The CFTHQ (Chemin de Fer Touristique du Haut-Quercy) has announced wide-ranging expansion plans to offer visitors a wide range of activities and quality services. At present CFTHQ operates between Martel and Saint Denis-près-Martel on the former line from Aurillac to Sarlat and Bordeaux. One of the main attractions are the views over the Dordogne Valley as the train descends to St Denis (see photo above). At present the train stops just short of the SNCF station and there is no facility or interface with the TER services there offering connections to Brive, Aurillac, Figeac and Rodez.
Over the last 20 years CFTHQ has increased to 100,000 visitors per annum of whom 25% are from abroad, often also visiting nearby Rocamadour. They normally offer steam trains at weekends and diesel haulage (BB63500) during the week in the high season. There are now five permanent staff and two more on fixed term contracts. In addition there are ten seasonal staff during the summer. The main base is around the former goods shed at Martel, offering only limited covered accommodation for rolling stock.
The expansion plan is based around three elements:
- Creating a 7km velorail between Martel and Le Pigeon on the section between Martel and Souillac. The track on this section remains in place although hasn't probably seen a train this century and is much overgrown.
- Extending the line at St Denis into the SNCF station with a dedicated line utilising the Sarlat line trackbed, but without crossing the SNCF network. This will provide access to the CFTHQ for rail travellers and promote the development and use of the Gallo-Roman site of Uxellodunum in Saint-Denis
- The creation of a 'Railway Rotunda' industrial heritage centre at Martel based on a reconstruction of the former depot at St Denis. This would include using recovered Eiffel beams made in the 19th century and a turntable formerly used at La Rochelle. This element of the project has been selected from over 100 possible projects in the Department and will be partially funded by the Loto du heritage. An architect in industrial buildings has been appointed by the heritage foundation who will lead the project management.
The outcome of the expansion will be to create a major tourist attraction for this area of the Lot Department. At present every euro spent at the railway brings in three euros to the surrounding economy. It will also increase the facilities and expertise at the CFTHQ and allow the development of specific skills and know-how in the maintenance and renovation of steam locomotives. Without expansion the risk is that this knowledge could be lost.