Paris & French Narrow Gauge Steam
A new variation for the second year of this tour which combines visiting great narrow gauge steam in a leisurely style with ample time for enjoying the venue itself and the local drink and cuisine. The tour proved very popular in 2009 with both enthusiasts and partners alike, who appreciated the novelty of the railways and the gentle pace of the tour – capturing the magic of Paris at night and enjoying a long weekend of steam in rural northern France. (This report first appeared in the Stevenage Locomotive house magazine “Aurora”.)
Day 1 - My latest Railtrail Tours Ltd holiday started on Friday 21st May 2010 with me catching the 08:36 from York to Kings Cross with 91102 pushing at the rear. A usual run down the ECML arriving at 10:40 at least 45 minutes before I was required to check in at St Pancras International. I went to the end of the platform to photograph the comings and goings in and out of Gasworks Tunnel. Glad I did as thanks to a text from DLP the 08:40 from Leeds was being hauled by 91111 blunt end first next to the DVT and duly emerged at 11:21 some 23 minutes late with it being restricted to 100mph running in this configuration.
With my Eurostar tickets from Les Tindall the Railtrail tour manager we were to head for platform 10 and the 12:29 service 9024 to Paris Gare du Nord with SNCF owned sets 3212 and 3211 based at (LY) Le Landy (Paris). On arrival it was a short stroll to the Ibis Hotel Gare du Nord Chateau Landan crossing the road bridge over the platform ends of Gare De L’Est. It was this station I was to explore and photograph at on my first evening in Paris.
Day 2 – Gare du Nord for the 08:04 train to Amiens with class BB15000 electric 215030 from (AC) Acheres depot and named Forbach. At Amiems we transfer to a small coach to Le Crotoy and the Baie de la Somme Railway. With 27 km of metre gauge it is one of the best established in France and only a short distance from the Channel ports. In the yard was our engine No1 built in 1906 by Corpet-Louvet at their works at La Courneuve (Paris), this 2-6-0 tank engine was in a resplendent cherry red livery. The line is shaped in a curved V going around the bay with the point of the V being at Noyelles where we met the other engine in steam which was going to take our train on to St Valery. E332 built in 1909 by Fives-Lille and named ETAT a 4-6-0 tank engine in a green livery. Most of France stops for about two hours at lunch time and this railway was no exception so a small group trekked up to the depot to see the remaining stored engines and stock. We were given a conducted tour around by two of the volunteers of the line who were heading to North Wales that afternoon.
Back to the town for lunch before we boarded the 14:30 back to Noyelles where both services meet and both go out together down their respective legs of the V, a double departure and the group assembled down the line to record the event.
Back to the SNCF station at Noyelles for the double headed class 67400 diesel service with 567606 and 618 both from (LN) Longueau depot and came off at Amiens to have an electric class BB16000 number 116006 also based at (AC) depot.
Day 3 – By Coach to Froissy for the steam festival on the 60cm gauge Froissy-Cappy-Dompiere Railway, known locally as “P’tit Train de la Haut Somme”. The railway runs along the banks of the Somme Canal and was constructed by the French and British Armies in 1916, over 1500 tonnes of materials and munitions being moved during the hostilities. A preservation society now runs 7km of the track and includes a switchback and 200mtr long tunnel. The 11:00 was in the station about to depart so we thought of riding the line before the compulsory lunch break
Our engine was to be FCDR No 12 built in 1945 by Societe Franco-Belge a 0-8-0 Tender engine. Following the bank of the Somme Canal it was not long before we were stopping in a head shunt. The engine then propelled the stock up an incline to the second head shunt before setting off further up the hill. We were in the second coach which had open sides and we were to regret it as we entered the tunnel engine working full belt hot sulphurous fumes enveloped us, it was very dark with only a few tunnel lights and fresh air was very welcome. Our progress was still up hill but the gradient less severe and soon we were running alongside the road which was traversed at one point. The line stops short of its original destination a now closed sugar refinery with just a run round loop. On the return we learnt our lesson and took the last coach of the five to view the train’s progress from the back. Lunch time was now upon us so it was shed bashing time again. The other two engines in steam were FCDR No 5 built in 1916 by Decauville a 0-6-0 Tank engine and FCDR No 7 built in 1918 by Borsig a 0-8-0 Tender engine.
All 13 steam engines were viewable in various states of repair or in the case of some disrepair as were their collection of 26 diesels and included two 20HP 1916/18 Simplex machines from Motor Rail Ltd of Bedford, memories of the Knebworth Park Railway.
Suitable fed at the café afternoon service commenced with lots of extra freight and ammunition trains including diesel FCDR T25 built in 1941 by Coferna so positions in the shade along the banks of the canal were found, the temperature was now almost 30 degrees. A longer look round the museum before it was time to head back to Paris in our air conditioned coach.
Day 4 – We headed for Gare De L’Est and Metro line 5 to Gare D’ Austerlitz for the 09:21 to Les Aubrais. Whilst we were here, SNCF electric loco 126070 from (AV) Avignon arrived with the 21:05 departure the night before from Barcelona with its distinctive squat Renfe/SNCF hotel coaches a journey time of 12 hours was only 17 minutes late. Our train was hauled by class BB7200 electric loco 507242 from (VG) Villeneuve St George (Paris) depot. At Les Aubrais we changed onto a class Z21500 three car electric unit 21561 / 21562 for the 10:25 to Salbris. Here we boarded the 11:15 departure metre gauge class X74500 diesel unit X74503 of the Chemin De Fer Du Blanc-Argent Railway for a 64km ride to Valencay. These units six axle articulated and have an off-centre bogie so that the body sections are of different lengths, the depot for this line is at Romorantin. At Valencay we boarded our air conditioned coach for a longer than expect trip to Pithiviers to visit the Chemin De Fer Touristique de Pithiviers 60cm gauge, 4km long and a transport museum next to the station. We saw the 14:30 departure return and after running round we boarded it for the 15:45 departure with No 3-5 a 1902 0-6-0 Tank built by a Blanc-Misseron. The train leaves the station, past the depot under a bridge and across a road junction on the flat. The line from here runs along side the road out into the country rising slowly to a country park at Bellebat where there is a large loop and a run round. The 16:30 departure gave us a run past before stopping down the track to allow the photographers to run and jump on board.
Day 5 – Pack up all luggage and leave in our Railtrail Guide's room as today was our last day. Then off to Gare du Nord for the 09:43 local service to Valmondois comprising three sets of class Z 6100 three car units S153 + S154 + S143 to visit the Musee des Tramways a Vapeur here we were treated to a special opening of the museum and running line. The museum has a variety of steam and diesel locomotives, railcars and steam trams. The superb 0-6-0 No 213 built by Blanc-Misseron in 1898 had been steamed specially for us and was parading to the assembled photographers. A 1935 built De-Dion rail motor No 61 in the process of restoration was looking good in its new coat of red paint but to the dismay of the party was inside the shed. A request to the driver of the steam tram was successful and no sooner had it coupled up was brought out into the sun to be photographed. However the request to see it being jacked up and turned was unsuccessful as the ground needed to be perfectly flat to do it. These units, like a motor bus have a driving cab only at one end. Also preserved is a rail mounted two wheeled trailer that was towed by the rail bus to carry luggage. The steam tram, after a bit of demonstration shunting coupled up to two coaches, a four wheeled of 1895 vintage and a bogie coach slightly newer at 1913. The group climbed aboard and were treated to all the museum lines possible within the gates and then out onto the short running line to a truncated terminus due to a recent rock fall. Back in the yard the driver and fireman gave us a run past on the road section of the line with photographers taking up various positions. This over, a group shot in front of the steam tram we then had the choice of either straight back to Paris on the next train or retire to the local pub outside the museum; the ladies in the group chose Paris. With trains every 30 minutes a good meal and litre of beer could be consumed and it was back on the 13:42 service to Gare du Nord with sets S156 + S146 + S148.
Luggage retrieved from the hotel we strolled back to Gare du Nord for the 16:13 service 9043 back to St Pancras International with the last two numerically in the Eurostar fleet 3231 and 3232 both belonging to SNCF.
Back at St Pancras it was a slow walk across to Kings Cross to catch the 18:19 back to York. First thing that caught my eye was 67013 with a rake of Virgin coaches acting as a barrier to platform 9¾ where the latest Harry Potter was being filmed. Also a maroon class 37 blocked the view from the barrier and security men were stopping any photography. Yours truly manage to sneak one picture of the Class 37 and the special platform sign. This done where was the 18:19 going from and to my surprise the announcer said platform zero. With my first class return ticket in hand it was a quick photo of 82213 at the buffers of the latest addition to the platforms at Kings Cross and leaving on time saw 67022 at the country end coupled to a Virgin DVT.
Dinner on the East Coast service was excellent and due back in York at 20:20 actually arrived at 20:08 and Jean had come to pick me up at the rear of the station I was home by 20:40.
Another good trip organised by Railtrail Tours Ltd give them a try a see their programme of tours on http://www.railtrail.co.uk
David Rice, York (This report is the personal reflections of the tour participant.)