May 2020 News

Minimal rail traffic as lockdown continues

With the lockdown in France continuing throughout April, and scheduled to continue until 11th May, rail traffic has remained minimal. On the 30th March the number of trains that ran, and as a percentage of normal services were as follows: TGV - 55 6.7% TER -1246  15.7% Transilien - 1254  29.1% Other - 4  4.8% Frêt (all) -  618  68.9%. The figures are indicative of the daily traffic during  April. Those trains that are running are around or between the major conurbations with secondary and rural lines seeing little or no services. Trains that do not require a compulsory reservation are only confirmed at 17:00 on the previous evening, while rural lines are suspended on a weekly basis.  Virtually all engineering work has been suspended and the re-opening of Abancourt - Le Treport deferred

The need for social distancing has resulted in  TGV's  running at 50% capacity and Transilien at 20%. Passengers need to have a legitimate reason to travel with police checking attestations at major stations.

The lockdown will continue until 11th May, when shops and commercial outlets (including small museums and galleries where social distancing can be maintained) will re-open subject to epidemic indicators continuing to fall. The position of cafés, bars and restaurants will be considered at the end of May. In départements that are categorised green with little or no presence of the virus prefets and mayors will have a wider discretion. An attestation or declaration will only be required for journeys of more than 100 km.

SNCF and the other transport operators will increase services to 70% of normal schedules although social distancing will reduce capacity and wider travel will be discouraged. Employers are being asked to introduce periods of work that use off peak transport  to reduce peak loading, and to continue home working where possible. Social distancing of one metre (compared to two metres in the UK) will be maintained on trains and in stations, and passengers will be required to wear masks. Washable and reusable masks will be widely available. While it will be possible to maintain social distancing on TGVs through the seat reservation system it will be more difficult to enforce on Metro and other trains and discussions continue.

The lockdown is having a devastating effect on France's preserved railways. Income during the lucrative Easter and early May bank holidays has already been lost. By early April APPEVA (Petit train de Haute Somme) estimated that they were €30,000 down and were seeking donations. For CFBS the position is significantly greater with 20 full time staff, the majority of whom have had to be furloughed, and all volunteer activity suspended. As a result planned maintenance and restoration work has ceased. Government backed loans are available to maintain cash flow, although the repayments will impact on expenditure in 2021-2023

When services on preserved lines are allow to open the Societies have asked the Government to impose no additional conditions than those applied to public transport. Even so income will be constrained as social distancing will reduce capacity and require additional staff to manage passengers. To ensure passenger numbers do not exceed capacity, tickets are likely to be limited to internet sales. All of this assumes that visitors will return to tourist lines this year.

Photos. Above: The scene at Luzy on 16th March with the line closed with trains in position for  an engineering possession. The lockdown started two days later and at the end of April they remained in the same position. Photo: Patrick Bennett.
Below. The last train before the storm. A last photo before lockdown for our regular correspondent Georges Turpin as stormy weather approaches the village of Pexiora, Aude, 25 km west of Carcassonne. AGC bimode unit B 81801/2 has kept the colourful Languedoc-Roussillon livery since entering service on Dec 22, 2008. The church was built originally in the 14th century with fortifications in 16th century. 

February in Lozere and Cantal

A visit to the Lozere and Cantal departments in February for railway photography does not sound the most promising proposition. With some careful planning and clear winter sunshine some excellent results were obtained on the two classic routes south from Clermont Ferrand. We are very grateful to Erwan Quintin for sharing his results with us.. 
On the 22nd February Massif Central autorails X2914 and X2819 operated by AP2800 Le Train Bleu du Sud based at Langogne enjoyed a day out on the Ligne de Cevennes. Above, the pair are seen on the horseshoe viaduct as they approach Chapeauroux and and later in the day (below right) crossing the Viaduc des Bras on the way to La Bastide.
SNCF Fret still retain a pair of Class BB 67400s at Clermont Ferrand to operate freight services to the ArcelorMittal plant at St Chely-d'Apacher specialising in electrical steel, and to the Auvergne water bottling plant at La Bourboule. The two services  generally run on alternate days. The older locomotives are preferred to Class BB 75000s  as their bogies are more sympathetic to the  fragile track on the routes involved. Above: As the early morning mist clears on 20th February BB 67494/67559 prepare to leave Neussargues with the outward train to St Chely. Below left: At midday the return working arrives at Neussargues from St Chely. It is about to pass the water crane that will have been redundant for 50 years. Below right: The following day the two locomotives are seen heading towards La Bourboule with BB 67559 leading,
As we have previously reported the Clermont Ferrand - Beziers Aubrac has managed to survive mainly with support from the Occitaine Region. It is still shown in the timetable as an Intercite service where it is described as a "Classic SNCF train without reservation linking major towns". For some time the service has operated in two separate sections that meet at Neussargues, where passengers need to change trains. On the 20th February the classic SNCF train for the southern section from Beziers to Neussargues and return was one of the remaining Z2 units, Z7372 livery dating from 1984 in Languedoc-Roussillon. It is seen above passing through Talizat north of St Flour with the southbound service. Below are two views of the northbound service earlier in the day

News round up

Flixtrain abandons French rail plans.

Flixmobility, owner of Flixtrains has announced that it has abandoned plans to operate services in France. The principal reason is the high level of track access charges.

Flixtrain had originally intended to operate  four domestic routes and a Paris - St Quinten - Brussels service from January 2021. Elsewhere in Europe they provide a hi-tech low cost service using reconditioned coaches and locomotives. Their business model is to form a strategic partnership with an operater who can source the rolling stock and operate the services, while Flixtrain handles the marketing and electronic ticketing.

Since the beginning of the lockdown Flixbus has suspended all long distance bus services in France.
Railfreight operators form  4F alliance.

France's railfreight operators have come together to form the 4F alliance calling on the government to support increased use of freight services following the 
 Loi d’Orientation des Mobilités in December  2019. 
This calls for a a strategy to develop rail freight which must be presented to parliament by January 1 2021. The aim of the Alliance is to increase the share of the freight market handled by rail from the current level of 9% to 18% by 2030.

The alliance consists of Fret SNCF, VFLI, Euro Cargo Rail, Europorte, Lineas, AFRA, RegioRail and some smaller operators. It marks a change on the part of SNCF who only a few years ago were fined €61 million by the French competition authorities  by booking phantom paths and yard space to disrupt the activities of the private operators.
Time on your hands

If you have time on your hands while we stay at home below is a link to a film  La Gare from the SNCF archive discovered by Georges Turpin

'La Gare' is a 16mm black and white film made at Beauvais in 1960. It takes you back to the days of mechanical signalling, steam heating, manual track maintenance with no hi-vis clothing and the uneasy sight of shunters with poles running alongside moving wagons.

                                 La Gare

TRANSILIEN Lines L + U blocked at Sèvres Ville d'Avray 

As previously reported, rail traffic is suspended on Transilien Lines L and U, between Saint Cloud and Versailles Rive-Droite, and La Défense - Versailles Chantiers. This interruption is due to a land slip on February 6th in a cutting at Sèvres Ville d'Avray. The slope is very unstable and material has blocked the line. Further movements occurred at the beginning of March. 

 As of April 20th, contractors had stabilized the top of the slope with metal spikes and concrete. At the bottom of the slope drainage tubes have been inserted. The track bed was cleared and repaired. 

 It is currently expected that the line will re-open on May 4th, in readiness for when the COVID 19 lockdown is expected to be gradually eased and rail traffic will increase. This work site was given priority and was only closed 4 days due to the lockdown on March 20th. (see photo below)
As reported above work on stabilising the cutting at Sèvres Ville d'Avray and restoring  Transilien Lines L & U has largely continued during the lockdown.  On 24th April a TSO Vossloh G1206 61795 is seen waiting to enter the cutting at Sèvres with an engineers train of fresh ballast. Photo Erwan Quintin.

A sleeping giant awakes

In 1928, a rail route from Pau to Sarragosse(Aragon) was opened directly across the central Pyrenean mountains. In France, the new railway line started at Pau (177m) and reached Oloron in 1883. It continued into the narrow Aspe valley and reached Bedous (220m) in 1914. The first 60 km of the line had been relatively straightforward to construct with gradients of 1 in 50. After Bedous, the gradients became challenging, 1 in 30 to Urdos and 1 in 23 for the final 7 km to the summit tunnel at Somport. The rail tunnel is 7.8 km long, single track, and it emerges into the head of the Aragon valley at the Spanish village of Canfranc (1195m). Along the steep section of 23 km from Bedous to the entrance of the Somport tunnel, there were 14 tunnels (including one spiral tunnel) and 4 bridges. Due to the stiff gradients, the line in France was electrified at 1500 volts with 3 sub stations from the opening of the line. 
The vast 3 storey symetrical station building was constructed in stone with a blue/grey slate tiled roof. The length is 241 mètres (780 ft). Each side of the building is identical with 75 double doors and 150 windows. Each platform is covered with a canopy supported on iron pillars. One side for the French trains and the other side for the Spanish broad gauge trains. In the centre of the building was the ornate Art Deco booking hall. The ceiling was above the second storey and this square space was roofed by a coupole.

For the station transit all functions were duplicated (Customs and passport control, administration for SNCF and RENFE). There was a buffet and a hotel inside the building. There were two underground pedestrian tunnels to connect the station to the village. 

After an inauguration in pomp and circumstance, expectations were quickly dashed. A few months later the stock market crash created the Great Depression and, in 1936, the border crossing was closed during 4 years because of the Spanish Civil war. From 1940, a certain activity reigned with a flow of passengers and goods between Portugal, Spain. and Switzerland. From 1942, German troops occupied Canfranc station. In 1946, the line was again closed across the border during 4 years due to poiitcal problems in Spain. 

 During the 1950's and 1960's, a few local trains daily meandered along the line between Pau and Canfranc, often mixed Marchandises/Voyageurs (MV). In March 1970, trains from France ceased to emerge from the Somport tunnel after an accident destroyed a rail bridge over the river Aspe and cut the line south of Bedous. The girder bridge was never rebuilt and the giant passenger terminus at Canfranc entered a long sleep, disturbed only by the occasional RENFE diesel railcar The station site was mostly abandoned and the monumental BV became derelict in the absence of maintenance and a purpose.
50 years later 

 Unexpectedly, in 2006, Aragon Region resolved to renovate the former Batiment Voyageur (BV) and revive Canfranc village. In 2013, Aragon Region purchased the monumental terminus and accelerated a programme to re-develop the station site at Canfranc. A new station is being constructed and will open in 2020. The former BV is being converted into a luxury hotel and a museum with a railway theme. The project is expected to be completed in 2021. The political leaders of Aragon Region in Spain and Nouvelle Aquitaine Region in France have resolved to re-open the rail route between Pau and Sarragosse. But there no support from central governments or SNCF. Next month we will examine the features of the projects to re-open Bedous - Canfranc and judge if they are likely to succeed.


Top:Canfranc from the mountain top (Newsdesk collection)
Middle: Special trains at Canfranc in March 1994 and March 1996. 3 photos by Georges Turpin 
Below: Canfranc former passenger terminus in Dec 2019. Work on the exterior is nearly finished. work on the interior is ongoing. Rail tracks have been lifted between the BV and the village. Photo by CRELOC (association for the reopening of Pau - Sarragosse)

Nérondes (Cher) -  A country station building demolished

Nérondes is a rural village in the département of Cher, Centre-Val-de-Loire Region. It has a population of 1,530. The railway station was opened in 1847. It is situated at PK 269 on the double track line from Vierzon to Saincaze. The line was electrified in 2011. 

 For the first 100 years of its existence the station was obviously quite busy as seen in the old postcard view above. There was a water tower, a large goods shed and sidings and no doubt facilities for loading grain. In 2007, only the empty "batiment voyageurs" remained on the site, dominated by grain storage towers. 

 In February 2020, the BV was demolished and nothing remains of this station but two empty platforms for an occasional TER (Bourges - Nevers). This sad story was first disclosed in Massif Central Ferroviaire a recommended data base of French Rail infrastructure.

Below left. In August 2007, CC 72074 passed Nérondes with a cross country Corail express (possibly Tours - Lyon). 

Additions to FRS Photo Archive during April

-MTVS 7 - Locotracteurs CFD & Ateliers Montmirail -  
- MTVS 38 - Locotracteurs 
-MTVS 39 - CdF de la Dordogne 
-MTVS 40 - Dix ans dévolutions sur métriques français --MTVS 41 - CdF Dept Haute-Vienne 
-MTVS 44 - CdF Lagny a Montcerf 
-MTVS 45 - Tramway Meaux a Dammartin 
-MTVS 46 - Tramways Alpes-Maritimes 
-MTVS 47 - Tramways du Lot & Garonne 
-MTVS 50 - Repertoire VFIL 1927 

-MTVS 51 - Repertoire VF Sec Interest General & Automotrices Secondaires 
- MTVS 52 - CdF du Beaujolais MTVS HS 1986 - Histoire du rail en Bigorre 
 -MTVS HS 1988 - 141TD740 
 -Non-French gallery (Colour) 
 -Non-French gallery (B&W) 
-Railway (& other) models gallery 
 -Geoffrey Nickson B&W - Blanc Argent 

Indexes added to the FRS public folder during April 2020

-Photographic index Non-French gallery (Colour) 
-Photographic index Non-French gallery (B&W) 
-Photographic index Railway Models gallery 
-Photographic Index for Geoffrey Nickson B&W - Blanc Argent

Opposite Lucay le Male Photo Geoffrey Nickson

Lyon: The airport express tram shuttle is too profitable !

Rhônexpress is the tram shuttle at Lyon between Lyon Part-Dieu and Saint-Exupéry airport. It was opened in August 2010. It operates as a limited stop service on TCL* tram tracks through the east Lyonnais suburbs and then for ten minutes along its own track (at 100 kph) to the airport.
 There is a small fleet of 6 Stadler Tango trams (71 seats). The journey time is 29 minutes and the ticket price is high. There are 4 trams an hour.**

Rhônexpress is a consortium that includes Vinci and Trandev. It obtained a contract for 30 years from 2007 to operate the service. It currently charges 16.30 euros for a one way ticket between the airport and Part-Dieu. In 2018, it made a profit of nearly 3 million euros on a turnover of 19 million euros. The Metropole of Lyon and SYTRAL*** started negotiations to modify the contract, without success. 

 SYTRAL resolved on February 20th to cancel the contract as they judged that profits were excessive. With 8 months notice, the Rhônexpress service will be terminated in October and SYTRAL will take over the route as part of TCL They plan to reduce the single ticket price to 12 euros. It is expected that the fleet of 6 trams will be increased.  

Photos on Nov 19, 2011 at Lyon Part-Dieu and at Villeurbanne 

* TCL; Transport en commun à Lyon 
** Since April 2, the Rhônexpress service is suspended due to COFID 19 and replaced by a "taxi on request" 
*** SYTRAL - Syndicat mixte des transports pour la Rhône et agglomération lyonnaise.

Round-up of Tramway News in Ile de France

The momentum of development of tram lines in Ile de France has met some turbulence in recent years. Local opposition to projects that had already been approved has resulted in tremendous delays on certain projects to extend T1, T4, T7. 

 The multiple administrative levels (State, Region, département, commune) are detrimental to efficiency and contribute to delays. From the date of concept to date of opening of a new tram line, 12 - 15 years can elapse, sometimes up to 20 years ! It represents up to 4 cycles of local elections, each 5 year cycle presents the risk of political interference in previously approved projects. Currently, the extensions of T1 east and west and the extension of T7 to Juvisy are delayed by local political objections. 

 Terminology has been simplified. All light rail systems in Ile de France are now called "Tram". The use of "tram-train" or "tangentielle" is abandoned. All the lines are numbered in approximate chronological order of opening dates.
Tram 1 A very short extension ( 900 m) was opened in October 2019 at the western end of the line between Gennevilliers Les Courtilles and Asnières Quatre Routes. There are two further extensions westwards planned; 
- the first one across Colombes (5.5 km, 11 stops, 27 minutes). Opening estimated 2023, but the extension is not funded at this date. 
- the second one from Petit-Colombes across Nanterre and into Rueil-Malmaison (7.5 km, 15 stops, 26 mins). Opening estimated 2027 / 2030, after completion of the previous stage. 

 Tram 1 in the Seine-Saint-Denis(93) was opened in 1992. A fleet of 35 Alstom TFS trams (designed in the 1980's) operates the line -  (photos opposite) The fleet is no longer suited to the traffic levels. An invitation to bid was issued on July 2, 2019 for up to 120 new trams, including an initial firm requirement for 37 trams. The specifications are for vehicles 33 mètres long, 2,40 m wide, low level access, 6 doors, a capacity of 220. (The shorter TFS trams have a capacity of 178 ). During the next 2 1/2 years, the tram stops along the route will be adapted (lengthened to 30m, in some cases repositioned and modified for wheel chair access). Due to space restrictions, the Tram 1 stop at Saint-Denis SNCF station will be moved to the west side of the SNCF station. The new trams will be delivered from the second half of 2022. Extra space has to be found in the Bobigny depot for them. 

Tram 7 The first section of this line was opened in November 2013. It runs from Villejuif to Athis-Mons via Rungis and Orly airport (photo opposite), 11.2 km with 18 stops. Originally, it was planned to extend the line along a second section of 3.8 km to Juvisy SNCF station (RER C + D). Completion was expected in 2019. However, at this date, no construction work has started. 

 Since the Declaration of Public Utility in November 2013, local elections took place Juvisy and the new town council opposed the project. They refused the 800 m tunnel under the municipal park (cutting down trees) and the suppression of numerous parking spots in the town centre. Ignoring the completion of the first section of T7 at a cost of 330 million euros, Juvisy town council proposed a bus service for the second section ! Although town councils have no legal right of veto on this kind of project, in practice, work cannot take place in the town without agreement of the mayor. Local elections took place again in March. Maybe some progress will be made soon to complete Tram 7. 

Tram 9
The next new tramway to open will be Tram 9. Construction is proceeding for an opening planned for the end of 2020. The line will run from Porte de Choisy to Orly Ville and will replace bus line 183. At Porte de Choisy, passengers will be able to change to Tram 3a or Metro Line 5. Tram 9 will be a busy line with up to 80,000 passengers expected, daily. There will be 23 Alstom trams of the latest generation. 4 trams have already been delivered by the beginning of March 2020. Construction of the tram depot is nearing completion. Opposite is a link to a short video which explains and illustrates the choice of the site and stages of construction .
© Peter Lovell & Graham Skinner. The French Railways Society 2020. Photos by authors unless credited. Thanks to  Erwan Quintin, Georges Turpin, Patrick Bennett and Geoffrey Nickson.
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