November 2017 - BLNI Extra 33 France pictorial
[C81] France - A pictorial from a member’s travels in recent years
Aspres-sur-Buëch station is situated near to the convergence of the three lines leading to Briançon and
Gap, but is only served by one of them. The approaching DMU is heading north to Grenoble, coming off
the double track section from Veynes-Dévoluy. Out of view behind the magnificent tree are platforms on
the line west towards Livron and Valence, but these are not currently served by trains on the route. Barely
1km further back is the junction of the single line south to Marseilles. The result is that the passenger
junction of the 3 routes is some 8km east at Veynes-Dévoluy. Veynes (where the station is located) is
something of a railway village with large infrastructure maintenance facilities, while (Le) Dévoluy appears
to be over 20km distant in the mountains to the north! Of the 3 converging lines, only the Marseilles—
Briançon route appears to have a secure future. This is no doubt explained by its remaining in the
Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azure region throughout. By contrast, the Valence and Grenoble lines soon pass
into Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, raising potential funding difficulties. There is currently a severe and quite
lengthy slack on the Grenoble route a short distance south of the border, between Lus-la-Croix-Haute and
A pair of railcars forms a Gap—Grenoble service as it enters Monestier-de-Clermont, running some 15
minutes late, and causing a similar knock-on delay to the photographer's southbound train. The limestone
crags of the Vercors massif form an impressive backdrop, on what is a generally highly scenic but
At Vif, the Grenoble—Gap line starts a zig-zag climb to the high ground lying to the south and in places it
is possible to see two lower levels of the route from the train. The railcar in the picture, however, is leaving
in the opposite direction, down the broad, industrialised valley to Grenoble. Despite Vif being easily the
largest intermediate community on the line, surprisingly few passengers joined or left the services
observed by the photographer. The two staff on duty were hardly overworked! Readers must decide
whether shocking pink paintwork enhances or otherwise the station building.
In the fading light of 23 September 2016 the once-daily (SX) single car DMU from Limoges-Bénédictins
stands at Felletin, its terminus. Despite this being a Friday evening, passenger numbers to stations beyond
Guéret (the extent of a more frequent service from Limoges) were in single digits. After shutting down
the unit, the driver and conductor headed into the town trundling suitcases; the same individuals re-
emerged the following morning to take charge of the 07:44 SO to Limoges and its 3 passengers. A welcome
extra hours sleep for them (and any accompanying gricers) compared with the 06:44 start M-F! Working
this service as a lodging turn can hardly enhance its questionable economics.
The DMU, now “put to bed” for the night, is lost in the swathe of dereliction surrounding Felletin station.
The line to the right once continued behind the camera towards Ussel, but now the track terminates after
some 200 metres to form a headshunt serving the slightly less overgrown sidings on the right. Despite a
lack of evidence of any remotely recent freight traffic, or for that matter any obvious source of such
business, recent sleeper replacement had clearly taken place along the headshunt.
A glimpse of the impressive viaduct at Busseau-sur-Creuse across (you guessed it!) the river Creuse and
its valley. It carries trains on both the “main” line towards Montluçon-Ville and the branch to Felletin. The
junction between the routes is now at the east end of the viaduct, on the opposite side to the station, but
it appears that there were previously separate single lines across it, with the southerly (Felletin) one being
lifted. The waiting room at Busseau-sur-Creuse station contains an interpretive panel about the viaduct,
along with a sternly-worded warning sign against trespassing on the structure.
The train crew while away the time chatting with passengers on a Sunday afternoon at Pompadour, as
they wait for a southbound service to arrive and clear the single line towards St-Yrieix. This is on the
“pretty route” between Brive-la-Gaillarde and Limoges-Bénédictins, in the sense that trains on this line
take over 2 hours for the trip, compared with around 80 minutes stopping or 60 minutes fast on the
Paris—Toulouse main line via Uzerche. Progress was leisurely (even by rural "TER" standards), hinting at
possible infrastructure funding issues, while the only section for which patronage even approached
double figures was on the common section with the Limoges—Bordeaux line north of Nexon, which is
double track. That stretch felt like being on a TGV after the previous 2 hours!
Laval-de-Cère (the station sign lacks several of its characters!) basks in afternoon sunshine on 24
September 2016 as a Brive-la-Gaillarde—Aurillac train pauses to wait for time and the solitary alighting
passenger strides purposefully about her business. The section of line from here to the next open station
at Laroquebrou passes for some 20km through the spectacularly narrow gorge of the River Cère on a ledge
cut out of the rocky walls, with a stretch of “longitudinal viaduct” at one point. Most of the sections
between frequent tunnels are protected by a rockfall warning system of tripwires which in some places
are arranged vertically on the hillside, rather like in the Pass of Brander on the Oban line in Scotland. But
for the most part the 5 wires are supported above the track from masts, giving the impression of some
bizarre system of electrification. Improbably, there is a closed station, Lamativie, complete with out-of-
use passing loop, deep in the gorge. This high-maintenance section has the misfortune to cross the
regional boundary between Midi-Pyrenées and Auvergne, so is unlikely to be a prime candidate for
funding if heavy expenditure becomes due. In fact, the service as a whole traverses 3 regions (and equally,
3 of the new super-regions), with Brive to Turenne being in Limousin, though this section is on the “main”
Brive-la-Gaillarde—Rodez line before the Aurillac route branches off at Saint-Denis-lès-Martel. On the
photographer's out-and-back trip over the line that day, there was reasonable traffic between Brive and
Bretenoux-Biars, but very little use east of there, or at other intermediate stations.
The architecturally unimpressive building at Boën was one of the two surviving intermediate stations on
the now-closed section of the St-Étienne-Châteaucreux—Clermont-Ferrand direct route, between
Montbrison and Thiers. On 28 September 2015, the presence of a “TER” bus just discernible in the
forecourt shows the shape of things to come. A handful of passengers abandoned the late-afternoon
commuter service here (it had been packed between St-Étienne and Montbrison), leaving an even smaller
number to continue towards Noirétable, Thiers and Clermont. The photographer was the only one to stick
out the entire journey. Perhaps this was unsurprising when “TER” express buses provide a faster service
between the two cities, or a quicker train journey—albeit at a higher fare—is possible by changing at
Roanne. Ironically, the reorganization of French régions has removed the former boundary between the
now unified Auvergne and Rhône-Alpes, which raised funding obstacles that spelled the death warrant
for this section (Ed. Funding has been agreed to repair this section)
The Sunday afternoon slumbers of Mouise-Rochefort remain undisturbed by joining or alighting
passengers as the daily Clermont-Ferrand—Le Mont-Dore service pauses. The Volvic—Le Mont-Dore
section closed in November 2015, taking away the opportunity for a leisurely perambulation by train
through some charming Auvergne countryside. The return leg of that day's service was surprisingly well
used, with a number of passengers transferring at Laqueuille off a substitute bus from Ussel (which itself
had a connecting train from Limoges), that line having closed just over a year earlier.
Excellent shots of Le Mont-Dore have previously appeared in BLNI, but the picturesque location is arguably
worth a couple more megabytes. Little more than a month after this visit on 27 September 2015, the
opportunity of catching a train here was to be no more. In fact, the previous day's trains had been bus
substituted when the unit—with the hapless photographer on board—failed on the fearsome gradient
from Clermont up to Volvic. The driver (female, but probably with no relevance at all to the events!) was
unable to restart it despite consulting various manuals and phoning a friend. A sister unit was eventually
summoned from Clermont to assist from the rear, the pair finally arriving in Volvic just in time for the
photographer to abandon his journey by catching the 16-seat minibus replacing his intended return
working from Le Mont-Dore. This conveyance proved more than adequate to cater for passengers to and
from intermediate stations. And thankfully, the photographer had a spare day in his itinerary...
Graffiti on trains is apparently not only an urban issue in France, the attraction between "Zoave" and
"Dirav" being proclaimed at Mende on the front of the deeply rural service to Marvejols. This late
afternoon departure is one of 5 westbound journeys a week, two MO and one each TuWThO (slightly
enhanced during the peak summer season), though public holidays and the days before and after them
can result in bizarre exceptions—such are the vagaries of SNCF timetabling. Only the nearest car in the
platform is allocated to this train, the rear two forming a subsequent eastbound departure to La Bastide-
The Mende—Marvejols service heads north on the main line from Le Monastier. This station is at the
north-facing physical junction of the Mende and Béziers lines, but "TER" and Intercités services on the
main line from Béziers to St-Chély-d'Apcher and beyond, which use the tracks nearest to the station
building, do not call here though bus replacements do. So Marvejols is the effective passenger
interchange, but sensible train-to-train connections are scarce—at the time of the visit, Friday evenings
from Neussargues towards Mende presented the only possibility.
The daily Béziers to St-Chély-d'Apcher 4-car EMU lays over before beginning its return journey south.
Surprisingly, this was almost fully laden with students on its Friday lunchtime departure. That explained
why the photographer had been unable to book a "Train à 1 euro" ticket online for the service! The
conductor sensibly reserved the trailing 1st class compartment for "normal" passengers. At the time of
the visit, the electrification north to Neussargues was unused, at least by passenger trains. There was
freight traffic in evidence at St-Chély-d'Apcher, but it was unclear from which direction.
A minimalist Intercités service formed of two railcars approaches Marvejols on its run from Béziers to
Clermont-Ferrand (and this was a Friday; M-Th there would only be one railcar!). Strangely, the vehicles
carry Rhône-Alpes branding, despite that not being one of the three (then) régions that the train passes
through. Equally inexplicably, the stock appears to be allocated to Lyon depot. However, the prize for
wandering units was to be decisively won by the connecting Neussargues—Aurillac shuttle, resplendent
in Nord-Pas-de-Calais livery!
Finally, some notes on other lines visited during March/April 2017, which don't have accompanying
Rhônexpress tram: Lyon Aéroport St-Exupéry—Lyon Part-Dieu
This recently completed tram line is physically an extension of Lyon's line 3, itself built mainly on
former SNCF infrastructure in the shape of the former branch to St-Hilaire-de-Brens and beyond. The
original buildings remain in other use at some former stations. The airport and local services operate
completely separately. Unusually, express and stopping trams share the same tracks, with loops at
certain stops to allow overtaking. Several stations have a loop for one direction only. Disappointingly,
the writer's express tram did not burn off any local services during his journey. The only intermediate
stops served by the express are Meyzieu Zone Industrielle (the line 3 terminus) and Vaux-en-Velin-la-
Soie. At these points there are loops in both directions, the Rhônexpress having its own platforms
with passengers barred from joining inbound expresses, even if they are prepared pay the eye-
watering premium fare (14 euros minimum, against 1.80 for a regular tram ticket!). At Meyzieu Z.I.
the express platforms are on the outside to facilitate line 3 reversals, while Vaux-en-Velin-la-Soie has
them on the inside.
Raccordement de St-Fons
The writer took a diverted midday Lyon—Avignon service in order to tick off some of the Rhône right
bank line and connecting viaducts. His train left from the west side of Lyon Part-Dieu and took the
track normally used by services towards Grenoble and the LGV south, which then crosses the Avignon
lines by a flyover before heading south-east. Just beyond the flyover, his train branched right onto
the Raccordement de St-Fons, to join the southbound Avignon line just north of St-Fons station. He
has no idea if this is rare track or not; it is not listed in the EGTRE guide, but given that several minutes
were lost between Part-Dieu and Vienne it does not seem to have been the booked route for that
The single lines across the viaducts and their approaches at either end of the diversion route were
traversed very slowly, but speeds were generally good on the right bank line itself. St-Péray has every
appearance of a normal open station, but on close inspection the signage had a rather impermanent
look; one wonders if it gets taken down when diversions are not operative. The station was well used
by passengers making use of the Valence bus link, with the conductor passing through the late-
running train to reassure them that their connection would be held.
The line north of St-Claude (which is entirely in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté région and therefore
relatively safe from closure) is marketed as La Ligne des Hirondelles (Swallow Line), with graphics
depicting said birds and a rather fanciful representation of the inter-visible viaducts near Morez. The
waiting area at Mouchard station is decorated in this theme, despite it also being served by other
more important routes. Less happily, the railcars providing the service are also branded, though the
logic of promoting a route as scenic, then plastering the train windows with yellow swallow-shaped
vinyls, escapes the writer. The only station to handle more than one or two passengers was
Champagnole. The scenery lives up to its branding and is pleasant throughout, the section between
Morbier and Morez with its sequence of viaducts and zig-zag descent especially so. No swallows were
spotted though—possible grounds for a refund? A 5 minute connection into the Bourg-en-Bresse
service left little time to examine St-Claude station before becoming the second and final passenger
to join the 4-car bi-mode set (the other occupant was exhibiting signs of enthusiast behaviour). As
and when the line to Oyonnax closes, a fine view of the town of St-Claude from the viaduct south of
the station will be lost. It seems perverse that St-Claude will be served only from the north; if it is to
have only one route then surely that towards Lyon and the connections at Bourg would be the more
logical. This simply underlines the pitfalls of funding rural railways strictly through regional budgets.
The route is scenic as far as Molinges, which produced no custom. Beyond the fatal regional boundary,
a number of people joined at Oyonnax, but the writer was alone in patronizing Brion-Montréal-la-
Cluse, which is a modern single platform with waiting shelter at the junction with the Bellegarde line.
The physical connection is west of the platform, making the station unavailable in the Bellegarde
direction, a line used only by TGV Lyria services to and from Switzerland.
Gap— Veynes-Dévoluy—Livron—Valence Ville—Valence TGV—(Romans-Bourg-de-Péage)
This route has a sparse service of 4 trains on a standard day, and the writer joined an early Saturday
morning service at Gap. He was amazed to find it formed of two 4-car sets, resulting in average loading
of less than 2 passengers per car! The explanation may be that an influx of winter sports passengers
was expected on the return working, connecting at Valence TGV and headed for resorts around
Briançon (subsequent observations at Valence TGV suggest that any such optimism was misplaced).
A wait of 17 minutes was booked for no apparent reason at Veynes-Dévoluy, possibly intended for
operational robustness in the event of late running of the Paris Austerlitz— Briançon overnight train
as loops are sparse west of Aspres-sur-Buëch. On this occasion the night service was punctual and
crossed as booked at Gap. Trains on the route run through to Romans-Bourg-de-Péage as the first
convenient turnaround beyond Valence TGV. Speeds were generally good and there seems to be little
need at present for potentially problematic trans-regional infrastructure spending. The bulk of the
passenger provision west of Die is by local buses with rail tickets accepted.
[C83] France - A visit to the Carcassonne to Quillan railway
The line was visited on two consecutive days (31 August 2017 and 1 September 2017), as Ryanair’s
schedules enforced at least two full days in Carcassonne if flying from Edinburgh. The writer (who
really needs to get himself a life) could think of nothing better to do on the second day than repeat
the same trip! Though in his defence it could be argued that weather conditions on day 2 were
considerably better for photography.
The brief 7-minute layover of the mid-day train at Quillan affords little opportunity for seeking out the
best photographic angles and vantage points.
Looking towards the abandoned formation leading to Axat, beyond which a tourist train operation
continues to Rivesaltes on the Perpignan—Cerbère main line.
The picture shows a deceptively sleepy scene at Quillan; in fact the trains were well-used in both
directions, no doubt thanks to the €1 flat fare.
This initiative of the former Languedoc-Rousillon region has been continued by the successor
Occitanie region, but is little publicised. When planning this trip, the writer looked for it in vain on the
region’s web site and had assumed that “le train a 1 euro” had been discontinued. But surprisingly
the fare was quoted on the Trainline EU website and app (formerly Capitaine Train). At Carcassonne
the regional ticket machines which, unlike the SNCF ones are able to issue the €1 ticket, were both
out of use. The ticket office staff directed the writer to pay on the train, presumably because they
couldn’t issue it either! In the picture above the sharp-eyed will spot the dual language signage
Quillon/Quilhan, the latter rendering being in Occitanian, a tongue that the writer confesses he had
never even heard of before this trip (though on a previous visit to Languedoc-Rousillon he had
wondered about the second language shown on signage at Marvejols).
An opportunistic shot just before the doors closed at Couiza Montazel, showing the sorry state typical of
stations on this line, at least south of Limoux. The Carcassonne—Limoux section does appear to have an
assured future, and stockpiles of permanent way materials were noticed ready for use in the planned
temporary closure in early 2018. Beyond Limoux, however, speeds are lower than even on the current
track to the north, and there is the general atmosphere of neglect and decay seen on many unwanted
French branch lines.