The International Steam Pages
C.F. Touristique des Lacs de Monclar, 2013
Thomas Kautzor writes of his visit to an under-reported French narrow gauge
railway in August 2013:
Last weekend I was in Toulouse to attend the steam festival at the 500mm gauge CFT du Tarn with their two little Decauvilles. I'd never been to SW France before, but somehow remembered that there was another less well-known n.g. railway not far away at the Lac de Monclar. After I found out that they were still in operation, I decided to also pay it a visit.
On Friday, on the way from Toulouse Airport to Monclar, a stop was first made at Montech to see the inclined plane on the Garonne Canal. In 1974 this inclined plane was put in service to increase the capacity of the canal and to speed up the crossing of the five parallel locks. The two rubber-tired and concrete rail-guided Diesel engines push a watertight frontage plate which pushes a triangle of water on which the ship floats up or down the plane. Sadly, for security reasons the plane is not operating anymore, a study has been commissioned to see if it can be put back into service in accordance with current norms.
Monclar-de-Quercy (Tarn-et-Garonne) used to be linked to Montauban (54 km north of Toulouse) by one of three lines belonging to the metregauge Tramways de Tarn-et-Garonne (TTG) which radiated out of Montauban. The 25 km-long line was opened in 1926 and already shut down in 1933, however the station, loco shed and water tower in Monclar still stand today (the former as a wood construction company, the two others as part of a funeral home).
In the 1970s an artificial lake was created to supply water to Monclar and a number of surrounding communities. This lake was later turned into a recreation area and in 1987 a private company built a 600mm gauge tourist railway along its eastern edge, a distance of 1.7 km. A total of a 150 bungalows are available for rental above the lake and there is also a camping area.
Two diesels and at least 13 ore cars (built in 1948) were bought from the Houillères du Bassin des Cévennes (HBC) near Alés (Gard), which closed in 1985. In 1987 a 1st class bogie Pullman coach was built, based loosely on the CIWL Orient Express. One ore car was rebuilt into an open coach, while four others were rebuilt into tram-style coaches. In 1994 the railway was sold to the municipality, which is paying an enthusiast society to operate it, while the society can also keep all profits for itself. The society therefore doesn’t have any financial worries, but there is only one active member left to maintain and operate the railway (at times the municipality helps out to change rotten sleepers with one of its employees).
During the Summer the railway operates twice daily, departing at 16:00 and 17:00 for the hour-long round trip (which includes two stops with a commentary on the railway and the region), while during the Spring and Fall it operates only on Sundays and holidays, with a departure at 16:00, or for groups (tel. 05.63.30.34.37). The odd thing about the CFTLM is however that in May/June and September/October it operates round trips to take the town’s schoolchildren from the southern end of the line, next to two schools, and the swimming pool located at the northern end of the line, for their swimming classes. Trains operate on Mo/Tu/Th/Fr, with between 4 (Mondays) and 6 trips (Fridays) per day. This is therefore the only French submetric narrow gauge railway which offers a public passenger service to schoolchildren.
From its northern terminus, high above the lake’s swimming and pool areas, the train passes a crossing loop and crosses the road. It then follows a treeline before reaching the recreation areas main gate where it again crosses the road three times before reaching the Central Station, which comprises the three-track depot. The line continues between the road and a treeline to the southern terminus near the lake’s dam, which has a crossing loop. Near the Central Station two former SNCF sleeping coaches are available for hire by groups or individuals.
The CFTLM’s two original ex-HBC locos (with 30 and 45 hp Baudouin engines) are still housed inside the depot, but cannot be used as their engines have to be started with a compressor, which is not allowed anymore. One of the two was even turned into a “Garratt” a few years ago, with one of the large ex-HBC ore cars equipped with a fake boiler that could hold a smoking fire coupled to its front. It was then used in conjunction with the saloon coach coupled in between two of the tram coaches. Nowadays, on weekdays a much-modified Diesel with an MWM engines is used to haul up to four tram coaches, while on weekends when there are less people around due to the turnover, less powerful Diema DS14 2122/1958 (15 hp Deutz engine), obtained via Luxembourg from the NV Scheerders van Kerchove brickworks in St. Niklaas, Belgium, is used with up to two tram cars. That last composition is also used for the off-season school trains (as shown on the last four pictures taken on Saturday).
The saloon coach was in use until a couple of years ago, when during a break-in into the depot most of its chairs were stolen, leaving only seven. During the same break-in, the diesel generator on the service flat car was stolen as well. At the same time, passenger numbers have been dropping over the years. In the past, the railway used to get a lot of groups of elderly people from the area during the off-season, but that is not the case anymore. The person operating the railway is now 73 years old and would like to find a replacement but no one has shown interest so far.
The railway is present on the web at: