SMDA produces 160 million bottles of spring water annually. They are sold under 30 different trade marks in supermarkets across France. The spring water is captured from a source (Grand Barbier) at an altitude of 1200 m in the Massif du Sancy. Since 1989, the water has been bottled at Genestoux, a plant that employs 42 staff. It was connected to the railway in 1995. Originally, a large proportion of the production was transported by rail. Due to a reduction in the activity of a marshalling yard at Clermont-Ferrand and the abandonment of single wagon load traffic in France, the proportion carried by rail has dropped to 40% and only one destination is assured, as described above.
Passenger services between Clermont-Ferrand and Le Mont-Dore were withdrawn in 2015. The railway line between Laqueuille and Ussel was closed in July 2014 due to a failure to find 7 million euros to renovate that stretch of line which crosses the border between Auvergne and Limousin. No trains can now operate between Clermont-Ferrand and Brive (or Limoges) via Ussel. Subsequently, the reform of the Regions transferred Limousin to Nouvelle Aquitaine and Auvergne to Rhône-Alpes. Consequently decisions about the future of this line will now taken in Bordeaux and Lyon (600 km apart). It seems unlikely that any action will be taken to restore the line to service. There is not a lot of confidence in the future of Limoges - Ussel either.
Regarding the freight line from Volvic to Le Mont-Dore, SNCF Réseau indicates that it costs 1.2 million euros a year to maintain the 55 km single track line which carries two trains a week (!) Income from the train service is reported to be 23,000 euros a year (This would be the toll) SNCF Réseau lists three priorities (the precise nature of the work is not known);
- urgent repairs to the track and signals in 2020 for 400,000 euros
- additional repairs in 2021 for 900,000 euros
- a ten year programme of renewal to be defined
SNCF Réseau advised that in the absence of funding they would have to suspend traffic at the end of 2020. That would result in a transfer of the traffic to the road. The funding would have to come from Auvergne Rhône-Alpes Region and the apparent absence of anyone from the Region at this meeting is worrying. However, the sums involved are relatively small. So there is hope that funding will be provided somehow.
Two weeks later, a new meeting was convened on 24th July. The outcome was that an agreement was reached on contributions to the first phase of work in 2020 for a total of 400,000 euros. (The French State contributed 40%) SNCF Réseau confirmed the line would stay open until the end of 2021 minimum. They were asked to calculate a budget for maintenance over the next 10 years. A plan was launched to examine options to increase traffic on the line including a possible tourist train !!!
Photo: At Laqueille, 20th July 2005. The Train des Eaux arrived from Volvic at 08.20, hauled by 67508 and 67552. It was a train of empty wagons bound for SMDA. The locos returned at the end of the morning with 14 loaded wagons.
* Those present included the préfète, the regional director of SNCF Réseau, the mayor of Le Mont-Dore, the director of SMDA, but apparently no-one from Auvergne Rhône-Alpes region.
** SMDA Société des Sources du Mont-Dore en Auvergne.