June 2020 News

Above. The increase in services has seen some of the Haut de France TER BB 22200s back in service with three locomotives diagrammed for Lille - Aulnoye/Amiens services. On 16th May BB 22273 enters Le Quesnoy with an Aulnoye - Lille service. Photo Charles Hinton.
Rail services begin to return to "new normal"
With the first easing of France's lockdown from 11th May SNCF has started to increase rail services. Services from Monday 11th May were as follows (% of normal services):
 TGVs 35% (40-50% on Paris routes, 15% on cross country routes.) 
 Ouigo 16% 
 Transilien 60% between 06:00 - 22:00 (ranging from 80% on Line A to 33% on Line U) 
 TERs 55% 
 Intercités 25% (28% daytime traffic, no overnight services) 
 International traffic: Eurostar/Thalys 8%, Lyria 11%, TGV Inoui Italy 17%, SNCF/DB 15% SNCF/RENFE - no services.  

SNCF has introduced additional cleaning and sanitisation of rolling stock. Strict social distancing is in force with all passengers required to wear masks and keep a metre apart from other travellers. Services with mandatory reservations are only operating at 50% capacity to maintain social distancing. 
 Most TERs have introduced some form of capacity control to maintain social distancing. Passengers in the Occitanie Region are required to have an access card for their chosen train in addition to the normal ticket. The boarding card "ticket access serein" is free but can only be obtained on-line and must be home printed or downloaded to the SNCF app on a smart phone. It can be obtained up to 7 days in advance. In Hauts de France Region passengers on any service departing from or terminating at Lille or Paris are required to obtain a coupon d'accès for their train. These can only be obtained on-line up to three days before travel and downloaded onto a smart phone or printed off. Even then, passengers are advised to check that their train is running using the online journey planner after 17:00 on the day before travel.  
In Ile de France passengers travelling at peak (from 06h30 to 09h30 and from 16h00 to 19h00) hours must fill in a certificate with travel only allowed for specified essential purposes, if travelling to work an employer's certificate is required. On TER routes preliminary timetables have been introduced for the period 11th May - 1st June (5th July on some lines) with services concentrated around major town and cities, while services for rural areas remain sparse. 
On the Amiens - Calais route there were only two services daily each way between Abbeville and Rang de Fliers, and only four services each way between Amiens and Rouen, the last service from Amiens departing at 15:25. From 2nd June more services are being introduced with about 60% of scheduled services operating. Around Toulouse most TER lines received a limited service from 11th May, e.g. to Auch, Albi, Carmaux, and one return train to Rodez. There were trains to Alès and Mende from Nîmes. There were no trains, initially, from Brive to Cahors, Brive to Rodez, Toulouse to La Tour du Carol, or on the line to Lourdes and Tarbes. 
 Further east there are no through trains from Nîmes to Clermont-Ferrand due to delayed engineering work in Auvergne between Langogne and Arvant. This section is expected to re-open only in July. The "Aubrac" between Beziers - Clermont-Ferrand has not re-started yet. Only the Auvergne segment, Clermont-Ferrand - Neussagues is operating at present. 
From the 25th May Transilien services were increased from 60% to 70%, with 80% of rush hours services operating. Service intensity ranged from 100% on Line A to 50% on Line U. To maximise capacity trains were run at maximum length of two or three units. Even so with social distancing reducing capacity to 20% of normal this only provided for 475,000 travellers a day. 
With international travel the position at the end of May was as follows: Eurostar. On May 29th there were 2 return services scheduled between Paris Nord and London St Pancras. Departures from Paris were at 10h13 and 15h13. In normal times up to 18 return trains are scheduled. Thalys. Until June 8th, only one Thalys return service, daily, from Paris Nord to Bruxelles Midi is scheduled. It departs at 14.25 from Paris-Nord. Usually there are one or two Thalys trains an hour departing from Paris-Nord to Bruxelles, Amsterdam and Cologne. Additional trains are announced from June 9th and from July 12th. Lyria. TGV At present, there are no services to Lausanne (usually 3 trains a day). Until June 7th, two return services to Geneva are scheduled (usually 6 trains daily each way). Until June 7th, only one return service to Bâle is scheduled (usually 5 trains daily each way). Additional trains are announced from June 9th. Travel documents are required to use these trains. The documents must justify the journey depending on nationality, residence and destination. Rules are changing frequently. 
 Preserved lines are making tentative plans to run some sort of service once they have adequate Coronavirus health and safety arrangements in place and approved by the préfet. First off the mark was Gentiane Express which obtained prefectural authorization to operate between Riom-ès-Montagnes and Lugarde over the Ascension weekend of 22/23rd May. Trains were limited to 60 passengers with tickets booked and pre-paid on the internet, and passengers required to wear face masks. APPEVA (Petit Train Haute Somme) hope to re-open on the 7th June, and CFBS (Baie de Somme) plan to introduce a limited service from the 13th June, following an operation to test the new procedures with volunteers.
 Volunteer work has also resumed with  small groups of volunteers working on discreet projects under strict rules of social distancing.
Perpignan - Villefranche Vernet les Bains re-opens after Millas crossing disaster
On 21st May, train services restarted on the Perpignan - Villefranche Vernet les Bains line along the Tet valley after a break of 29 months. This lengthy interruption was due to the tragic level crossing accident in December 2017 at Millas when a collision between a school bus and a TER train caused the death of 6 children on the bus, and seriously injured 18.* 
 At present, rail services from Perpignan terminate at Ille-sur-Tet due to damage on the track bed further on from a land slip. There are 8 trains each way on week days and they take 21 minutes from Perpignan, 9 minutes less than the autocars which have replaced the trains since Dec 2017. Ille-sur-Tet is the only staffed station on the line between the two termini. At Villefranche Vernet les Bains there is a connection to Le Petit Train Jaune.
*The closure of the level crossing and railway line for over 2 years is unprecedented. It was decided by the judge in charge of the judicial enquiry into responsibility. The bus driver has been charged in the case. The road crossing was re-opened in August 2018, but not the railway. The BEA-TT independant investigation into the causes of the accident concluded, in May 2019, that the level crossing had functioned normally and that the school bus did not stop but broke the half barrier and collided with the Z2 electric train which arrived at 80 kph. A contributing factor  was the configuration of the road junction adjacent to the level crossing which provided poor visibility of the flashing red lights for the bus driver. When the manoeuvre to turn and line up to cross the railway was complete, the bus was only one metre from the half barrier which was thus invisible to the driver. The LC bells had stopped when the barriers had lowered. The driver has always insisted that the barriers had not descended and the LC was open, but eyewitnesses (train driver and car drivers opposite) confirmed the barriers were down, together with physical evidence. The accident traumatised the local population and many incorrectly blamed SNCF and the railway line. The local and national media fanned the controversy. 
 Above: On 27th June 2010, preserved CC 6570 based at Avignon is seen at Ille-sur-Tet with a special. The catenary poles in the background date from 1912. They were erected by the Cie du Midi for an electricity supply of 12,000 volts. The line is electrified now at 1,500 volts using the original poles at this point. Photo Georges Turpin

St Pol - Etaples RVB 

Work on re-laying the line from St Pol to Etaples re-commenced on the 11th May. On the 15th May Société Meccoli  BB 66610 "Karine" and 66610 "Nicolas" are seen above at  Beaurainville (Photo Philippe Armand) and later in the day alongside the tamper at
Montreuil-sur-Mer. (Photo Pascal Sainson)

It remains to be seen whether the loss of two months work will delay the re-opening of the line, scheduled for December of this year
Above. A new Regiolis unit for Occitanie ( the 301st of the type off the production line) and a new IiO livery, all in red. Unit 83589/90 was delivered from Nançois-Tronville nr Nancy to Toulouse on 19th May. Ir was photographed at Montlaur by Georges Turpin.

Chemin de Fer Touristique du Sud des Ardennes saves Y 6431

CFTSA (Chemin de Fer Touristique du Sud des Ardennes) have saved Y6431 and it is seen above being delivered to its new base at Attigny on 16th May. (photo Nicolas Retel)

Entering service in March 1955 Decauville Y6431 was allocated to Mohon, from where it was withdrawn in December 1991. It was then sold to Champagne Céréales, now known as Vivescia.  It last worked at the Monthois silo in April 2018 and the decision was initially taken to break it up to provide spare parts for other Vivescia locomotives. Inspected in March 2020 it was realised that it was in good condition with the Poyaud engine starting immediately, despite not having worked for two years.

Following negotiations  between Vivescia and CFTSA on maintaining the sustainability of the Amagne-Lucquy - Challerange line Y6431 has now been entrusted to CFTSA.

CFTSA is based at Attigny on the Amagne-Lucquy - Challerange line where they operate their fleet of four Picasso units. They also have two preserved modified Caravelles that undertake railtours across Northern France. They hope to start operations on Sunday 5th July. Further details via this link

Is there a train on the line ? 

Bourges - Montluçon closed since 21st October 2019

Montluçon, a sous-prefecture in Auvergne with a population of 80,000 still has no rail connections to Paris in mid May 2020. 

In fact, since 21st October 2019, there have been no regular services on the Bourges - Montluçon line. For two months, the line was closed for "urgent repairs" to be carried out between Vallon-en-Sully and Montluçon (essentially all in Auvergne). The work included replacement of sleepers and ballast at 8 different sites totalling in all 700 metres. Similar work at other places totalled 500 metres plus repairs to a level crossing and replacement of a set of points at Montluçun. Following this work, the speed limit between Vallon and Montluçon was reduced from 120 kph to 80 kph !!! The engineer in charge (Colas Rail) had some difficulty explaining this to La Montagne newspaper and we will refrain from reporting his explanation. 

 From 14th December the line was re-opened, and promptly closed again, for industrial action (strike). From mid January 2020, some services re-started but were suspended from mid March, due to lockdown. In February 2020, agreement was reached between the State and Centre Val de Loire for regeneration of the 100 km of Bourges - Montluçon between 2023 and 2026. 

 So 6 more years of sub-standard services on this rail link. Luckiliy there is the A71 autoroute not far away !

Above. In happier pre Corail days BB 67334 draws into a crowded Vallon with a Paris service. Photo D Michel Costes
X 4039 delayed at TRANSVAP Conneré Beillé, LE MANS

ABFC, at Dijon, has reported on the status of PIcasso X 4039 which has been based at TRANSVAP during the winter 2019/2020 for repairs to the gearbox following the incident last July when the transmission became blocked during an excursion near Volvic. 

 The railcar has been repaired and is operational. Initially, a return to Dijon was planned for 3rd May, but due to the virus and lockdown that had to be cancelled. Before operating again on the main line, the annual "visit" is required and this will now be scheduled during the summer. A return to Dijon is planned at the end of Sept/beginning of October. 

 The loss of revenues for the association is considerable and devastating.
Last view at Verneuil l'Etang before poles

Catenary poles for the electrification of Line 4 (Paris - Troyes) have now been planted along the line from Gretz- Armainvilliers to Longueville with the exception of the main line at the stations of Verneuil, Mormant and between Grandpuits and Nangis. Near Maisons Rouge, the overhead line has been installed. 

Return "Lulu" to steam ! 
MTVS - "Club des Amis de la 36"

Côtes du Nord 0-6-0T No 36 (named Lulu) is out of service at present awaiting repairs to her boiler. The objective is to return the Corpet Louvet tank engine to steam for her centenary, 15th September 2025. Costs will exceed 100,000 euros of which MTVS must find 30,000 euros. 

 MTVS has formed a club, "Les Amis de la 36", for donators who will help fund the repairs. Donations are requested in multiples of 36 euros (e.g. per month or annually) More details here; donate to No 36. Donations (in euros) may be made by cheque, PayPal or bank transfer. Residents in France can obtain a tax reduction corresponding to 66% of the donations made.  

Lulu was retired in 1956 upon closure of the last Côtes du Nord line (St Brieuc - Paimpol). The tank engine was rescued for preservation in 1971 and arrived at MTVS in 1984. The engine was restored and entered service in 1997 for two successive periods of ten years. No 36 is probably the most popular and well known locomotive at the museum and, during 20 years, has visited numerous other tourist lines in France, including CFBS, GECP, VFV. 

 MTVS is a leading museum of preserved metre gauge steam trains, trams and rolling stock at Butry-sur-Oise and at Crèvecoeur-le-Grand (Oise) where a steam railway, 4 km long is operated. The web site provides details for visits. Currently there are restrictions due to the virus.

Chemin de fer touristique du Haut Quercy

Formed in 1991 CFTHQ operates the 8 km section between Martel and St-Denis-Près-Martel on the closed section between Sarlat and St-Denis-Près-Martel of the former Bordeaux - Aurillac route across the Massif Central. The preserved section was also part of a diversionary route between Brive - St Denis - Soulliac when traffic was busy on the Paris - Toulouse mainline.

Leaving Martel the train is propelled across open fields before descending into a tunnel. The line then emerges onto the northern cliff face of the Dordogne Valley some 80 metres above the Valley floor with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. After calling at Mirandol for passengers to alight and admire the view (see photo above) the train descends through a series of short tunnels to St-Denis-Près-Martel stopping just short of the junction with the Figeac line.

The return from St-Denis-Lès-Martel is in complete contrast to the descent, with the locomotive working hard instead of just braking the train. Traction is normally ex SNCF BB 63500 during the week and steam at weekends. Passengers are  conveyed in open accommodation using converted freight wagons (with suspension to match) so don't wear anything special! Below are two videos of the line with further details via this link

Looking back at the Blanc Argent

The video below was produced by France 3 and shows life on the Blanc Argent in 1982 when the section south of Valencay was still operated by SNCF. The video starts with young students boarding a Verney autorail at Lucay-le-Male for college at Romorantin, a scene still possible today (See photo above) when SABA is operating over the 39km preserved section from Valencay to Argy.

The video shows a selection of passenger and freight workings, and also some vintage mainline traction at Gievres and Salbris where the Blanc Argent meets up with the standard gauge network. Link to the video 

Opposite is another video from the 1960s. Taken on 9.5mm  film the quality is not as good as the 16 mm film of Creil featured in the May News

Taken at a number of locations across France the film features Classes 140C, 141C, 141P, 141R, 150P, 231G, 231K, 241A, 241P  and the Chemins de fer du Vivarais.
Additions to FRS Photographic Archive during May 2020 
-  Steve Sachse Gallery - comprising some 360 colour images, mainly SNCF mainline in the 1980’s & 1990’s but also some RATP, tramways & Industrial photos
- Exhibition catalogue CdF de l’Est - Paris 1900 
- Exhibition catalogue CdF de l’Est - Nancy 1909 
- Exhibition catalogue CdF PLM - Gand 1913 
- Exhibition catalogue CdF PLM - Liege 1930 
- CIWL/Mann’s Sleeping Car Guide for Europe 1875/1876 
French Railways Office London Gallery - an additional 155 colour images covering mainly SNCF mainline in the 1980’s & 1990’s, plus some secondaries and RATP 
Additions to the FRS public folder during May 2020 
Photographic index for Steve Sachse Colour gallery Photographic index for French Railways Office London gallery 
Photographic index for Miscellaneous Colour 1 gallery Photographic index for Peter Lovell Colour gallery Photographic index for Walter Dendy Colour gallery

Gave d'Aspe, Haut-Béarn, Pyrénées-Atlantiques 
Fifty years of controversies

The narrow, verdant valley of the Aspe torrent in the Pyrénées Atlantiques was formed by a glacier some 18,000 years ago. The melting glacier formed the valley to Bedous. The rippling mountain stream called a "Gave" in local dialect completed the "v" form of the upper valley. The source is on the Spanish side of the frontier near Mt Aspe 2,643m. The luxuriant valley has an abundant wild life that included brown bears though they have gone now. There is a traditional way of life with seasonal transhumance of herds of sheep and goats and production of cheese.The upper part of the valley is contained in the Parc National des Pyrénées, a protected area created in 1967 that extends over 100 km between the frontier and a minimum altitude of 1,067 m. It includes six valleys  (Photo above Vallée d'Aspe. The upper Aspe valley, view towards Spain.)
 The Aspe valley is one of the trans-pyréenean routes for pilgrims walking to Saint Jacques de Compostelle. In 1928, the railway to Canfranc * was opened. In this article, we will explore the history of the line since 1950 and current plans to re-open the railway. 
 * see MAY NEWS
Pau - Canfranc, 1950 - 1970 
 After the Second World War, Spain closed the frontier at Canfranc until 1948. A wall was erected inside the tunnel. Thereafter, the international railway line was re-opened with a distinct lack of interest on both sides of the border. Just a few trains daily, often mixed passenger / goods, stopping at all the stations.

The summer timetable in 1956 is typical. There were 3 trains each way between Pau and Canfranc. With 17 stops, the journey up the Aspe valley took 2h36 for 93 km, (2h45 for the evening train). Connections onwards into Spain were casual. Three times a week, the Valence train would depart from Canfranc at 11h45 (84 minutes after the train from Pau had arrived). It would reach Sarragosse at 15h25 and Valence at 22h55 (a journey of 11h10 for 521 km). The midday train from Pau arrived at Canfranc at 15h25 and the Spanish train departed at 16h30 reaching Sarragosse at 21h20 (4h50 for 173 km) and Madrid at 08h00 the following morning (15h30 for 514 km). There were no onward connections for the evening arrival from Pau at 21h20. You would stay in the Canfranc station hotel and catch the first train the following morning at 06h45 reaching Sarragosse at 11h35. 
Starting from Paris, the journey to Sarragosse, Madrid or Valence via Canfranc required determination and stamina. You would take the 21h20 overnight sleeper from Paris-Austerlitz to Pau via Bordeaux. Arrival at Pau was at 07h00. After breakfast in the station buffet, you could catch the 07h45 to Canfranc, a short train of pre-war 4 or 6 wheel carriages, stopping frequently. At Canfranc, there would be time to stock up on supplies for the final stage (partly by steam train) to Sarragosse, where the 18 hour journey ended. 

 Starting from Madrid, the journey to Paris via Canfranc involved two nights and one day of travel; we doubt that many tried this. Departure from Madrid was at 22h00 and the through sleeping car arrived at Canfranc at 13h00 the following day. The French train departed at 14h19 and was a "Direct" which meant that it stopped only 10 times instead of 17 times.   Arrival at Pau was at 16h36 and the overnight train to Paris-Austerlitz departed at 18h14, reaching the capital at 06h50 the following morning.

So, the Aspe valley line was clearly for locals only. And few of the valley residents travelled on the railway. In 1965, the MV (Marchandises Voyageurs  - Mixed Goods) trains became passengers only and the modernised 4 and 6 wheel carriages (originally pre-war) were partly replaced by electric railcars, type Z 4400.(originally built in 1935).
The Z 4400 units were limited to Bedous and could not climb to Canfranc. So, even in 1968, a BB 4200 could be photographed at Forges d'Abel with 3 or 4 Sud-Ouest 4 wheel modernised carriages. Exports of cereals and fertilizer from Bearn to Aragon region, Spain, created a certain freight traffic on the railway in the sixties that reached 160,000 tons annually at the end of that decade. 

 Then came the accident.
Pont de l'Estanguet, March 27th 1970
This is our own account of the accident based on reviews and consultation with sources. We could find no official report. Various descriptions of the accident were consulted in books, on-line local newspapers, blogs. There are some inconsistencies and obvious errors in these published accounts, including in Wikipedia. There were no fatalities involved in this accident which probably explains the absence of any independant official investigations 
It was Good Friday, springtime in the Bearn, but overnight frost created poor conditions for the first train of the day from Pau up the Aspe valley to Canfranc. It was a train of 9 wagons loaded with maize for a total weight of 320 tons. This was the maximum permitted on this line for the two BB (ex Midi) electric locomotives BB 4227 and BB 4235 (constructed in 1935 and based at Tarbes). Each loco weighed 80 tons. 

In the middle of the night, the two drivers prepared their train. Regarding the 1,500 volts electricity supply to the frost covered catenary, there were 5 electric sub-stations (1500 V) on the line at Haut de Gan, Bidos (near Oloron), Bedous, Urdos and Les Forges d'Abel. The sub- station at Urdos was closed down making a gap of 23 km between 2 sub stations on the steepest gradients. It is believed this was a frequent occurrence. 
BB 4240 and classmate at Tarbes, Sept 4,1975. These locomotives were the standard traction for the Canfranc line. Photo Jean Marc Frybourg
The first 60 km of the line to Bedous has moderate average gradients of 1 in 67. Adhesion on the icy rails was difficult that night and sand was used to stop the slipping. A stiff climb at 1 in 30 after Bedous faced the crew. The struggling train passed Lescun-Cette-Eygun (502m). With no more sand in reserve, the train passed through the Tunnel of Brocat (621 m) and the Tunnel of Sens (384 m). It stalled just outside that tunnel on a gradient of 1 in 30 and was held by the pneumatic air brake system. 
 It is reported that both drivers climbed down from the cabin and set about collecting material to place on the rails for adhesion (in the absence of sand). After a few minutes, the train began to slip backwards into the tunnel with no-one aboard. It was 06.45. In the subsequent investigation, it was discovered that the brake control apparatus (H7A) in the leading BB locomotive had a small leak that allowed compressed air back into the brake pipe. At a certain pressure, this released the brakes. 
 During a 5 km descent backwards out of control, the 480 ton train reached over 100 kph before derailing and destroying the girder bridge over the river at l'Estanguet. Fortunately there were no fatalities or injuries. 
 The accident site was cleared and the army offered to install a temporary bridge but SNCF head office refused. At this time, SNCF (with the support of the government and the apathy of the population) was in the middle of an energetic programme of line closures that was supposed to reach 10,000 km. It had started in 1968 and would be prematurely halted in 1973 at 6,000 km due to the oil price crisis. Pau - Canfranc was a line governed by an international treaty with Spain. So it could not be unilaterally closed. But replacement of the bridge was deferred indefinitely, and trains stopped at Bedous. 
 It was 15 years before Spain formally complained.
Pau - Canfranc 1970 - 2000 
 After the accident of the runaway train, trains no longer operated between Bedous and Canfranc. They were replaced by a bus over the pass (now a road tunnel). In June 1980, the section from Oloron-Ste-Marie to Bedous was closed to passenger services and, in 1985, freight trains also ceased on that section. 

In the mid 1980's, Spain finally complained about the absence of train services across the border through the Somport tunnel. The first lobbying group to demand the re-opening of the line was formed in 1986 after Spain and Portugal joined the European Union. It was CRELOC (Comité pour la réouverture de la ligne Oloron - Canfranc). This group has been relentless over the years in pursuing the cause, with many actions and many detailed studies. (CRELOC site).

Above  A Z 4400 waits to leave Bedous in 1980 just before closure. Photo Thierry Leleu 
The road tunnel 
In April 1991, France and Spain officially agreed to construct a road tunnel under the Somport pass and an international convention was signed to that effect. The decision triggered extensive opposition and violent demonstrations in the Aspe valley. Construction began in 1994. and the tunnel was opened in 2003. It is a single bore, two way tunnel, 8.6 km long. There are 3 ventilation shafts (one in the centre of the tunnel) and 14 ventilation fans. Following the Mont Blanc Tunnel fire in 1999, extra safety precautions were incorporated into the Somport road tunnel and the parallel rail tunnel is used to provide access and exit in case of accident. 19 cross passages link the two tunnels. 

 This new road tunnel is toll free. It cost about 254 million euros; France paid 94 million euros for the 2.8 km on their side and Spain paid 160 million euros for the 5.7 km on their side. Motorway access to the tunnel in Spain and in France was part of the original project. In Spain, a new motorway numbered A23 links Aragon with Valencia. Sections totalling 43 km (at present) of the A23 in the Aragon valley remain to be built to complete the Spanish motorway up to the Somport road tunnel. However, in Béarn, no significant improvements have been made to the only trunk road in the Aspe valley, the accident prone RN 134. On August 28th 2018, a Spanish tanker lorry carrying sodium chloride crashed off the road into the river which sustained severe pollution that killed thousands of salmon and trout. The driver died in the accident. There are many accidents on the road every year
 In 2019, total traffic through the tunnel averaged 1,470 vehicles, daily, of which 340 were heavy lorries. Traffic flows are approximately equal in each direction. It is estimated that about 2 million tons of goods pass through the road tunnel every year.
Pau - Canfranc 2000 - 2020 
 During the last 20 years, numerous feasibility studies have been commissioned by Aquitaine Region to examine the project to re-open Pau - Canfranc. Not all of them have been favorable to the idea. Two studies by SNCF Réseau (formerly RFF) concluded an absence of positive socio-economic returns on the planned investment. Despite these negative reports, Aquitaine Region financed the modernisation and re-opening of the railway from Pau to Oloron (2010) and Oloron to Bedous (2016). However, Pau - Oloron is no longer electrified. The 1500 volts system was removed in 2010. The electricity had already been switched off in 1987 between Oloron and Canfranc. 
 The modernised lines use diesel railcars (X 73500) for a modest TER service that is used by 45 passengers daily between Oloron and Bedous. There are no signals on that section and no passing loops between Pau and Bedous (60 km) except at Oloron.  Below An X 73500 pauses at Sarrance on a wet day. The former station building looks as if it is now a private residence (see photo above)
The project to re-open the section Bedous - Canfranc (33 km) 
 Aquitaine formed an official alliance with Aragon Region in Spain in 2010. The two Regions set a target to re-open Bedous - Canfranc in 2020, but this was over-optimistic. The EU financed 50 % of the cost of a third study by SNCF Réseau. This will calculate the costs to re-open the final section of this line which has the steepest gradients of any railway in France. During 2018/2019, SNCF examined every metre of the track bed from Bedous to Forges d'Abel. A helicopter was chartered to photograph the line and drillings were carried out to assess the land. The Somport rail tunnel (currently with no rails) was inspected. 
 This study is still under way, apparently. In a press briefing before they left the valley, the SNCF team reported that the track bed and infrastructure were in generally good state and the project was "doable". Several bridges and a short tunnel would have to be rebuilt. 
We suppose that they will plan to return the line to its state in 1970. But no longer electrified. There is the matter of the former rail tunnel now used as an emergency access to the road tunnel. If the project is really to use diesel traction instead of electric traction there is a problem of ventilation in the old rail tunnel that has no ventilation shafts. 
 So what are the objectives ?
Two White Books 
Last year, both CRELOC and Nouvelle Aquitaine Region published their visions for the future of the Aspe valley line. The CRELOC report was published in July 2019. It has very detailed plans but contains no cost estimates. It covers work to be done on both sides of the border. It insists on the need to electrify (at 25 kV) the line from Pau to Huesca (Aragon). It proposes to use electric locomotives with 6 powered axles (B+B+B). The study (French and Spanish text) is interesting to read as a source of ideas and questions that have no answers. There is a gallery of photos at the end of the report. A link to the CRELOC report is here Remember CRELOC is an independant lobbying group. Whatever they say is just their opinion. 
 Mr Alain Rousset* presented the Nouvelle Aquitaine "Livre Blanc" to the press in December 2019. In this document we learn that the original concept to save a Pyrenean valley from 44 ton lorries has been expanded to become a plan to create another rail "corridor" (the 3rd one) to interconnect Spain/Portugal with the rest of Europe. The objectives for this corridor include the creation of a direct rail link between Bordeaux, Toulouse, Saragosse The study addresses the matter of structures; who will invest in, and operate the interregional cross border line ? 
The study lists 9 possible scenarios without concluding which one is the most pertinent. It sets a target of 2025 for the re-opening of the line. There is talk of 300,000 passengers a year and 1.5 - 2.0 million tons of freight (200 fewer lorries daily in the valley). There are no details about the capacity of the modernised railway or the costs to open and maintain it. 
 In January 2020, the Vice President Transport at Nouvelle Aquitaine told the press that the public enquiry could take place in 2022, work could start in 2025 with a possible re-opening at the earliest in 2027. 
* In 1998, Mr Alain Rousset (now 69) was elected President of Aquitaine Region. He is an experienced politician, member of the Socialist party, and was subsequently re-elected President of the regional council in 2004, 2010 and 2016 (for Nouvelle Aquitaine, a larger region). He is responsible for the commitment of the region to the project over two decades. He has chosen to present himself for re-election next year. The future of the Pau - Canfranc line depends on the results of the elections.
 Now that the Pau - Canfranc project is positioned as a "corridor" between Bordeaux and Saragosse, it is necessary to mention the context and the other "corridors". Every year, 90 million tons of freight are carried across the frontier between Spain.and France, 87 million tons by road ( 19,000 lorries a day) and 3 million tons by rail. The principal crossing points are at Hendaye / Irun on the Atlantic coast, Cerbère / Port Bou and Perpignan / Figueras via the Perthus tunnel on the Mediterranean coast. All these three crossing points are electrified and have dual gauge tracks (Figueras - Barcelona, in particular). There is substantial unused capacity on the Perthus line (opened in 2013). The share for train operators of the total cross border freight market is an average 2.7%. In view of the above, we are sceptical about the claim in the Nouvelle Aquitaine Livre Blanc that they envisage to capture 2 million tons from road to rail at Somport (nearly 100% of the current traffic ). It is unlikely that there will be any more detailed information about the projet to re-open Bedous - Canfranc until 2022 after the regional elections in 2021. 
Sources and acknowledgements 
 Histoire du Rail Transpyrénéen. La Regordane 1990 
 Voies Ferrées. No 35 May-June 1986 
 Correspondances No 6 April-May 2003 (Inventaire Z 4100, Z 4400) 
 Le Train Special 1/97 Les Trains des Pyrénées 
 Numerous internet searches, on line blogs, on line press. 
 Thanks to Georges Turpin for assistance, research and sources
Below. The Somport rail tunnel in 2008 with the tracks removed, now used to provide emergency access to the road tunnel
© Peter Lovell & Graham Skinner. The French Railways Society 2020. Photos by authors unless credited. Thanks to Michel Costes, Georges Turpin, Charles Hinton, Philippe Armand, Pascal Sainson, Nicolas Retel, Jean Marc Frybourg and Thierry Leleu
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