The International Steam Pages


Chemin de Fer des Combes

Thomas Kautzor writes

Located in Le Creusot (Sâone-et-Loire), the ‘Chemin de Fer des Combes’ (CFC), despite its non-authentic looking train, must be France’s most spectacular 600 mm gauge railway. With its steep gradients and horseshoe curves it is a true hill railway in the heart of rather flat Burgundy. Le Creusot is a small-sized industrial town marked by the iron and steel industry, and had been the home of the Schneider Works since 1836. Schneider not only produced armament and heavy machinery, but also steam and later electric locomotives here. SNCF 241.P.17 (Schneider 4919/1947) has been restored and is in the care of the same society (http://www.train-vapeur.fr/) which operates the CFC and has been hauling special trains over the SNCF network since 2006. Today, axles for railway vehicles are still produced here at an Alstom Transportation plant, including those used on TGVs.

The CFC network is made up of two parts: the first is a 5.2 km long loop around the top of a hill northwest of town known as the ‘Circuit des Combes’, with a height difference of 50 metres between the top station of Les Combes and the lowest point. The second, known as ‘Circuit des Deux Vallées’, is a steeply-graded 5 km long line which starts from a station between the SNCF station and the local McDonalds and ends at the Halte des Mineurs, where it connects with the upper loop line. This line has one horseshoe curve, while from Halte des Mineurs the upper loop has three to get back to Les Combes.

The first section of the CFC was opened in 1990 and part of the network is laid on the right of way of Schneider’s former standard gauge slag railway, which used switchbacks to gain altitude and was operated between 1896 and 1953 with industrial 0-6-0T locomotives built in the own works. A tunnel from this railway is also used by the CFC. Soon after it opened, the plateau on top of the hill was used by the military as an artillery shooting range (to test guns built in the factories below) and the railway was also used to take the large rail-mounted guns up.

CFC locomotives and stock are kept in two sheds, the main shed and works are at Les Combes, while an equally large storage depot is attached to the line from the SNCF station. There is a turntable at Le Combes station and at Le Creusot the CFC crosses a (now disconnected) standard gauge siding on the level. Due to the steep gradients (up to 30mm/m), all of the rolling stock is equipped with compressed air braking. Children’s rides are located around the Les Combes station, all part of the ‘Parc des Combes’ complex (http://www.parcdescombes.com/).

Steam trains only operate on select weekends and special occasions. When they do, they cover the whole network twice, with departures from Les Combes (top station) at 14.00 & 16.00 and departures from Le Creusot (SNCF) at 15.00 & 17.00 (although they tend to run late), while the 18.00 departure from Les Combes only runs on the ‘Circuit des Combes’. At other times trains are operated with diesel locomotives. Outside of the high season, regular trains normally do not run on the ‘Circuit des Deux Vallées’, only charter restaurant trains which are kept at the lower depot and have to start from Le Creusot station at all times, as this is where the food is prepared and loaded onto the trains.


Steam locomotives

Over the years, six steam locomotives have been based on the CFC, four of which were 0-8-0T Brigadeloks, of which three saw active use:

Green & black LA BARRAQUOISE (Henschel 16082/1918) saw use between 1994 and 2000, after which it was stored inside the lower depot until it was sold to the AECFM ‘Train Historique du Lac de Rillé’ in June 2014:

ex F. Choppin & L. Mouillet (particuliers) ;
1986 ex M. Pechiné ou Pochiné, le Petit Train de la Guette (restaurant), Seaulieu (21) ;
1960 ex J. Boigues & Cie., Usine Céramique No. 4, Decize (58) ;
ex Couthon (dealer), No. 600;
ex Ministère des Régions Libérées (MRL), Réseau de la Marne ;
ex HF 2332, Ersatzpark Berlin.

Red & black ROGER CHAMBON (Henschel 15526/1917) was restored in 2000:

ex M. Hamaide (private), Nemours (78) ;
ex Sablières de Bourron No. 5, Bourron-Marlotte (78) ;
1920 ex Administration des Domaines ;
ex HF 1727, Ersatzpark Berlin

Blue & black GARANCE (Henschel 14969/1917) was restored in 2012:

ex C.F. de St-Eutrope (CFSE) No. 4.1 « Garance » ex « Georgette », Evry (91) ;
ex Hénocque (dealer) ;
1968 ex Ruwenhorst & Humbert (contractors) No. 33 ;
ex HF 1239, Depot-Verwaltung der 1. Eisenbahn-Brigade, Berlin-Schönberg.

The fourth, green O&K 8614/1918, has never been restored and been stored at the lower depot since it arrived :

ex Sablières de Bourron No. 9, Bourron-Marlotte (78) ;
1939 ex Joussain & Gavery (dealers), Thorigny, Lagny (78) ;
1924 ex Ministère des Régions Libérées (MRL), Réseau de la Marne ;
192x ex HF 2186, Depot-Verwaltung der 1. Eisenbahn-Brigade, Berlin-Schönberg.

The other two are standard 8-tonne Decauville 0-6-0T:

Brown & black Decauville 1712/1917 is stored at the lower depot : 

ex C.F. de St-Eutrope (CFSE) No. 3.2 « Evry », Evry (91),
c.4/1978 ex Hénocque (revendeur) ;
1968 ex Ruwenhorst & Humbert (entrepreneurs TP) No. 37 « Tito »,
ex Ministère de la Guerre, Direction des Forges.

Decauville 1758/1920 is dismantled, with the frame and cut-open boiler in the shed which houses 241.P.17 :

en monument 1968-98,
ex Cimenteries Origny-Sainte-Benoîte (02),
ex Moine.

Diesel Locomotives: 

Green Y-355 is one of two rebuilt Decauville underground diesels (Baudoin engine) with which the CFC started operating in 1990.

 

A year later it was joined by two Berry (6 tonnes, 30 hp) conversions: red/white Y-754 and orange/grey Y-755. A third locomotive of the same type, yellow No. 759, was never restored and is stored in the main depot.

 

Also stored in the main depot is a standard gauge 1917 Baldwin petrol locomotive (9.5 tonnes, 70 hp) ex EDF Vermaquet, which was originally 600 mm gauge.

 

Red Billard T75D No. 164 (85 hp) was built for the Maginot Line prior to WWII and obtained from Villey-le-Sec fort.

Ochre Billard T100D No. 3.110 (100 hp) is an armoured 6wDM built in 1942 for the Atlantic Wall. It was obtained from the C.F. de Saint-Eutrope T.301 at Evry (91) and formerly worked at the St-Germainmont sugar factory (Ardennes).

Green COMESSA Y-306 (4 tonnes, 30/40 hp) was restored in 1992, it formerly worked at the Montreveil-en-Bresse quarry (Ain).

Green/grey Deutz A3M420 F 36877/1941 (0-4-0DM, 10 tonnes, 90 hp), stored at the main depot:

2001 ex C.F. de St-Eutrope (CFSE) T.08, Evry (91),
ex Parc d’attraction Bagatelle, Merlimont,
ex Soc. Sucrerie Agricole de Maizy,
ex Dubick & Stehr, Hamburg (D)

Another tiny unidentified Deutz is stored off the tracks at the lower depot.

Red/white Gmeinder 2301/1938 (0-4-0DM, 13 tonnes, 90 hp) is based at the lower depot and primarily used for the CFC’s restaurant charter trains (the yellow coach is the kitchen car, used to keep the food warm before it is served). It was converted from 750 mm gauge in 1981: 

ex C.F. de St-Eutrope (CFSE) T.213, Evry (91) ;
1998 ex Dampfbahn Rhein-Main (DRM) D4, Frankfurt/Main (D) ;
1981 ex Maxhütte (750mm), Sulzbach-Rosenberg (D) ;
ex Bauunternehmung Leonhard Moll (contractor), München (D).

Blue O&K MV4a 26239/1963 (9 tonnes, 75 hp) was restored in 1997 and is named LE GASTON. It was regauged from metre gauge at some point of time:

c.1995 ex Musée des Transports de la Vallée du Sausseron (MTVS), Valmondois(95) ;
09/1979 ex Entreprise C. Montocol ;
ex Coince & Mignard, Louis Blanc, Courbevois.

There are two Plymouth DL1108 (12 tonnes, 100/120 hp), the grey/green is No. 2 and was restored in 1992, the blue/yellow is unnumbered and was restored in 1996. Both are ex Poliet & Chausson cement works.

Finally, the green/blue SOCOFER (4wDH, Type SCF-110, 9.3 tonnes, 110 hp) was built new for the CFC in 1997.

Passenger Coaches:

At first two rakes of three light 12-seat semi-open bogie coaches built by Lavoisier in 1990 were used (700 kg, Nos. 11-13, 21-23). At least three of these were rebuilt with new bogies in 2010.

Subsequent coaches were all built by GIRAGR:

3 open-sided 40-seat coaches (GIRAGR Type 700 No. 101-103, 1998, 3 tonnes); 
1 closed 16-seat coach with end platforms (GIRAGR Type 770, No. 110); 
1 closed 20-seat coach with one end platform (GIRAGR Type 770 No. 113, 1999, 4 tonnes); 
1 closed coach with end platforms for wheelchairs; 
1 closed kitchen coach with end platforms (GIRAGR 1999, 3 tonnes); 
1 closed 25-seat restaurant coach with end platforms; 
2 semi-open 32-seat coaches with large end platforms (GIRAGR 1999, 3 tonnes, “Péchôt” bogies); 
1 closed coach with end platforms (“Péchôt” bogies). 

Nearby Attractions:

Also in Le Creusot, the Human & Industrial Museum located in the Château de la Verrerie (the former Schneider family residence) has three 1/14th scale (104 mm gauge) miniature locomotives on display, built by the late Lucien Mothu:

a 4-8-2 (built 1935-45, locomotive only 2.30 m, 70 kg);
a 4-4-4-4 (built 1959-71, locomotive + tender 1.43+.105 m, 105+65 kg.);
an uncompleted PLM Algérie 4-6-2+2-6-4 Garratt No. 231.132A1 (started in 1972, 2.30 m, 155 kg).

Not far away (17 km), the ‘Musée de la Mine’ (coal mining museum) in Blanzy (next to Montceau-les-Mines) has some underground railway equipment, including two SW electric locomotives No. 4 and 6 (SW type LM 1054B, c1948), one LLD diesel No. 1, three Berry diesels No. 4/5/9, a beautiful Decauville four-wheel open coach with curtains and various mining wagons (all 800 mm gauge), as well as monorail train No. 128 (SSCM type 840 No. 147/1975), all ex ‘Houillères du Bassin Blanzy’.


Rob Dickinson

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