The International Steam Pages


Rail preservation in Région Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA)
Part 1 - Tourist Railways

Thomas Kautzor writes:

While the region is the third most important economically in France, with the 2nd and 5th largest cities with Marseilles and Nice, and is very dependent on tourism, rail preservation sites are few and far in between.

See also:

Part 2 Museums

Part 3 Miscellaneous Items

Chemins de fer de Provence (CP) / Le Train des Pignes (GECP):

The best known and only steam tourist operation in the region is probably the “Train des Pignes” which operates out of Puget-Théniers on parts of the 151 km meter gauge Chemins de fer de Provence (CP). The steam trains are operated by the ‘Groupe d’Etude pour les Chemins de fer de Provence’ (GECP, http://gecp.asso.fr/), a society founded in 1975 when the line was seriously threatened with closure. Most trains operate to Annot (a distance of c. 20 km), with an intermediate stop at Entreveaux, on select days from early May to early November and are hauled by ex-CP (Portugal) 2-4-0+0-6-0T Mallet E 211 (Henschel 19874/1923). In Portugal she was in use out of Sernada on the Val de Vouga lines until 1975, out of Lousado from 1975 to 1976 and out of Regua on the Corgo line from 1976 to 1981. Sold to the GECP in 1986, she first saw use on the CP between 1988 and 1992, after which she went through a major overhaul at the Lucato Termica workshops in Castelletto-Montferrato (Alessandria, Italy) only to return to service in 2010.

Prior to the arrival of the Portuguese Mallet, the GECP used ex-SNCF ‘Réseau Breton’ 4-6-0T E 327 (Fives-Lille 3582/1909) between 1980 and 1987, and again between 1993 and 2007. Before it came to the CP, it had been saved by FACS in 1967 and saw limited use on the Vivarais line between 1969 and 1979. Since 2007 it has been out-of-use and stored inside the shed at Puget-Théniers. It would need some major repair to work once again, but is not really adapted to the steep gradients. Also at Puget, GECP uses ex-SNCF ‘Blanc-Argent’ 0-6-0DM No. 11 (CFD Neuillé-Pont-Pierre 1940-41) as a shunter. Built on the frames of CFD Indre & Loire Nord 0-6-0T No. 8 (Couillet 1885), the little diesel first saw use on the CFD Indre & Loire Nord and Yonne lines, before being sold to the Blanc-Argent (BA) railway in 1952 and ending up with GECP in 1988.

Over the years, Chemins de fer de Provence (CP, http://trainprovence.com/) has achieved to keep the line from Nice to Digne-les-Bains open in spite of many problems and obstacles. On weekdays a frequent urban service is operated between Nice, Colomars and Plan du Var. Since 2007 the region has invested heavily in the line’s upkeep and since 01/2014 it is operated directly by the region’s own ‘Régie Régionale des Transports’ (from 2007 to 2013 the operator was Veolia, the former CFTA). 2009/10 saw the delivery of four new two-car AMP railcars built by CFD (the first one of which was hit by a boulder and destroyed in 2012) and in 2016 the remaining CFD railcars from the 1970s will be replaced by six modified two-car CAF class 61 railcars built in 1995 and bought second-hand from SFM Mallorca in Spain (where they are not needed anymore due to electrification), which will be used only on the urban services.

Three of the Renault ABH railcars built in the 1930s to replace the steam trains still survive (pictures from 2008):

ZZ 6 (X 326) Renault ABH-1 1936, stored inside Annot depot;
ZZ 22 (X 322) Renault ABH-1 1935, stored inside Digne depot (in crème and blue ‘Alpes-Azur’ livery);
X 320 (ex ZZ 10) Renault ABH-5 1938, stored at Digne.

However, neither CP nor GECP have shown any interest in trying to get one back into service to run special trains.

Association du Train Touristique du Centre Var (ATTCV):

An SNCF line once linked Gardanne, on the Marseille to Aix-en-Provence main line, with Carnoules, on the Marseille to Nice main line. The main way station was the bauxite mining town of Brignoles (Var). After the bauxite mines closed in the mid-1970s, the line was closed.

The section from Carnoules to Brignoles (24 km) has since been reopened as a tourist railway by a private society, the ‘Association du Chemin de fer Touristique du Centre Var (ATTCV, http://asso.attcv.fr/). Trains don’t start from the SNCF station at Carnoules but from a platform next to a level crossing at Carnoules-Les Platanes. The open-air garage is located at Besse-sur-Issole (km 6). ATTCV operates two BB 63500 diesel locos and four diesel railcars, all on loan or acquired from SNCF. They have also acquired and restored some historic freight cars.

SNCF “Caravelle” XR 8380/X4567 (ANF 1966, 425hp, on loan from SNCF) and draisine DU 65-100 (1965) at Besse-sur-Isolle;
SNCF BB 64042 (AEBL 1969, 825hp, on loan from SNCF) at Besse-sur-Isolle;
ATTCV “Picasso” X 3976 (ANF 1955, 340hp, 1996 ex CFT Guîtres-Marcenais, ex SNCF) at Besse-sur-Isolle;
SNCF modernized “Caravelle” XR 8619/X 4590 (ANF 1967, mod. 1988, 425hp, on loan from SNCF) at Besse-sur-Issole;
SNCF X 2204 (2011 ex SNCF), in use that day, at Brignoles.

Régie Départementale des Transports des Bouches-du-Rhône (RDT13):

As in many other southern French departments, in the Bouche-du-Rhône the secondary railways were standard, operated by ‘Chemin de fer des Bouche-du-Rhône’ (BdR), which in 1965 became ‘Régie départementale des Transports des BdR’, nowadays known as RDT13. Aside from operating public bus services throughout the departement, RDT13 still operates heavy petrol rail service on the Pas-des-Lanciers – Marignane (depot) – La Mède line (19 km), also known as the “petrol line” west of Marseille. The line, which originally extended a further 3 km to Martigues, already lost its passenger service in 1933 and was cut back to the refineries site at La Mède in 1954. RDT13 also recently started operating trains in open access on the French national rail network (RFN), for which they have acquired four modern Vossloh G2000BB B-B DH between 2012 and 2014.

After World War II, BdR acquired three oil-fired USATC 0-6-0Ts No. 40-42 (SNCF type 030-TU) and leased 141.Rs from SNCF to work the petrol trains this line until it was dieselized in the late 1950s.

Two other BdR/RDT13 lines are still in place but don’t have any traffic. Once part of a 97 km network between Arles, Meyrargues and Salon-de-Provence, the 10.5 km line from Arles to Fontvieille-Carrières last served a French Navy ammunitions depot, but was officially closed to traffic on 31.12.2012. The network was originally opened in 1875 with a gauge of 1410mm. At Arles, RDT13 still maintains its locomotives workshops and sometimes freshly overhauled diesel locos are sent out over parts of the line for test drives. Until c2010 RDT13 operated a tourist service, the “Petit Train des Alpilles” on the line from from May to October, using either diesels or 0-6-0T 8157 (SACM 8157/1953, ex Houillères du Bassin des Cévennes No. 1, La Grande Combe), which was sold to AGRIVAP in 07/2013.

The second closed line extends from Barbentane-Rognonas, south of Avignon, to Châteaurenard and Plan d’Orgon (23 km). It was known as the “Réseau des primeurs” as it mainly served the national fresh fruit market in Châteaurenard, sending trains to major French cities. The line, opened in 1887, lost its passenger service in 1936, and nowadays all fruit is transported by truck. Here too, RDT13 operated a tourist service as the “Chemin de fer à Vapeur du Val de Provence” (CVVP) until 2008, using either diesels or 030-TU-46 (H.K. Porter 7584/1943, restored at Zrenjanin in 2002, ex FC Kraljevo, ex JZ 62-046, ex USATC 5042), which sold to C.F. du Haut-Quercy in 12/2011. At Châteaurenard, the small peculiar four-stall roundhouse still survives next to the former station (now a bus garage), and although the tourist train’s open passenger coaches have been removed, a few not-yet-converted Swiss covered freight vans and three cars from the BdR/RDT13 historical collection are still parked there. These are six-wheel baggage an BDR 69683, brake van 40 MR 49 1 871-9 U and a flat car.

At the eastern end of the line, ‘Vélorails de Provence’ (http://velorails-de-provence.blog4ever.com/ link dead by 25th October 2016) operates rail bike excursions between Plan d’Orgon and Saint-Andiol (5 km), using 10 four-seat bikes.

Châteaurenard station, now used as a bus depot
BDR six-wheel baggage van 69683

Domaine de Méjanes, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (Bouches-du-Rhône):

In 1932, 23-year old Paul Ricard gave his name to an anise and licorice-based drink he just invented in Marseille, Ricard. In 1940, under the Vichy government, high spirit alcoholic drinks were banned. In order to prevent his factory workers from being sent to Germany as forced laborers, Paul Ricard started rice farming and processing in the Camargue, acquiring a number of properties, including 600 ha. Domaine de Méjanes (http://www.mejanes.camargue.fr/). In the early 1960s, after Ricard had resumed producing his 45° pastis, part of it was turned into a tourist attraction and it is still owned by the Pernod Ricard company today.
In 1968 a 600mm gauge railway loop of 3.5 km was opened around a marsh to allow visitors to have a look at the local vegetation and fauna, extending from the domaine to the shores of Etang de Vaccarès. The train ride on the much deteriorated track takes 25 minutes. There are two steam-outline diesel locos, probably among the ugliest in France, and designed by Paul Ricard himself. The operating loco is a four-wheel Plymouth, which was recently fitted with a new Renault truck diesel engine, while the reserve loco is equipped with a 25hp Berliet GLM truck engine. Passengers travel in three 30-seat open-sided coaches equipped with Péchôt bogies.

SNCF “Train des Merveilles” Nice – Breil-sur-Roya:

Breil-sur-Roya is a French village high up in the Alps, on the border with Italy. It is connected to Nice by a 44 km long railway (https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ligne_de_Nice_%C3%A0_Breil-sur-Roya), with numerous bridges, tunnels and spirals, which is part of the scenic Tenda lines (https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ligne_de_Tende). At Breil, this line connects with the Italian line from Torino and Cuneo to Ventimiglia on the coast, which runs partly over French territory. Between May and October, SNCF operates the 09.23 departure from Nice to Breil as the “Train des Merveilles” (https://www.ter.sncf.com/paca/loisirs/lignes-touristiques/train-des-merveilles), with an onboard tourist guide highlighting the features along the line.


Rob Dickinson

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