January 2020 News

AJECTA's 140 C 231 passes Lechelle with a Père-Noël train for  Villiers-Saint-Georges on a wintery 15th December. Photo; Erwan Quintin.
November 9th 2019. On this Saturday morning, a furtive flash of sunlight illuminated IC 3108, the 08.02 Le Havre - Paris St Lazare, at Thun-le-Paradis, 78250 Yvelines. The diverted service was pushed by BB 15061 and would reach its terminus at 10.46. Photo D Michel Costes. The first Class Z56600 Bombardier V200 Omneo Premium units are expected to be delivered now in 2020 and are scheduled to replace the last BB 15000s by 2022.

Season's greetings to all our readers ! 

Bonne année !

Père Noël Specials

The weekend of the 14th/15th December saw the normal range of Christmas specials on  preserved lines. Sadly, PVC's planned trip from Rouen to Paris with 231 G 558 had to be cancelled due to the industrial action.

Above: CFBS's 131 year old Cail 2-6-0T storms out of St Valéry on 14th December with the first train to the Cayeux Christmas Market. The train is made up of a pleasing blend of Somme, PLM and Seine et Marne rolling stock.

Opposite. Due to the industrial action AJECTA's 140 C 231was the first train over the Provins line for ten days, seen near Champbenoist-Poigny on14th December. Photo Christophe Masse

Below. After a year undergoing a major overhaul MTVS Corpet-Louvet TIV 75 returned to service on 14th December, seen leaving the depot at Crevecoeur suitably adorned. Photo MTVS

Belfort - Delle - Bienne, a disastrous first year !

It is just over 12 months since the Belfort - Delle line was re-opened in December 2018. About 3,000 visitors turned up to view the new trains and rail link. Unfortunately, that number has turned out to be about TEN times the average daily usage of the new line in Territoire de Belfort during 2019. 

 In fact, during the first few months, only 200 passengers a day used the line. In the second half of the year, Bourgogne Franche Comté Region ("BFC") reported daily usage to be 400 - 600 passengers. On Nov 9th, 2019, Michel Neugnot, 1st Vice President of BFC in charge of Finance, Transport and Human Resources, held a press conference to announce an advertising campaign to bring the line to the attention of possible users. He stated his conviction that the problem was a lack of awareness of the new rail service. He said that the objective was to reach 1,600 passengers daily in the 3rd year. To encourage school children and students to use the trains, a free pass had recently been proposed to young residents in a radius of 1 km around each station. 

 Mr Neugnot rejected suggestions that the timetables did not correspond to the needs of the population and should be modified. It was necessary, first, to be sure that the train service was known to all, he responded. He did not agree that the single journey tarif at 5 euros was too expensive.
So what are the problems ?

The Belfort - Delle reconstruction was declared to be in the Public interest (DUP) in July 2015. An investment of 110 million euros was required to rebuild and to electrify the 23 km line. In the description of the project, RFF (now SNCF Réseau) stated that the objective was to obtain 3,700 passengers daily based on providing a service between Belfort Ville and Delle of 24 trains at a 30 minute interval at peak periods and hourly during the rest of the day. A certain number of these trains would cross the border into the Swiss Jura. The segments of the population targeted included "frontaliers", users of the TGV Rhin-Rhône and school children and students. The following problems are evident; 

 1. The hourly train service with the Swiss trains only operates to the TGV station at Meroux* and not to Belfort Ville, contrary to the description in the "DUP.". 
2 Six TER trains operate between Belfort Ville and Delle and up to 10 shuttle trains between Belfort-Ville and Meroux. 
3 A majority of trains between Delle and Belfort Ville, therefore, require a change at Meroux, sometimes with a long wait.  
4 A majority of the estimated 2,000 "frontaliers" live in the south of the département close to the border and they take a bus or drive to Delle. The new train service is not relevant to their journeys. 
5 The bus routes operated by two companies are cheaper and more convenient for many.  
6 The Swiss trains operate to a strict hourly interval service whereas the 30-40 long distance TGV's stop at Belfort Montbeliard TGV at ever changing times. Connections are problematic.  
7. On Saturdays and Sundays and during school holidays there are very few trains between Belfort Ville, Meroux and Delle. 

 * Meroux. This is the name given to the TER station situated on a bridge above the TGV station at Belfort Montbéliard TGV. It is the terminus of the Swiss trains coming from Bienne every hour.

Industrial action causes major disruption

Industrial action by SNCF staff over proposed pension reforms began on the 5th December causing enormous disruption over the Christmas period. During the first few days SNCF suggested that 10% of long distance and up to 30% of local services were operating, although the latter was only achieved by bus replacements.  Available staff were concentrated on trunk routes with many rural lines seeing no services until replacement bus services could be arranged. Timetables were issed daily at 17:00 for the following day.

On 21st December SNCF issued provisional timetables until 4th January (although still to be confirmed on a daily basis) with 40% of TGVs and 60% of Intercite services cancelled. The position was worse on TER services, while only 20% of Transilien services have operated. Between Amiens and Paris eight services have operated instead of the 21 scheduled. Between Amien and Calais where 14 services are scheduled, only two have been operating, with additional stopping services between Amiens and Abbeville and Rang de Fliers and Calais using a mix of trains and buses. On the Amiens - Rouen line buses operated for a few days but were then withdrawn with the service completely suspended.

Above. The scene at Saint Pol sur Ternoise on 7th December with nine AGCs stabled in the station and yard. Photo Philipe Armand

BB 67400 Corail farewell

Class BB 67400 operations on Corail stock and in Northern France came to an end in December after 45 years. The final workings should have taken place on the 14th December but due to industrial action the last commercial working was on 4th December when BB 67576 operated a Paris service between Amiens and Boulogne. It remained at Boulogne until 12 December when the final working took place - 761488 10:15 Boulogne Ville - Amiens ECS, seen above passing through Rue. Photo François Leblond.

The remaing BB 67400 workings are now just the Paris - Rodez/Albi sleeper south of Brive (pending tunnel modifications to allow BB 75300s), and a couple of rush-hour turns from Strasbourg. The position with the 18:05 Paris Est La Ferte Milon and 07:18 return is unclear. In October SNCF proposed replacing the through Paris - La Ferte Milon with services requiring a change at Meaux or Trilport. The proposal was considered by IDF Mobilities and user groups on 21st November, but no decision was taken following concerns about the suitability of Trilport as an exchange station. The services were then suspended from the 25th November due to engineering work in the sidings at Pantin.

Léman Express & Annemasse Tram Inauguration

The weekend of 14-15 December was revolutionary for the rail connections between Geneva and Haute-Savoie with the simultaneous openings of the Léman Express train service and the Transports publics genevois (TPG) tram line 17 extension to Annemasse.
The Léman Express RER network  has been described here  in detail over past few months. This line had been in planning for over a century and after nine years of construction, the much-anticipated launch finally took place connecting Haute-Savoie directly to Geneva and beyond. The official inauguration ceremony was held on 12th of December. Two special trains (Swiss from Coppet and French from La Roche-Sur-Foron) met at Genève-Eaux-Vives, where the politicians from the two countries cut the ribbon officially opening the line. It was joked in media that this was the only train running in France that day due to the strikes. 

On the 14th and the 15th there were public events at many stations across the line, but they were surprising low key compared to the well-organised open door’s days organised during the construction process. The focus was this time about informing about the service and tariffs with local amateur cultural performances. The train service was not offered for free, but many of the passengers did not buy tickets insisting that the first day is always free. 

On Sunday the most published event was the first train around 5 AM, which was well patronised by the media and enthusiasts, with bands playing at the stations and coffee with croissants offered. Otherwise the start of the service was not as had been hoped. Besides teething problems with the rolling stock resulting in cancellations, in France the rail services were severely hit by nation-wide strikes, which did not spare Léman Express. During the first week only a limited service was run in France.
The second big event was the extension (or restoration) of Geneva's tram network to Annemasse.  Compagnie générale des tramways suisses started running steam trams between Carouge in Geneva and Annemasse (station) in 1883 and later further to Étrembières, but the electrified line was cut to the Moillesulaz border station in 1958. The remaining line 12 on the Swiss side was the only surviving tram line of an extensive network in the Geneva region with several cross-border services to France. But as elsewhere trams have become fashionable again, and also in Geneva network has been growing again. One big challenge for public transport in Geneva is that the metropolitan area expands well into France with tens of thousands frontaliers crossing the border daily. With priorities not often in sync at various political bodies in the two countries, the planning and financing public transport projects has not been easy, but finally in 2017 after long debate the works started to restore tram services to Annemasse. 

The 2.5 km tram line starts in Annemasse at Parc Montessuit and has three stops in France before Moillesulaz (the new line does not serve the Annemasse SNCF station, but the town centre). Tram 17 then follows in Geneva the same route as the number 12 until Plainpalais, where it joins the line 15 to its terminus at Lancy-Pont-Rouge-Gare (one of the Léman Express stations). The cost of this phase 1 was 57 M€ (60% from France, 40% Switzerland). Phase 2 will extend the tracks further in Annemasse to the Lycée des Glières stop, and depending on the financing the extension should open in 2022 or 2023.

The service is operated by TPG with its modern bidirectional rolling stock (Stadler Tango trams) as there is no loop at Parc Montessuit with end-to-end journey time around 43 minutes. Trams operated between 5 AM and midnight up to 7 services per hour in peak hours down to twice hourly on Sundays.  
Photos from top
 - Leman Express SBB Flirt  at Genève-Champel
 - Leman Express SBB Flirt leaving Annemasse for Coppet
 - Parc Montessuit
 - Moillesulaz trams 12 and 17
Report and Photos by Ilkka Huotelin

BB 26004 heads the Solidarity Train

On the occasion of the first World Refugee Forum held at the UN Palais des Nations  in Geneva on December 17-18th the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and SNCF operated the Solidarity Exhibition Train. Aimed to increased awareness and commitment to refugees, the Solidarity Train began at Paris Gare de Lyon on 28-30th November, before heading for Bordeaux. It was then scheduled to visit Clermont Ferrand, Lyon, and Strasbourg before travelling to Geneva on the 15th December for the Forum. On 1st December 26004 passes through Saint-Michel-sur-Orge en route from Paris to Bordeaux. Photo Erwan Quintin.

Modernisation of "Gare de Juvisy" RER C, D

On November 26th, 2019, the official inauguration took place of the new multi-modal "pole" at Juvisy-sur-Orge. The SNCF station is the busiest in Ile-de-France outside Paris. There are 12 platform tracks and the trains of RER C and D stop at this station. 

 The station buildings and facilities had not been modernised for 50 years. The site is very constrained with urban development close by on both sides .A road crosses over the centre of the site. There was a single pedestrian subway serving the 7 platforms. Work started 5 years ago. The main features of the rebuilding include a second pedestrian subway, rebuilding of 5 different entrances, creation of a new passenger facility on the town centre side of the site with a new bakery, two bicycle sheds and renovation of 3 bus stations. 

 The platforms have been re-numbered 40 - 51. Tracks 48 - 51 are for RER D ( Paris Gare de Lyon - Corbeil - Malesherbes). The total budget was 97 million euros. We illustrate one of the new entrances that gives access to the new subway at Juvisy SNCF on a wet Wednesday in November.

Snags on Thionville - Luxembourg commuter line

ERMTS corridor creates problems for Nancy - Luxemburg commuters

For more than ten years, the European Union has been trying to implement common standards for signalling and train control systems to facilitate cross border rail traffic throughout Europe. The project is ERTMS (European Rail Traffic Management System). The technical standards are known as ETCS ( European Train Control System ) For the non technician, it is a cab signalling and security system which replaces visual recognition of the signals by the driver with automatic control systems of the trains via, either beacons ("balises") on the track (Level 1) or radio signals via GSM-R (Global System for Mobile Communications - Railways) (Level 2). 

 To advance the project (in agreement with all member countries) the EU established timetables for implementation along "corridors" of priority cross border routes. Modifications in the cabins of locomotives and self propelled train sets is needed plus adaptations on the tracks. It is costly and time-consuming. 

 The busy Nancy - Thionville - Luxembourg line is in one of the corridors for priority implementation. Although ETCS Level 1 "balises" have installed on the tracks between Uckange (south of Thionville) and Luxembourg City, there have been delays in equipping the TER Grand Est fleet. For several years France has requested postponement of deadlines and Luxembourg accepted. However, finally, Luxembourg refused to delay any longer and January 1st 2020 became the ultimate date of implementation on this. Thereafter, only trains equipped with ETCS can enter Luxembourg. 

 SNCF has a fleet of 25 Z 24500 emu's used by TER Grand Est (now Fluo) on the services across the Luxembourg border This fleet is being modified to operate under ETCS. It was expected that 12 emu's would be ready by the end of December. The remainder will be ready by June 2020. The cost for Grand Est Region will be 23 million euros and 5.5 million euros will be contributed by the EU. 

 So, temporarily, commuters will have to change trains at Thionville on some of the services due to half the fleet not being able to cross the border until modified. It is believed that about 12,000 - 15,000 passengers commute daily from Lorraine to work in Luxembourg. Traffic has doubled in the last ten years on this line which also carries freight. There have been two fatal rail accidents at the border in recent years (2006, 2017) with collisions between trains. This may explain the urgency to improve security systems. 

 Above; At Bettembourg, Luxembourg on Oct 8th 2019, a French Z 24500 passes a similar unit operated by Luxembourg Railways. Photo by Georges Turpin. 

The wrong kind of rain !

Between 1871 - 1875 the Compagnie des Chemins de fer de Vendée opened a local line from Les Sables d'Olonne to Tours via La Roche-sur-Yon (originally Napoleon-Vendée), Chantonnay, Bressuire and Thouars. The company was swiftly merged into Les Chemins de fer de l'Etat. Initially there were 3 stopping trains a day. Later a day express and a night train ran from Paris-Austerlitz to Les Sables via Bressuire. 

 In the summer of 1975, a 1st / 2nd class express departed Paris Austerlitz at 07.10 and reached Les Sables at 13.47. In the other direction the express left Les Sables at 12.43 and reached Paris at 19.42. The introduction of the TGV to Nantes put an end to such slow, meandering cross country trains through the département of Deux-Sèvres(79). At the beginning of the 21st century, the single track line from Thouars/Bressuire to La Roche-sur-Yon slumbered peacefully with 2 autorails daily. The summer months more recently have seen a limited day service from Saumur to Les Sables and back, denominated Train des Plages. These trains seem to be allocated according to what is available and the weather forecast. In favorable conditions, a double set of Regiolis units is possible, otherwise an AGC or 73500. 

 When the Train des Plages is not running, an afternoon service each way between Tours and La Roche-sur Yon is the only action. On November 18th 2019, even this discrete train was suspended indefinitely due to the rails having become too rusty (sic !) Indeed, the generally wet autumn became the ultimate excuse to close the line between Chantonnay and Bressuire (52 km) 

 Above. Two Pays de la Loire Regiolis sets in multiple-unit operation depart from Chantonnay (Vendée) with the return leg to Saumur of the Train des Plages in the autumn of 2019, a few weeks before the rusty rails caused the suspension of all traffic along this section of the line. Photo; Georges Turpin

December on the Blanc-Argent

On December 4, on the last day of normal working the 12:10 Romorantin - Salbris school train, consisting of X74502 and X74501, enters Selles Saint-Denis station. Note the presence of the old infrastructure with double-mushroom rails still visible on all tracks through the station. Photo Christophe Masse.

A suburban branch line (1876) closes in Northern France

Hauts de France has frequently promised that there would be no more railway closures in the Region. However, the official closure, on Dec 14th, 2019, of the single track branch line (15km) from La Madeleine* to Comines, has knocked a chink in the veracity of those statements. Due to the industrial action the last service in daylight was the 12:25 From Lille Flandres on the 4th December seen above after arrival at Comines. (Photo Didier Delattre) The final train was the 17.08 from Comines to Lille Flandres later that evening
Comines is a small town situated on the banks of the river Lys which flows north into Belgium along an arc around the western sector of the metropolitan area of Lille. The border runs along the centre of the waterway which, nowadays, is developed as a canal. Since the end of the Second World War, the population of the French commune of Comines has steadily grown from 7,000 inhabitants in 1947 to 12,300 in 2016. During those 70 years, while the population increased, the rail service has steadily declined ! In 1971, there were 7 trains a day on week days to Lille.  The journey took 33 - 35 minutes. In 2019, there has been a service of just 3 trains a day each way to Lille including 2 trains in the morning and 2 at the end of the afternoon. Speeds have been restricted on the branch to 40 kph since 2017 due to the absence of track renewal. There are no signals and only one train is allowed on the branch line. This impedes any increase in services. The journey time by rail from Comines to Lille Flandres is currently 36 minutes (because of the speed restriction), while the same journey by bus is 52 minutes. 

 The branch line to Comines does not present any obvious difficulties. It runs through fields and stops at 6 villages. There is one bridge over the river Déule. The line has been classified by SNCF Réseau as not justifying investment and the Region has not funded renewals of the infrastructure. However, hundreds of thousands of euros have been spent on studies of possible solutions including tram trains, trams and express bus services. The current preference is for an express bus service along the railway track bed despite the severe road congestion in central Lille that makes a rail journey the most rapid.
Early Years 

 In early times, villages clustered along the Lys valley where bridges crossed the river. Like others nearby, Comines is a community divided by the river and the border. The railway from Lille to Comines opened in 1876. A metal trellis bridge carried the line across the Lys to Belgium and an international train service was created from Lille to Courtrai (Kortrijk) via the two stations at Comines. A reversal was needed on the Belgian side. Seven trains daily operated between Lille and Courtrai before 1914. 

 During the First World War, Comines was destroyed during the conflict (Ypres is only 15 km to the north). The original station at Comines (F) seems to have survived mostly intact. The train service across the Lys continued from 1920 until 1940. After WW2, the trains from Lille terminated at Comines SNCB. In 1955, trains ceased to cross the river into Belgium at Comines. * La Madeleine, 5 km from Lille-Flandres, on the main line to Armentières and St-Omer. 
Comines in 2018 (Google Earth) 
 Comines-France at the beginning of the 20th century 
The bridge over the Lys at Comines. A steam train from Lille crosses into Belgium. 
Plan (Google Earth image 2004) annotations NEWS desk    

A final tribute to the RTG recounted ,,,,, it was 15 years ago !

The second generation turbotrain, RTG, was a hybrid train set powered by 2 gas turbine motors with hydraulique transmission that operated over all the SNCF network. 39 units were produced for SNCF between December 1972 and August 1976. The RTG was a 5 coach set with 2 motor coaches and 3 intermediate coaches. The top speed was 160 kph, the passenger capacity was 280-300, and the set was air-conditioned. Each motor coach was equipped with a gas turbine motor of 850 kW for traction and a smaller turbo motor of 320 kW for auxiliary power.
 Later, the sets were upgraded and one of the two motor coaches received a more economical 1200 kW turbo motor replacing the 850 kW motor. Two RTG sets could be operated in multiple-unit. The problem with the RTG was a very high fuel consumption ( much higher than that of a CC 72000 diesel). The fleet was gradually parked from 1995 for that reason. 

 In their final years of service, the RTG trains operated two return services a day between Bordeaux and Lyon via Limoges and Montluçon. These services were often in multiple unit and frequently full over the week ends. The last RTG trains were withdrawn in December 2004. Five RTG trains exceeded 6 million km during their service of approximately 30 years. 

 In extremis, a special charter was organised on Dec 12th 2004 by ARF (Amis du Rail du Forez). This was the last turbotrain commercial service to run on SNCF lines. The final train left St Etienne Châteaucreux at 09.00 bound for Le Puy-en-Velay, and your correspondent was on board for his first and last trip on an RTG. 

 The train was well filled and there were frequent photo stops. The temperature was below 0°C early on with a clear blue sky. The RTG reached Le Puy at 11.30 for a leisurely lunch break. At 15.00 the return journey began with several more stops and the ambiance on board became rather emotional as the RTG reached St Etienne after sunset at the end of its last journey. 

In November 2019, a small French producer of railway models (E.P.M Productions, Brittany) released the first batch of a reproduction of the five car RTG in HO scale. It is a model of No 32 that was based at Caen. The project has taken 5 years to reach this point. More batches of other versions will be released during 2020.  

Photos and text; Graham Skinner
© Peter Lovell & Graham Skinner. The French Railways Society 2019 - 2020. Photos by authors unless credited. Thanks to  Christophe Masse, D Michel Costes, Erwan Quintin, Olivier Janneau, Philippe Armand, François Leblond, Ilkka Huotelin, Georges Turpin and Didier Delattre
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