October 2023 News

During the early part of September South-West France enjoyed an Indian summer with temperatures reaching the mid-30s centigrade. On 8th September BB 22330 (with BB 22238 dead in tow) crosses a rather low Dordogne at Le Roc with Intercités 3650 10.31 Toulouse – Paris. This service and the southbound 3619 08.28 Paris Austerlitz – Toulouse are generally hauled by BB 7200/22200s often with another loco dead in tow, while the remaining Paris – Cahors/Toulouse services are handled by BB 26000s. New CAF Oxygène trains are currently under test and expected to start taking over these services from the end of 2024.

Coupe du Monde de Rugby 2023

The SNCF Group is one of the official partners of the 2023 Rugby World Cup. To mark the event the motrices of three TGVs have received special liveries featuring Antoine Dupont, SNCF Rugby Ambassador and scrum half for the French team. Above. On 9th September TGV Océane 863 is seen heading towards Marseille at Crisenoy Bif (77) carrying supporters to the England-v-Argentina match held that evening at the Velodrome Stadium. Photo Christophe Masse.

SNCF Intercités reliveried BB 26042 for the event with slogans in French, English and Spanish. It is seen opposite at Cahors on 13th September prior to working the 12.44 to Paris and below crossing Calamane viaduct on the 6th September with 14 Corails on Intercités 3644 07.18 Toulouse – Paris Austerlitz.
Five of the games are scheduled to take place in Toulouse with trams being one of the main methods of accessing the stadium. Tram 5010 (below left) has received a new livery dedicated to the rugby, while 5022, 5024 and 5028 have had rugby laminations applied to the side windows (below right). Both types are seen between Purpan and Arènes Romaines on 10th July. Photos: Georges Turpin.

 SNCF Fret to lose lucrative traffic flows in EU dispute

The French government and European Commission have agreed an element of economic discontinuity for SNCF Fret to resolve the issue of the €5.3 billion unlawful state aid provided to SNCF Fret between 2007 and 2019. Rather than face the uncertainty of a legal appeal, the agreement will see the scope of SNCF Fret activities reduced with the divestment to other operators of 23 services dedicated to single customers. Valued at €730 million, about 20% of SNCF Fret's turnover, the move will be accompanied by sale of 62 locomotives and transfer of 10% of the workforce (about 500) to other operators along with related real estate assets. 

The services affected will be retendered and transferred to their new operators between January and June 2024. Other freight companies within SNCF's Rail Logistics Europe group (Captrain, Naviland, Forwards and VIIA) will be precluded from competing. From 2025 SNCF Fret will restructured into two new companies covering transport and maintenance. 

The move will see SNCF Fret lose some of its most lucrative traffic, mainly intermodal, and also introduces some uncertainty for the customers involved who will now have to find new operators for their traffic.

TGV M testing continues

Testing of pre-production series TGV M 997 continues on the LGV network. The 320 km/h mark was reached on 14th September on the Rhine-Rhône LGV. Since then, trials have switched to endurance mode across the LGV network. Seen above on 25th September at Chauconin (77) at PK20 on the LN6. Photo: Christophe Masse.

Landslide closes Maurienne Valley line

The Maurienne Valley line has been closed since 27th August, when a landslide, following heavy rain, deposited 10,000 m3 of rock over the galleried tunnel at Freney, six kilometres west of Modane. While some thirty metres of track and catenary and a tunnel entrance have been damaged the main structure is believed to be unaffected.  However, the roof of the 180 metre tunnel is bearing the weight of the landslide and there is a risk of collapse.

Understood to be the worst landslide for 45 years, the line is not expected to be re-opened until the end of October at the earliest. The A43 motorway was re-opened on the 8th September, although the D1006 remains closed. From 11th September SNCF introduced an emergency timetable until 29th October with TER services starting from Saint-Michel-Valloire, and buses from Modane to Chambery. 
Recovery work has been further complicated by another 3-4,000 m3 of unstable rock above the tunnel that needs to be purged before work can start on clearing the tunnel roof. 

Following an assessment the decision was made to purge the rocks hydraulically rather than by using explosives. On Sunday 24th September the A43 was closed and a fleet of helicopters dropped large amounts of water to cause a deliberate landslide of the unstable rock.

Photo: © Radio France - Corentin Wahu.

Ligne des Causses - Financial problems and now closed by storms

Following severe September storms, the future of the Ligne des Causses looks even more uncertain. As noted last month, the State is prepared to pay a contribution of €13.7 million for relaying the most degraded lengths of the 26km of ancient Midi double champignon rail between Andelat and Loubaresse, sufficient to stave off closure between Neussargues and Saint-Chély-d’Apcher and assuring for the moment the freight link to the ArcelorMittal steelworks at Saint-Chély. Urgent maintenance and repainting of the viaduc de Garabit could also be covered. AURA and Occitanie régions have refused to contribute as this section carries only Intercités and freight traffic, thus falling outside their TER remit. It is unclear if or when the State might make further funding available to complete the €41 million upgrade. 

Matters got the worse when storms on 16th September damaged about 10km of track around Ceilhes-Roqueredonde, between Bédarieux and Millau, in some places washing away ballast and catenary masts (photo below). From 22nd September an emergency timetable was introduced (link here) with no trains north of Bédarieux and a bus covering the Intercités Aubrac service south of Neussargues. Initial estimates are that it will take three months and cost €10 million to repair the damage.
While it would be possible to operate trains from Millau to the Cévenol route via Marvejols and Mende, according to SNCF it would be difficult to maintain the rolling stock so far from an Occitanie Technicentre. Ironically Mende and Marvejols stations have recently been made fully accessible following raising of platforms to 55cm height, laying of tactile strip and installation of new lighting and seating. In addition, Marvejols station building has been renovated.

Above. On 26th July X 73550 is seen at Chirac (Lozère) operating the 13.51 TER 878983 Marvejols – Mende, one of just two daily trains in the summer timetable, under the wires as far as the junction at Le Monastier. Photo: Georges Turpin.

Nationwide Passe Rail

France is to have a nationwide Passe Rail, hopefully by next summer, Transport Minister Clément Beaune announced in an interview with France2 on 7th September. While details are still being worked out, the pass seems likely to follow the successful German model and allow unlimited travel on TER and Intercités trains at a price similar to Germany’s €49 per month. Beaune also hoped it would be possible for the pass to include urban transport. 

Earlier President Macron had expressed his support for a country-wide rail pass. Agreement on financing would need to be reached with all 13 French metropolitan régions, which would be expected to merge their individual fare offers into the Passe Rail and to cover a proportion of the cost. Not all may be willing or able to do so. Hauts-de-France région’s transport director Franck Dhersin said: “the President often has good ideas…this is his idea so he can pay for it”, while AURA said it would not be possible to finance the scheme out of current budgets. Also, several régions have experienced capacity problems this summer and additional rolling stock would be hard to find in time for a 2024 launch of the pass.

Rebuilt Figeac station formally opened

Nearly five years after being destroyed by fire in November 2018, the rebuilt Figeac station was formally inaugurated on 31st August. The fire destroyed the signalling equipment, and while through services on the Brive – Rodez axis were quickly restored, those between Toulouse, Aurillac and Clermont-Ferrand were only restored on 7th July this year.

 Occitanie région bought the station site in 2020 to accelerate its reconstruction. In total, the acquisition and reconstruction cost €3.5 million financed by Occitanie (€1.7 million) and the State (€1.8 million) as part of the France Relance plan.
The région has chosen to restore the station to its original architecture of 1862. The neo-Louis XIII style of the building is manifested in particular by the use of cut stone on the façades, alternating with brick. This style reflects a technical and social turning point at the time. Whilst aesthetically attractive, it must be questionable whether a large three-storey building is required for the current level of passengers and staff, with most services formed of a single or pair of X 73500s

The opportunity has also been taken to improve the surrounding area and facilities, with increased parking and a one-way system on the approaches. The platforms have been fenced-off and rebuilt with tactile surfaces and ramps. Opposite, TER 871206 the 13.03 Toulouse – Clermont-Ferrand waits to depart on 7th September.

NéOMatabiau completed

The revamped main hall of Toulouse Matabiau station was officially opened on 5th September, the same day as Occitanie région signed a new 10-year contract with SNCF (see July Newsfor details). Carole Delga (President of Occitanie région) joined Jean-Pierre Farandou (PDG of SNCF Group), Christophe Fanichet (PDG of SNCF Voyageurs) and Marlène Dolveck (SNCF Gares et Connexions) at a ceremony in the revamped main concourse, concluding the years-long NéÔMatabiau regeneration project as planned in time for the Rugby World Cup. The renovation greatly improves circulation and access to the platforms for the 50,000 daily passengers, with new lifts and escalators from the concourses and the widened subway (see below).
The restored Halls 1 and 2 now have retail outlets in the concourse linking them, and a dedicated lounge with showers has been provided for night-train passengers. The exterior façade was renovated and the station forecourt revamped in an earlier stage of the project. 

Though the project NéOMatabiau is complete as originally envisaged, the station will nevertheless see further major works in the coming years in preparation for the Bordeaux – Toulouse LGV and metro Line 3. 

Photos: Georges Turpin.

GPSO environmental upset

Plans to start four-tracking north of Toulouse are in disarray following an assessment by L’Autorité environnmentale (Ae). Meeting on 7th September to study the environmental impact of the initial works for the GPSO Bordeaux – Toulouse LGV, which had been scheduled to start at the end of this year, Ae found that documents presented by SNCF Réseau were out-of-date, incomplete and not in conformity with legal requirements. In essence, the impact studies submitted for review had been made in 2014 with no account taken of subsequent changes in environmental conditions and regulations. 

Parts of the submission were described by Ae as ‘extraordinarily poor’, particularly analysis of the likely effect of the project on urban development at both the Toulouse and Bordeaux ends of the new line. Emissions and air-quality projections were also found to be insufficiently detailed. As a result, Ae was unable to give an opinion on this stage of the project. 

Responding in a press release, SNCF Réseau said that it had supplied almost 7,000 pages of detailed documentation, in particular relating to fauna and flora and the impact on drainage and watercourses. It undertook to provide as soon as practicable whatever further information was required by Ae. 

Opponents of the new line were delighted, including Maire of Bordeaux Pierre Hurmic who reminded Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne in a meeting on 11th September that she herself when minister of transport had wanted local projects prioritised over major infrastructure schemes such as GPSO.
Between 8th July and 3rd September an additional return Nantes – La Rochelle service was operated by TER Pays de la Loire, departing Nantes at 09.55, and returning from La Rochelle at 14.19. Between La Roche-sur-Yon and La Rochelle this train supplemented the four Intercités Nantes – Bordeaux and daily Nantes – La Rochelle TER. This latter service (859802/859805), providing the first up train from La Rochelle (06.19) and last down train from Nantes (19.35), has been temporarily replaced by buses due to a shortage of rolling stock in the Pays de la Loire (see Newsdesk item). 

Above. On Sunday 3rd September Régiolis B 84551/2M passes the closed station at Champ-Saint-Père with TER 859804, the last northbound 14.19 La Rochelle – Nantes service. There are calls for restoration of the stopping service at this station, withdrawn in 1980. Photo: Georges Turpin.

SNCF’s record summer

First estimates of this summer’s patronage show grandes lignes journeys reaching 24 million, up 4% on 2022’s exceptional figures; international journeys rose slightly to 6 million. With TGV utilisation increased to provide 450,000 extra seats, loadings exceeded 80% and around 40% of trains were fully-booked. Mediterranean and Atlantic coastal destinations were as popular as ever; unusually busy were routes to the Alps (up 6%) and Alsace and Bourgogne (up 15%). The summer offer of 200,000 tickets at €19 boosted Intercités traffic, while night-train bookings were up 15%. 

As reported last month, some TER routes struggled to cope with large numbers of passengers, and the many travellers with bicycles contributed to uncomfortably crowded conditions. Overall, regional traffic was up 10%. Low-fare strategies in Pays de la Loire and Occitanie produced 20% more passengers than last summer. 

Votre vélo à bord: As it should be (left), and as it often was this summer. Photos: Chris Bushell and Sud Ouest.

Bordeaux – Irun upgrade

Modernisation of the Midi main line south of Bordeaux took another step forward on 28th August with the start of major works between Marcheprime and Ychoux. Following six months’ site preparation, a track renewal train is being deployed to work overnight through to February 2024 replacing 77 track-km over two sections: Marcheprime to Facture-Biganos (11km) and Lamothe to Ychoux (33km). The high-output equipment can renew up to 900m of track per night.

Track renewal at Pessac, Lamothe, Caudos and Lugos, and between Laluque and Dax (14km), is being carried out using conventional methods, plus clearing of lineside vegetation and laying anti-weed matting at a number of sites. In the eco-sensitive Landes area, special attention is being paid to mitigation of fire-risk; natural fire-breaks are being cleared between 7 and 20 metres from the track.

Sidings at Ychoux and Laluque are being used for stockpiling ballast and other materials, while the 500 personnel involved are based at Caudos. In total, 110km of new rail will be laid, 130,000 sleepers replaced and 150,000 tonnes of ballast cleaned and/or renewed.
Cost of the work is €121 million, financed entirely by SNCF Réseau. As with similar projects, 30% of the existing ballast is cleaned and reused in situ, whilst some rail and sleepers will be recycled for replacement on lightly-trafficked lines elsewhere. Completion is scheduled for June 2024.

Above. One of track maintenance contractor ETMF's fleet of 21 Vossloh G2000s in the sidings at Ychoux on 31st August, ballast wagons and stockpiles in the background. Photo: Chris Bushell.


Strasbourg troubles. In the third stage of its rollout, Strasbourg’s RER-style regional service REME should have had a further 67 weekly trains introduced on 4th September. However, continuing rolling stock and staff shortages had seen up to 80 daily cancellations over the summer and currently only around 700 of the planned 1,072 additional weekly trains are running. On 22nd September it was announced that no more trains would be added to the timetable before the end of the year.

Nantes TER cuts. TER Pays de la Loire withdrew 17 daily trains from 4th September on lines linking Nantes with Pornic, Ancenis, La Rochelle and Laval. Several MUs are out of service, mainly due to damage in incidents involving animals on the track, while staff problems and shortage of spares have led to a backlog of trains awaiting repair. The full timetable is expected to resume from 15th November. 

Béziers station. Demolition of station buildings at Béziers started on 8th September, the first stage of an 18-month reconstruction costing €46 million. A new multi-modal transport hub will bring easier interchange between trains, buses, cars and pedestrians. There will be a new bus station and areas of covered parking.
Architect’s impression of the new Béziers station. Photo: L’agglomération Béziers Méditerranée.

Evreux works. Track relaying will be completed this month at Evreux, where five turnouts are being replaced and 2.2km of new rail installed, along with 600m reballasted and modernisation of point heaters.

Fine for tree-clearing. SNCF Réseau is to appeal against a fine of €450,000 for having cleared lineside trees and vegetation at Écouflant near Angers during the nesting season for protected bird species. Contractor Sefa Environnement was also fined.

Carnet farewell. RATP ended the sale of 10-ticket carnets from 21st September in the latest stage of conversion to digital ticketing. Single tickets will continue to be available until conclusion of the 2024 Olympic Games next August. The rechargeable Navigo Easy pass is a good substitute for tourists, or tickets can be downloaded to mobile phones via the Bonjour RATP app.

Pau multi-modal hub. SNCF PDG Jean-Pierre Farandou officially opened the multi-modal interchange at Pau station on 25th September (see July News). Work continues on the related project to convert the former Sernam building into a public space for cultural activities and a skatepark.
Rhône RD success. In its first year of operation, the restored service on the Rhône Rive Droite line between Nîmes and Pont-Saint-Esprit carried 75,000 passengers. Deemed a success by Occitanie région, the outcome adds impetus to the planned expansion from five to eight trains per day when station upgrading and construction of turnback facilities at Pont-Saint-Esprit are completed in 2026. The improved service is expected to attract 200,000 passengers a year. 

Dinan – Lamballe upgrade.
Trains are replaced by buses until 28th June 2024 between Dinan and Lamballe (41km) whilst the single track is totally renewed. The work includes track relaying, infrastructure renovation, drainage renewal, resignalling and upgrading of the 28 level crossings. Line speed will be raised from 60 to 100km/h. The €54 million cost is being financed by the State and Bretagne région, with contributions from SNCF Réseau, Côtes d’Armor département and the towns of Dinan and Lamballe.

Train de Nuit adventures. An online guide to night-train travel has been produced by publisher Les Others in collaboration with SNCF Intercités. It includes travel tips, a route map and details of the 74 stations served, seven suggested itineraries for walking and cycling, plus ideas for over 100 activities, walks and excursions. Free to download, L’Aventure en Train de Nuit is available at: lesothers.com/guide-train-de-nuit-aventure.

Train des Primeurs. The Ministry of Ecological Transition has sought expressions of interest for operation of the Perpignan – Rungis Train des Primeurs when the current contract with Rail Logistics Europe runs out next year. Bids closed on 2nd October.

Bordeaux night train? Oui au train de nuit (OuiTdN) is pressing for early introduction of a west-east night train from Bordeaux to Lyon, Geneva, Nice and Milan, as projected for 2030 in the government’s proposals (see July News). The group continues to push for a minimum order of 300 new coaches for night service to show government commitment to a country-wide network.

Bordeaux scrum. TBM appeared to stumble at the first hurdle in providing transport for the World Cup rugby. On 9th September 20,000 fans attended the Ireland-v-Romania match, many complaining of long queues for trams and buses to the stadium in 30+deg temperatures. A 3min interval service on Line 3 was unable to cope with the crowds; the trams themselves so overloaded that the aircon struggled to provide relief.

Tours – Chinon closed again. Ongoing modernisation of the Tours – Chinon line (49km) will see a further 5km of track and two level crossings renewed during a closure lasting until 18th November. At the same time, Chinon station is being made fully accessible. Cost of the work is €12 million.

Eurostar winter ski train. At the end of August tickets went on sale for the 2023/24 Eurostar winter ski train that will run for eight weekends from December 16th calling at Chambéry, Albertville, Moutiers, Aime-La Plagne, and Bourg-Saint-Maurice. However, this winter the train will start from Lille and travellers from London will need to change there, although they will be able to take skis or a snowboard in addition to their normal luggage.

Journées Européennes du Patrimoine

The 40th Journées Européennes du Patrimoine took place over the weekend of 16th/17th September with numerous events at both SNCF locations and preservation sites. At Lyon Perrache one- time record-breaking TGV 16 was on display to the public, seen above as preserved CC 6549 passes before working a special train to Chambéry. Photo: Christophe Masse

Following heavy rain on the 16th at Ceilhes-Roqueredonde the planned train Les viaducs de l’extrême which was to run between Saint-Rome-de-Cernon, Millau and Saint-Flour on the Ligne des Causses.had to be cancelled (see item above).
SABA's contribution was less than in previous years. The depot at
Écueillé was open to visitors on the 16th (above left) and a steam service operated on the 17th. 

At Vierzon depot SNCF held a joint event with preservation societies AAATV, APPMF, CFTST and ABFC. BB 67613/615 and a four-car AGC were on display with 141 R 840, CC 65512 and X 2141, while Picasso X 4039 ran a shuttle servicee between Vierzon and Bourges.

Above right. There was significant interest in CC 65512 with as many people queueing to visit the cab and engine room as the cab of 141 R 840 (opposite).
AATV-SPDC opened their part of the St-Pierres-des-Corps complex where they are restoring 231 E 41. In addition to the dismantled 231 E 41 (above) there were numerous other displays including model rail layouts provided by Cercle Ferroviphile Europeen (below left).           East of Le Mans TRANSVAP operated €1 shuttles over the weekend between Beillé and La Ramée with autorails Billard 903, Picasso X 3953 and Bagnall 0-4-0T Alice hauling two coaches (below right).

Double Traction à l’Italienne

The 3rd Limousin Model Railway Exhibition was held at Bugeat on the Limoges – Ussel line over the weekend of 9/10th September. To mark the occasion CFTLP ran a double-headed special from Limoges to Bugeat on the 10th with 141 TD 740 and 140 C 38. Although they have often double-headed in the past, this was the first occasion when they have operated with the locomotives facing in opposite directions. This was an arrangement often used in the steam era by Italian railways, hence the nickname double traction à l’Italienne, enabling the lead locomotive always to be facing the direction of travel. The two locomotives are seen above at Bugeat while shunting the stock. Photo: Georges Turpin

Train du Gévaudan

Despite the problems south of Millau, on the 25th September
Train à Vapeur d'Auvergne in collaboration with APMFS organized the Train du Gévaudan hauled by BB 67615/613 with historic rolling stock. Starting from Vichy the train travelled to Neussargues, Marvejols and Mende, returning via Langogne, covering the Lignes des Causes, Translozerien and Cévennes.

The 20 minute video opposite shows highlights of this trip around the Massif Central, including the Garabit Viaduct and Gorges de l'Allier.

Paris T12 trial running

Full-scale operating trials began on tram-train line T12 on 11th September, designed to prove the system prior to the planned start of public service on 9th December. T12 links Massy-Palaiseau and Évry-Courcouronnes (20.4km) utilising in part the Versailles – Juvisy branch of RER Line C between Massy and Épinay-sur-Orge. 

Photo: Île-de-France Mobilités.

Additions to FRS Photographic Archive during August & September 2023

To Photographic section
Additions to Folder 1 

  • Online Transport Archive (“OTA”) images of French steam locomotives (these images have copyright restrictions)

PS:  Any additions to Folders 4, 7 & 11 (originating from Wikipedia & other sources) have COPYRIGHT RESTRICTIONS and are intended for personal enjoyment by members only 

To Locations section
  • Lille region, LVDR 1948 of 1984
  • Toulouse, LVDR 1532 of February 1976
  • Chambery & Modane, LVDR 1500 0f July 1975
Additions to the FRS public folder during September 2023
  • Index for OTA gallery
  • New category of commercial photographs & postcards of French Railways   (Locomotive Publishing, Photomatic, Fleury, DFI, etc)
© Peter Lovell & Chris Bushell. The French Railways Society 2023. With thanks to Georges Turpin & Christophe Masse