December 2020 News

All change for Normandy long distance services

With new Bombardier Omneo Premium units finally entering service, plus TGVs and Regiolis units being transferred temporarily, the new rolling stock is starting to make significant in-roads to the corail hauled Normandy services from St Lazare hauled by BB 15000/26000s locomotives. By the end of November 14 Bombardier Omneo Premium units had been delivered for long distance services from Paris St Lazare. At the beginning of the month a TGV Atlantique set began operating on St Lazare - Le Havre services, the first time they have operated into St Lazare (see video below).
Two more TGV sets are scheduled to be transferred during December, and expected to remain until May 2021. Also helping to make up for the delay to the Omneo Premium units four Alstom Regiolis units have been leased from Intercite by Normandie TER and transferred from Nantes to Sotteville. These units would normally be deployed between Nantes and Bordeaux, so currently have no work.

Above On 4th November TGV 399 heads out of the Seine Valley mist at  Rosny sur Seine, with train 3108 from Le Havre to Paris Saint Lazare. Below. Still sporting its macaron and Grande Confort livery BB 15013 takes the Caen line after passing through Mantes la Jolie with train 3349 from Paris Saint Lazare to Caen on 12 November. Both photos. Romain Vergnères
At the end of October one of the new RER NG trainsets was despatched to Plouaret in Brittany for testing. It is seen above passing Agnetz, north of Creil being towed by BB 22319 on its first leg from Valenciennes to Valenton. CC 72074 is included in the consist for the non-electrified sections. Photo Erwan Quintin.

Rail services cut back during second lockdown

The French Government introduced a second lockdown on the 31st October. Initially for two weeks, the period was extended to four weeks as numbers of positive tests and levels of hospitalisation increased. During this deuxième confinement travel was allowed for essential purposes only, although people were allowed to travel to work if unable to work from home. Each TER responded differently. Hauts de France announced that services would be cut by 30% from the 9th November to meet falling demand and allow for staff who were self-confining. Initially timetables were issued on a daily basis and confirmed at 17:00 the previous day with revised timetables introduced from the 16th November.  Nouvelle-Aquitaine initially announced that they would maintain their normal timetable, but with passenger numbers falling by 48% during the first week a revised timetable came into operation from 16th November. This provided for 80% of weekday, 45% of Saturday and 60% of Sunday services.

On long distance travel TGV services were reduced further (see November News)with some routes operating at only 30% of pre-pandemic levels. On cross border routes Thalys suspended its low-cost IZY service from 7th November and reduced its normal service to two Paris - Brussels and one Brussels - Amsterdam service daily with no catering or lounges available. Eurostar services were reduced to one return service daily, while Lyria services were reduced to two Geneva and one Zurich service daily, with no service to Lausanne.

In Paris and the Ile de France Region passenger numbers generally fell by 50% compared to the previous year, although on the Metro it has been down by 70%, with off peak and late evening services cut by 50%. RER's A, B, C and E have been running a normal service with some reductions on RER D. Only RER B saw passenger numbers at normal level due to the high number of commuters living north of Paris with jobs that could not be undertaken from home. Transilien services have been reduced off-peak with a minimum of one train every 30 minutes.

On the 24th November President Macron announced further measures. The lockdown will continue until 15th December with some eagerly awaited relaxations from 28th November (service outlets like hairdressers and all small high street shops previously considered non-essential can re-open. Dogs can be exercised for three rather than one hour per day and joggers can jog further than 1 km). If, by the 15th December, daily new infections have dropped below 5,000 then travel will be unrestricted but a 21:00 - 07:00 curfew will operate everywhere. Restaurants and bars will remain closed until 20th January and ski resorts will not open for the Christmas/New Year break. 

During the second half of December SNCF will increase services to normal levels for the Christmas/New Year break. From 13th December Thalys will operate four return services to Brussels daily, with one continuing to Amsterdam and another to Dortmund. They do not envisage returning to their normal service until 2022. Between 13th December and 4th January Lyria will operate five daily return services between  Paris - Geneva and Paris - Zurich and three daily return services from Paris to Lausanne via Dijon and Vallorbe.

With the cutback in services the withdrawal of the remaining Class Z 6400 units was hastened and by mid-November only six of the original 75 units remained in service. Introduced between 1976-1979, the Z 6400 units were the last of the stainless steel emu's. The four car sets were designed for the short suburban platforms at St Lazare and used to operate to Versailles Rive Gauche and St Nom-la-Bretêche, via St Cloud, and to Poissy. The remaining units are expected to be withdrawn by the end of the year.
Below left: 6483/4 at St Nom la Bretêche in 2005 on the short-lived stub line between St Germain en Laye and Noisy le Roi. This short line is currently being extended and modified into a tram train (Light Rail) line. At St Nom la Bretêche is the terminus of the line from St Lazare. Right: On the same day we see Z 6493 at the terminus where there is a physical connection between the two lines. Z 6483/4 was withdrawn in 2014 while Z 6493/4 was withdrawn in 2018.
Following maintenance at Technicentre des Joncherolles in St-Denis this Z20500 vehicle was returned to Vitry-sur-Seine topped and tailed by BB67511/67406 from the Picardie Ile de France fleet normally employed on the Paris Est - Le Ferte Milon rush hour services. Seen above passing allotments at Vauboyen in the Paris suburbs on an autumnal 27th October. Photo Erwan Quintin

Périgueux - Brive regeneration

Since the beginning of the year  €6 million of track regeneration work has been taking place between Brive and Périgueux using a new Plasser and Theurer factory train. This will enable a new timetable to be introduced from December 13th with nine services each way during the week, compared to six previously. Average journey time will be 52 minutes, a reduction of about 10 minutes. Four stops (Milhac-d'Auberoche, La Bachellerie, Limeyrat and Larche) will be closed. They were only served by one train each way a day. An on-demand taxi system will be set up for these four stops. Users will be able to call the day before their journey, and they will be taken to the station closest to their home. Perhaps an optional request-stop system would have been simpler and more environmentally friendly!

Above On June 5, 2017   X 72630 passes non-stop through the neat station at  La Bachellerie (Dordogne) with TER 865421 Périgueux - Brive. Photo Georges Turpin.

La Roche-sur-Yon - La Rochelle progress

In September News we showed the photo above left taken on the 4th August illustrating the work being undertaken on the regeneration of the La Roche-sur-Yon - La Rochelle section of the Nantes - Bordeaux line. The photo above right showed the position on the 28th October with the new single track in place, but waiting to be ballasted. The former trackbed on the right hand side is now used by the contractor's road vehicles. Both photos Georges Turpin.

SNCF raises €2 billion on markets

In October News we reported on the €4.7 billion investment package announced by the government for France's railways as part of the France Relance recovery programme.

At the end of October SNCF went to the market seeking €2 billion in a 30 year bond maturing in 2051. The transaction drew solid support from the international investor community and was more than twice oversubscribed. SNCF has raised €6.3bn on bond markets since the beginning of the year with a range of 3, 10, 20 and 30 year bonds.

Hauts de France tendering

Tenders closed on 23rd November for the three groups of rail services being put out to competitive tender by the Hauts de France Region. The three groups are:

 - The Amiens node covering services from Amiens to Abancourt, Rouen, Abbeville, Albert, Saint-Quentin, Laon, Compiègne, and Creil and lines from Creil to Beauvais, Beauvais to Le Tréport and from Laon to Hirson
- The Saint-Pol-sur-Ternoise node services. covering services from Saint-Pol-sur-Ternoise towards Étaples, Béthune, Lille and Arras.
- The third concession covers Beauvais – Paris line covering the busy Beauvais – Paris-Nord commuter route.

Railcoop to open freight route

Railcoop the group planning to operate a Bordeaux - Lyon passenger service (see July News) have announced that they plan to introduce a freight service in September 2021 between Viviez-Decazeville and Toulouse-St-Jory via Capdenac. The approach will be that of a multi-lot service between freight yards using lorries for collection and delivery to the final destination.

Railcoop report that they have expressions of interest for almost 100,000 tons of traffic a year. They will hire three locomotives and 18 wagons, including some capable of intermodal traffic. Trains between the two locations will consist of up to thirteen wagons and two locomotives.

Opposite. Francilien unit 270 (Z 50539/540) in IDF Mobilities livery forms the rear unit of a Mantes la Jolie service entering Meulan - Hardricourt on the 24th October. Photo Michel Costes

Villefranche - Prades re-opens

Rail traffic was restored on Monday, November 16 between Prades and Villefranche-de-Conflent. It was the last section of the Perpignan-Villefranche line still closed following the Millas bus accident in December 2017 when a school bus collided with a train on a crossing killing six teenagers and injuring a further 20.

Although the section between Perpignan and Prades had resumed last summer, the last section  between Prades and Villefranche was delayed due to a landslide in the town of Ria-Sirach during storm Gloria. This required work to stabilise the surrounding embankment and restore the rainwater flow network. 
After catching fire a few days earlier at Bréauté-Beuzeville BB15026 returned to Achères hauled by BB66170 and including the CMR coaches, normally used to provide braking capacity. Running as train 766900: Bréauté-Beuzeville -  Achères-Triage it is seen passing Villennes-sur-Seine, on 20th October2020. Photo Erwan Quintin.

Progress at CFHVS

Some time ago we reported on the new tourist railway being created on part of the 'Le Meusien' line from Bar Le duc to Verdun that came to prominence during the First World War.

CFHVS (Chemin de fer Historique de la Voie Sacrée) had laid  4 km of track along the original route to be operated with La Suzanne, an historic Corpet Louvet 0-3-0T. The project had stalled as the local authority had agreed to fund the terminus facilities providing covered storage, workshop, station and museum facilities but little progress made. These have now been completed, securing the future of the line and its rolling stock. Photo Est Republican/Jean-Noel Portmann

Farewell BB 17000's

After a career spanning more than 50 years the era of the BB 17000's has ended. Although they have not undertaken any regular passenger work since early 2019 the last examples were retained for stock movements to Sotteville. On November 13th it was the turn of the last two operational examples BB17071 and BB17053 to make the final journey to Sotteville. Hauled by BB 27351 the pair are seen shortly after Poissy forming 318973 Achères - Sotteville.

With  BB 17000's no longer available the role of taking withdrawn stock to Sotteville now falls to Class BB 22200, normally IDF pool BB22218. On 12th November Infra sector BB22399 was used and is seen below passing Porcheville en route to Sotteville with withdrawn VB2N set 252. Both photos. Romain Vergnères

Besançon - Morteau - Le Locle (CH)

- An international line with a bright future !

Above. A single X 73500 coasts downhill across the slopes of the Jura range near Avoudrey in April 2004.
Sadly, we often report closures of rural lines (or parts of them) in France for various reasons (absence of maintenance, lack of a plan and investment to make the line useful). But in this article we are pleased to describe a rural line that will benefit from a full scale modernisation in 2021. It is the Watchmakers' line (Ligne des Horlogers*) in the département of the Doubs (25). This single track line links Besançon with the Swiss town of Le Locle, a distance of 78 km (via Le Valdahon and Morteau). It was opened in 1884.
The Modernisation Plan 
 On 16th October 2020, a convention was signed at Dijon between Bourgogne Franche-Comté Region, SNCF Réseau and the French State. The purpose is to renew the single track and repair the infrastructure along the "Ligne des Horlogers". All current speed restrictions will be lifted after completion. The estimated cost will be 55.5 million euros, shared by the Region and the State, 46% each, and SNCF Réseau 7.5%. An application has been made to Brussels for a subvention of 6 million euros, since this is an improvement to an international line.   
In detail, this plan has 3 principal objectives (along the line from Besançon to the frontier): 
 - the regeneration of 29 km of track for a life of 20 years at original line speeds. 68.6 km of long-welded rails, and 57,200 concrete sleepers have been ordered for delivery before the winter 2020/2021. 
 - the renovation of 30 bridges / tunnels in two phases ( 2021 and 2024 ). There will be a predicted life of 40 years after renovation. - the modernisation of the stations of Morteau and Valdahon, notably for accessibility. Platforms will be raised to 55 cm and a new island platform will be created at Morteau station. 
 The line will be closed for 8 months from 1st March - 31st October 2021 to carry out this work.
Above. Besançon-Mouillère July 2002. Overlooked by the Vauban Citadel, this site has been redeveloped in recent years. The historic goods shed was demolished.
Above. Valdahon July 2002. A TER service to Morteau and Le Locle waits to cross a down train to Besançon

Over the border

French trains have always operated from Besançon to Le Locle since the line opened. Currently, they terminate at the Swiss Jura rail hub of La Chaux-de -Fonds, 10 km from the border along the electrified SBB line. There are 3 international trains a day from Besançon plus 4 shuttle services for "frontaliers" between Morteau and La Chaux-de-Fonds. 
 Regulations regarding interpenetration of French trains into Switzerland have become more strict in recent years. In 2008/2009, four X 73500 railcars were adapted by Alstom to recognise Swiss signalling systems. These are X 73752 - 73755 and, since 2010, they are the only SNCF autorails allowed to cross the border at Le Locle, Col des Roches. However, in 2022, it is planned that all Swiss lines will be equipped with the European Train Control System (ETCS) This is not widely installed in France at present. 
 To solve the potential problem of the X 73500 being refused access to SBB lines, it has been agreed that French KVB speed control detectors will be temporarily installed along the 10 km of SBB track from Col des Roches to La Chaux-de-Fonds. The KVB system will be active (only for the French trains) from October 2021 until 2029 when it will be removed. This project is underway and the KVB "balises" and control boxes have been ordered. The cost of installation and removal in 8 years time has been included in the convention. In 2029, it is expected that new French rolling stock adapted for ETCS will replace the X 73500 diesei railcars.
Above. At the former junction at L'Hôpital-du-Gros-Bois, X 2819 with two trailer coaches pauses to serve the village in July 2002. For 30 years this type of railcar operated the line. 2819 is preserved in service at Langogne.
Above. In April 2004 a TER service to Besançon leaves Valdahon operated with two X 2800 railcars and a trailor coach. This was one of the last lines in France where the legendary X 2800 autorail still operated. 4 years later the last ones were withdrawn.

Riding the line through the Haut Doubs to Morteau

The train departs from Besançon-Viotte. The original station, a wooden construction, was opened in 1855 and was destroyed during the war in 1943. A new batiment voyageurs (BV) in concrete was opened in 1962. The first stop is at Besançon-Mouillère, overlooked by the Vauban citadel and close to the town centre. There was once a splendid monumental station building in stone, here. It was opened in 1884, for the nearby casino and thermal baths. However, in 1962 the 78 year old monument was demolished. Recently, the former station site has been redeveloped with blocks of flats. The station, containing 2 platforms and a small, concrete shelter, is quite busy, and used by 500 passengers daily on week days. 
 The railway to the Haut Doubs climbs out of the narrow valley of the Doubs on a steep gradient of 30 mm/m (1 in 33) for 5 km and then crosses fields and woods with stops at villages; Morre, Saone, Mamirolle and L'Hôpital-du-Gros-Bois (pk 22). Here, there was a junction for a branch line to Ornans and Lods which closed in 1939 (passengers) and 1983 (freight). The line continues to Etalans and then Valdahon (pk 33, alt 649m). With a population of nearly 6,000, Valdahon is the largest commune served by the railway between Besançon and Morteau. There has been a military camp at Valdahon since 1905. Currently, it is the base of the 13th Regiment of Engineers (They support front line operations and overcome obstacles). 
 After Valdahon, the line climbs continuously across the steps of the Jura mountain range, through forest and pastures to Gilley (pk 55, alt 864m). Originally, there was a junction here with a branch line to Pontarlier (closed in 1988). The railway descends steeply through cuttings and tunnels into the valley of the Doubs and reaches Morteau (pk 67, alt 755m). The town is famous for a smoked sausage made locally. The population is 7,000 and many work in nearby Switzerland. These are "frontaliers"; 
 It is 11 km from Morteau station to the Swiss frontier at Le Locle, Col des Roches (alt 915m) The single track railway and the nearby road pass through the summit ridge in short tunnels bored into the rock. Approximately 3,000 "frontaliers" cross the Col des Roches every week day from France into the Swiss Jura valley to work. 1,310 of these "frontaliers" live in Morteau. There are 3 early morning trains from Morteau to La Chaux de Fond as an alternative to the traffic jams on the road. It seems to be insufficient.
Above. On a sunny afternoon in July 2002 a single railcar from Besançon enters the river side suburbs of Morteau 
Above. The historic station building at Morteau is in the recognisable style of the PLM company.
The TER train service in 2020
Bourgogne Franche Comté Region reports that 29 TER trains are operated daily, Mondays - Fridays, on the Besançon - Le Locle line and they carry 1,700 passengers daily. In recent years, the railway has adapted to growth in demand. The chronic road congestion at each end of the line has encouraged residents to use the train service. There are 4 flows of traffic; 
Commuters / inter-regional / international / international commuters 
 Timetable / Mondays - Fridays / return services : 
 - Besançon - Valdahon : 11 trains daily of which - 5 trains continue to Morteau of which 3 trains continue to La Chaux de Fonds
 - Morteau - La Chaux-de-Fonds : 4 return services ( + 3 return services to/from Besançon )  
Journey times; 
 - Besançon - Valdahon : 45 - 52 mins, 7 intermediate stops 
 - Besançon - Morteau : 86 - 91 mins, 10 intermediate stops 
 - Besançon - La Chaux-de-Fonds (CH) : 1h 59mins, 12 intermediate stops 
Part 2 (JANUARY NEWS) We will study in more detail the cross border section from Morteau to La Chaux-de-Fonds (CH), the two branch lines now closed and the material used on this railway in the Jura mountains.
Notes: pk = km posts. alt = altitude in mètres 
 Besançon; Capital of the département of Doubs, population 116,000, metropolitan area - 250,000. Contains light industry concentrated on watchmaking, microtechnology, micro mechanics, biomedical engineering. 
 La Chaux de Fonds / Le Locle; These two Swiss towns in the Canton de Neuchatel have a combined population of 51,000. They are listed by UNESCO for their significance in the Patrimoine Mondial as an urban industrial area of watchmaking. 
 Valdahon. This commune was originally named "Le Valdahon". A few years ago, the "Le" was dropped, but SNCF continues to call it "Le Valdahon". 
 Text and photos: Graham Skinner
Below: Morteau April 2004. Eglise Notre Dame-de-l'Assomption (1420). In the distance, the station and the railway line that continues (top right) towards the Swiss frontier. The meanders of the Doubs river flowing east towards Montbeliard before turning west to Besançon and on to the Saône

Turning the clock back

A dip into the Society's photographic archive

Additions to FRS Photographic Archive during November 2020

- A new Michael Pope gallery, comprising some 220+ colour images from across France covering 1980’s thru to early 2000 
 - A new Tony Scarsbrook gallery; these are just short of 90 colour pictures from across France covering the period 1967 thru to 1990, donated to the FRS

-LVDR 408 , July 1953 - Special edition on Autorails, placed in Folder 4 

- Loco Revue Hors Serie 1991 - “Le Depot Vapeur”, placed in Folder 4 

-  Loco Revue Hors Serie 1992 - “La Locomotive a Vapeur Parts 1 & 2”, placed in Folder 4

-  CIWL WR2419D - Wagon Armistice

- Portefeuille de l’Ingenieur des Chemins de Fer/Planches - Auguste Perdonnet 1866, placed in Folder 4 

Additions to the FRS public folder 

- Photographic index of “Michael Pope” colour images 
 - Photographic index of “Tony Scarsbrook” colour images

 - Maps of secondary railways networks of French Departments in 1923 

Photos Clockwise: BB25500s at Nice 1984, CF Vivarais 403 taking water at Boucieu-le-Roi and then departing for Lamastre1984, CC 7002 sandwiched between a CC 6500 and BB 8100 Toulouse depot 1990, Automotrice Z.608 at Chamonix-Mont Blanc . CC 7002 Michael Pope, others Tony Scarsbrook
© Peter Lovell & Graham Skinner. The French Railways Society 2020. With thanks to Michel Costes, Romain Vergnères, Erwan Quintin, Christophe Masse and Georges Turpin.
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