depot.

It can be reported that all the steam engines were, of course, squeaky clean with gleaming brass lamps, a fine sight. One of the smaller visiting engines, the TS 60, challenged the MTVS crew to tune it for maximum performance. The little tram loco was, in fact, not originally designed to tackle such severe and lengthy gradients. The Sarthe loco was usually paired with the attractive LEB No 5.
Altogether, the timetable from 09.10 on the day of our visit listed 16 steam trains departing from the museum of which 3 went to Vevey, 13 to Blonay. 11 were double headed. In addition, a frequent steam shuttle service was provided from the Museum to Chamby (5 minutes) where a connection is available to the MOB.
Other events follow through 2018 to celebrate the 50 years. There will be a Mega Bernina Festival during three week ends in September ( 8/9, 15/16, 22/23 ). These will be devoted to historic electric locomotives including a visiting "Crocodile" from RhB. 

 The six days of the Mega festival in May were clearly a resounding success for the Blonay-Chamby museum association and a unique presentation of preserved metre gauge rolling stock from different parts of Europe. Our appreciation is due to all participants.  
* A little history. The Vevey-Blonay-Chamby line was opened in 1902. A branch was extended from Blonay to Les Pléaides (1348 m) in 1911 (rack section). In 1904 a branch was opened from St Légier to Chatel St Denis. It was closed in 1969. The section from Blonay to Chamby was closed in 1966 and re-opened as a museum line in 1968. Between 1998 and 2000 this line was opened to regular traffic but this was not considered successful and the regular services were withdrawn. The MVR is part of the MOB Golden Pass Group. The electrified museum line is used to transfer stock between the two networks.
© Peter Lovell & Graham Skinner. The French Railways Society 2018. Photos by authors unless credited. Thanks to Duncan McEvoy, Georges Turpin, D Michel Costes, Jean-Louis Poggi Michel Joindot and Sylvère Zanaroli. 
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