February 2020 News

Despite industrial action SNCF operated a VSOE charter from Paris to Reims on the 10th January hauled by CMR's BB 25236. Having run around the stock, upon returning from Reims, BB 25236 waits to depart from Gare de l'Est with the ECS for  Villeneuve-Prairie. Photo Christophe Masse.

Bombardier Omneo Premium trains to start operating in Normandie

The first double-deck Omneo Premium train (unit 605 XL), produced by Bombardier, is scheduled to start operations at the beginning of February 2020, subject to approvals. Unit 605 XL is expected to operate off-peak services, alternately, Paris St Lazare - Caen / Cherbourg and Paris - Rouen - Le Havre. Altogether, 40 units are on order for delivery during 2020, 2 units at the end of February and 3 - 4 per month thereafter. Above Z 56609/10 (unit 605 XL), was photographed by Romain Vergneres at Ménerville on January 15th during a transfer from Caen to Sotteville (future base for these trains).
The Omneo Premium emu's will replace the BB 15000's and BB 26000's and Corail stock that currently operate the long distance Normandie services. Above; BB 15004 recently transferred from TER Grand Est waits to depart from Trouville-Deauville for Paris Saint-Lazare on the 2nd January 2020. Below; In soft winter sunshine, BB 15052 passes Jouy-Mauvoisin with a Trouville-Deauville to Paris Saint-Lazare service on 19th January 2020. Both photos; Erwan Quintin.

Rail network returns to "quasi-normal" after severe industrial action.

Following the longest period of continual industrial action at SNCF since the 1960s, rail services returned to near normal from the 27th January. The 8 week period of strikes that began on the 5th December was part of a wide protest at the Government's plans to replace more than 40 separate pension schemes with a single national scheme that would have increased the general retirement age from 62 to 64. A poll in mid-January indicated that 60% of the population wanted the plans to be withdrawn

The impact of the strikes was wide-spread and, in particular, travel by rail in the Paris region was severely disrupted since RATP employees also walked out leaving many of the 14 Metro lines closed for 6 weeks, and the RER A and B, jointly operated by SNCF/RATP, were badly affected. In the absence of a "minimum" service, the 4.3 million Navigo season ticket holders will receive a refund for December and probably part of January. SNCF issued a provisional timetable for the period 20th December - 4th January, although services were only actually confirmed at 17:00 on the previous day. Participation in industrial action was strong during December and slowly diminished during January. TGV drivers were generally the first back to work and a higher proportion of TGV's operated than in any other division but they concern only a relatively small number of passengers. TER rail services, particularly on rural lines, remained badly affected with large scale bus replacements often only covering part of a route and with significantly extended times. Intercité trains were severely reduced and SNCF operated lengthy rakes on infrequent services. There were no local rail services in most of the Massif Central in December/January. The new Leman Express network at Geneva opened on time mid-December, but the 3 branches in France (Evian, Annecy, St Gervais) only opened with through trains to Switzerland in mid January.

The damage assessment 

 Due to strikes among staff operating signal boxes and traffic control centres, private train operators suffered also and only 25% of scheduled private freight trains were operated. There are no figures for SNCF FRET but it is clearly a further disaster for them. Thello, the Italian operator of the overnight Venice - Paris sleeper had to cancel their train for the entire period from 5th Dec to the end of January. The weekly Moscow - Paris sleeper was limited to Kehl on the east bank of the Rhine. Neither of the sleepers from Paris to Briançon or Rodez has run since Dec 5th. SNCF has quantified losses of revenue due to the strike at over 1 billion euros. It is estimated RATP may lose up to 150 million euros due to the strikes. SNCF is planning to sell some assets to cover the losses. The group owns about 1,000 subsidiaries in France, and around the world.

Further demonstrations took place on the 24th January when the draft legislation to reform the pensions system was presented to a cabinet meeting. In the ensuing days SNCF described services as 'quasi-normal' and advised passengers to check individual services before travelling. 

 The confrontation with the government is not finished since the new measures have to be processed into law and many details remain undecided including sources of financing. Expect further actions by the rail unions in the form of "spikes" of demonstrations and short regular strikes in the coming months.
On Saturday 28 December the 14.01 from Paris-Bercy to Clermont Ferrand was cancelled. SNCF issued replacement tickets by email for passengers to take the earlier 13.01, which was strengthened to a very heavy seventeen Corails, including one corridor First. In the photograph opposite taken at Moulins Sybic 26138 (on the left) has charge of the mammoth train, which managed to be on time. Not so the balancing service from Clermont Ferrand, seen on the right behind sister loco 26042 with 14 on, which was running 64 minutes late. Photo Chris Gwilliam.

Below. After an absence of nearly two months the 18:05 Paris Est - La Ferte Milon returned on the 16th January, now one of the remaining handful of diesel hauled passenger services in France. On 17th January BB 67515 waits to depart from Gare de l'Est. Photo Erwan Quintin.

Grand Est TER becomes fluo

Grand Est is the latest region to brand its TER services following on from "Zou" (PACA region), "liO" (Occitanie) and "Rémi" (Centre Val de Loire), now "fluo" from the Grand-Est Region!  

Above. Recently delivered B85073/074 one of the additional Alstom Coradia (Regiolis) units ordered by Grand Est passes Vaires station (77) on 24th January. Having entered service the previous day it has worked up from Mulhouse and is operating  TER 839111, terminating exceptionally at Château-Thierry due to industrial action. Photo Christophe Masse

"Départ" for the new Cévenol train

The new Cévenol train officially entered service between Nîmes and Clermont-Ferrand in the second half of January, 2020, operated with 3 new Régiolis bi-mode 4 coach units. On January 27th, after some test runs in the previous week, the first "official" northbound train with 84695 was photographed above by Philippe Delaunay at Saint Geniès de Malgloirès. This is the first stop after Nîmes. The unit was received on 25th July 2019. The other two units were delivered later in the year. ( 84697 on 29th Nov 2019, and 84699 on 16th Jan 2020). These Regiolis sets are decorated with the Occitanie region transport livery ("liO") and the destinations are indicated at the top of the body sides. Inside, the accommodation is in Regional configuration with electric plugs and some bicycle racks. 

 The TER service between Nîmes and Clermont-Ferrand is organised by Occitanie region since 1st Jan 2018. The 3 Regiolis train sets for the Cevenol were financed by the French State. (It was previously an intercité train.). Departure from Nîmes is at 14h18, and from Clermont-Ferrand at 12h50. The journey time is 5 hours northbound and 5h10 southbound. The two trains cross at La Bastide Saint Laurent.

INFRA in the Haute Garonne (31)

At Lannemezan, Haute Pyrénées (65), an engineering base has been created for the major RVB underway to renew the tracks between Boussens and Muret. This work is carried out overnight. The base is reached by using a short section of the former branch line up the Aure valley to the village of Arreau which closed in 1969. This section, still used for freight, was reinforced for the heavy engineering trains. SNCF Réseau reports that the renewals were scheduled from 14 October 2019 to 20 March 2020 with a 2 week break over Christmas/New Year. The scope of the work; 85 km of track to be replaced, 40 level crossings, 450 staff employed, budget of 107 million euros. Report and photos  by Georges Turpin
 Above The daily INFRA ballast train ( 66547 St Jory - Lannemezan) rolls along the Toulouse - Tarbes main line on 16th Junuary 2020 hauled by BB 67472 and BB 67567. The concrete catenary poles on the up track date from 1924 ! 

Opposite. At  Lannemezan on the 16th January the engineering train prepared for the overnight RVB work near Boussens is ready to move from the INFRA base to a siding at the Gare, triple headed by BB 69439, BB 69403, ECR 66423. The electrical junction seen in the background connects the Lannemezan SNCF sub-station to the national grid. 

Beauvais - Abancourt - Le Tréport re-opens after 18 months

After closure during 18 months, this 104 km single track line will be re-opened on February 3rd, some seven weeks later than planned. Rails, sleepers and ballast have been replaced, level crossings have been renewed and signalling systems replaced. The stations at Aumale, Blangy-sur-Bresle, Longroy-Gamaches, Eu and Le Tréport-Mers-les-Bains were renovated and made accessible.
In stage 1, trains will operate from Beauvais to Abancourt from February 3rd 2020. Later, the line from Abancourt to Le Tréport will be re-opened. It is reported that through trains from Paris- Nord to Le Tréport will operate again, probably during the summer. In mid January, the new rail timetable had not been issued.

Opposite. The new track and crossing at PN 74, St Omer en Chausee, in June 2019
Above. On the 12th January  BB7321 in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté TER livery ( described as Tomato Sauce and Mayonniase) waits to depart from  Paris-Gare-de-Lyon with a service for Laroche-Migennes. Photo Erwan Quintin

Unexpected withdrawal of the last 19 TGV Sud Est (SE) train sets

In December 2019, during a major conflict with rail unions, SNCF suddenly withdrew all the last TGV's of the Ist generation that were deployed out of Paris-Nord. There was no ceremony or announcement and only specialised observers could express surprise, for those TGV SE units were among 34 that had received a renovation at Romilly-sur-Seine between 2011 and 2017 (the first TGV completed was No 15 and the last one was TGV No 31). That programme comprised a renovation of the interior, Carmillon livery and an overhaul to extend the operating life by 10-12 years. 

 It had been expected that the renovated TGV SE fleet would operate until 2022 - 2025. But a policy of concentrating traffic on fewer, but larger capacity TGV's (100% double deck Duplex units) has resulted in the withdrawal of the TGV SE units before their time. Also, some of the more recent POS, single deck TGV's released by Lyria have been transferred to the North region to replace the SE units.

The revolution of the high speed train in France 

 Let us recall the impact of the first TGV trains. A high speed line was constructed directly across the Morvan hills from Paris to Lyon avoiding the detour via Dijon. Opened in two stages in 1981 and 1983, the ultimate journey time of 2 hours was nearly half that of the historic loco-hauled Mistral via Dijon (3h50m). 
A fleet of 102 TGV Sud-Est units was delivered between 1980 - 1986(*). The train-sets were orange, the colour of modernity at that time. (The last TGV in orange livery ran in 2000 ). These high speed trains were identified by 3 letters which became a trade mark recognised around the world. The accommodation was arranged for two classes (a radical change since, until then, the fastest trains had been reserved for 1st class plus a supplement). Initially, the TGV SE sets operated at 260 kph on the first section of the Paris - Lyon high speed line. Later the speed limit was increased to 270 kph and finally, with a change of cab signalling system, the TGV SE units operated at 300 kph.
The end of the 1st generation TGV's 

 The reduction of the TGV SE fleet began in 2012. At the same time, the renovation programme for older units was started at Romilly as explained above. In December 2019, the last TGV SE units were withdrawn; Nos 01, 03, 04, 06, 07 - 09, 12 - 15, 17, 19, 23, 31, 39, 40, 42, 60. 83 units of the fleet each exceeded 10 million km. No 51 exceeded 13 million km.

Preservation of TGV SE units 

 The complete TGV No 16 is preserved at Alstom, La Rochelle. This unit held the world rail speed record before being overtaken by other TGV's on different lines. A motor coach from unit 32 is displayed at Romilly-sur-Seine. An orange motor coach is displayed at the Mulhouse Cité du Train. Two other motor coaches are believed to be reserved for the museum. 


Top; Triangle de Coubert, June 23rd 2000. A double set of TGV SE units bound for Annecy. 
Middle upper; Maisons-Alfort, July 2000. A double set inbound to Paris Gare de Lyon with TGV SE No 13. 
Middle lower; No 23 at Evian-les-Bains, July 7th 1991. Opposite. LGV Rhin-Rhône near Besançon, TGV SE No 15 August 2016. 

Le Train No 381 (January 2020). Rail Passion No 267 (January 2020)

(*) Additionally (in 1981, 1983 and 1985) 7 tri-voltage TGV's were built for services to Switzerland (Lausanne and Berne). They were numbered 110 - 117. An extra one (118) was created from No 88 in 1989. These eight tri-voltage TGV SE units were withdrawn in December 2012 and in 2013. 
Picasso autorail X 4039 expected back in service for 2020 season 

X 4039 is operated by the association ABFC (Autorails Bourgogne Franche-Comté), based at Dijon Perrigny, and created in 1983. When the Picasso railcar unexpectedly failed on July 21st 2019 while operating an excursion near Volvic, many organisations in the industry rallied around to help. 

 First, the autorail was moved to TRANSVAP near Le Mans for the repairs. TRANSVAP has a work shop and experience with the Picasso. It is believed that a mechanical failure occurred in the transmission line between the gearbox and the driving axle of 4039. The association "Train Touristique du Centre Var" donated a complete gearbox + transmission line to ABFC. This was delivered to TRANSVAP in October 2019. 

 In order to replace the transmission line, the motor, gearbox and assorted pipes and wires had to be removed. It was expected that repairs would be completed during January 2020, to be followed by test running at Conneré-Beillé and later a test run on the main line. The plan is for the autorail to return to Dijon at the end of April.

This years programme is available via this link. Only one tour, to Auch on the 10th October will be steam hauled, the others will be handled by BB7338 or BB 66304

ABFC Tour Programme (X 4039)

ABFC's tour programme for 2020 (see report opposite) is available via this link

231 K  8 (MFPN)
After its visit to the CFTVA festival in April 231 K 8's first trip is expected to be from Paris to Reims on 16th May.
Festival de la Vallée de l'Aa

Arques based CFTVA (Chemin de Fer Touristique de la Vallée de l'Aa) will be celebrating their 30th anniversary with a spring festival from 18th - 19th April. 

Details have yet to be released but MFPN and PVC have indicated that 231 K 8 and 231 G 558 are scheduled to attend. It seems unlikely that the pacifics will be travelling to Arques with special trains, but they are expected to operate some of the CFTVA services between Arques and Lumbres. 

Brittany Ferries to introduce freight service

Brittany Ferries has announced the introduction of a Bayonne - Cherbourg freight service. The service will operate once a day with capacity for 100 lorries. The move will have clear ecological benefits, and take  account  of the changes being seen in the run-up to Brexit with truck traffic from the Iberian peninsula having increased by 30% in the last year. The new service will provide a rail motorway between the Basque Country, the United Kingdom and Ireland via the port of Cherbourg.

CFBS rebuilds another Somme coach.

ACf 10301 was the first of the Somme coaches delivered to the Baie de Somme network by Manage of Belgium in 1921. It was one of eleven original Somme coaches inherited by the CFBS in 1971. At this stage the bodywork had deteriorated to such an extent that it had been dismantled with the frame and bogies being used as a flatbed wagon. 

 Fifty years later 10301 is being rebuilt with a new body of sustainable exotic hardwood by master craftsmen in Abbeviile. Seen opposite with the exterior nearing completion, this is the second Somme coach to be completely rebuilt with a new body in recent years. 

Once the main bodywork is complete 10301 will be moved to St Valery for fitting out and overhaul of the bogies and running gear. It is expected to return to service in 2021/2022 

 Photo Alain Paillard  

The last steam train from Gare de la Bastille, half a century ago.

Let us recall the closure of the rail terminus in the Place de la Bastille (Paris XII), 50 years ago in December 1969. It was a consequence of the electrification of the suburban line to Boissy Saint Leger, part of the future Regional Express Railway            ( RER A ) under central Paris. The new underground section from Vincennes to Nation would bypass the original branch so carefully inserted from Saint Mandé through the 12th arrondissement to Bastille in 1859. The history of the terminus was described by David Thomas in his comprehensive 10 page article "Taking the Bastille" (The SNCF Society Journal, No 159, September 2015).
The last few months of operations

Contrary to the belief that the July column in the Place de la Bastille is dedicated to the memory of the revolution of 1789, the column was, in fact, completed in 1840 to commemorate the 2nd revolution, in July 1830, that toppled Charles X and replaced him with Louis Philippe 1er. Over 1,000 died in that conflict on the streets of Paris. 

In July 1969, our correspondent Michel Costes. climbed the 240 steps to the balcony and took the aerial view (below) of the Gare de la Bastille, six months before it closed. The train shed ( opened in 1859) is perched above the Rue de Lyon. Trains departed past the small signal box on to a double track brick-built viaduct, 1.5 km long with 62 arches. (see map above for the route to Vincennes.)

 In the final months before closure, this suburban railway to Boissy-St-Leger (22 km) operated very much as it had done for the previous 110 years, that is with steam traction. Bastille station had hardly changed. The left hand entrance was for departures and the right hand exit was used by arriving passengers. Sets of stone steps worn by more than a century of use led up to the covered platforms. There were 3 platforms (5 tracks). The layout allowed for simultaneous arrivals and departures. Signalling and points were operated mechanically from the Saxby signal box squeezed on to the edge of the viaduct. A small depot next to the train shed could service up to six locomotives. 

 Originally, there were electric traversers at the ends of the platform tracks to release the engines on incoming trains. Since 1960, these were rarely used. They were replaced by 4 - 6 coach reversible trains that were operated with driving trailers, and class 1-141TB tank engines (in the final 4 years).. 

 At the beginning of December 1969, a heavy snow storm swept across the city. Our correspondent, Michel Costes, ventured into the station during the storm. Inside the train shed there was shelter next to a suburban carriage with three double doors. Access was by 3 steps up from the low platform to enter the steam heated carriage which had wooden seats in 2nd class.
The last day of steam services 

 December 13th 1969 was a cold, damp, drizzly day in the Paris region. Conditions deteriorated to below freezing during the evening.

Every few minutes, a steam hauled train would depart as usual along the viaduct to Reuilly, Bel Air, Saint-Mandé and Vincennes, then along the winding Marne valley to Boissy Saint Leger. At the end of the evening, groups of spectators gathered under a dark overcast sky to observe and photograph the final services. The last train was scheduled to leave well after midnight (in fact on December 14th), at 0h.50. The watchers clustered quietly together in the freezing cold on the central platform, track 3, outside the train shed next to TB 141 432 on the last train.

It was time to go. The "carré" swivelled to the clear position. The station master blew his whistle, the engine responded with a long sustained blast and steamed away into the mist along the viaduct. It would reach Boissy-Saint-Léger at 01h.31 where the temperature was minus 10°C. Electric trains were already parked there, ready to take over a few hours later with the first train of the morning, destination Nation. 

Opposite Top. A photo of probably the last ticket issued at Paris-Bastille. Michel Costes purchased it at the guichet still open after midnight on Dec 13th 1969. He used it to travel on the last train 00.50 from Paris Bastille. He got off at Vincennes and took a taxi home. 
December 2019. Memories

Bastille station was demolished in 1984 despite opposition. In its place, the new building for the Paris Opera was constructed. It was opened in 1989. The Daumesnil viaduct survives. The arches contain boutiques and workshops. Along the top, trees and shrubs signal the "Promenade planté", a pedestrian trail that occupies the former track bed for 3 km across the 12th arrondissement between residential blocks of flats and through some short tunnels as far as the ring road. The trail was opened in 2000. Two of the tank engines that operated on the Bastille line in the final years survive at AJECTA Longueville (No 407) and at Carhaix - Vapeur du Trieux (No 424). 

New book.  La Vie du Rail plans to publish a new book; "Il y a 50 ans ... Paris-Bastille" by Didier Leroy. Publication depends on receiving a minimum of 350 firm orders prior to the end of January 2020. 

(News update 29th January. LVDR advises that the new book will be published at the end of February)
Acnowledgements: Our thanks to D Michel Costes, an eye-witness at the closure for help with this article. All the black & white photos were taken by Michel
Photos Above. 
Top - The Daumesnil viaduct.  
Middle.  - The "promenade planté" along the former track bed.
Lower. - One of the "promenade planté".tunnels near Bel Air, 
© Peter Lovell & Graham Skinner. The French Railways Society  2020. Photos by authors unless credited. Thanks to Christophe Masse, D Michel Costes, Erwan Quintin, Georges Turpin, Alain Paillard,  Chris Gwilliam,  Romain Vergneres and Philippe Delaunay
© The French Railways Society 2018, - 2021 All Rights Reserved
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