Prototype Modern French Railways, Mostly "Sud de France"

Discussion in 'Gallery' started by Focalplane, 16 May 2019.

  1. Focalplane

    Focalplane Western Thunderer

    After I left Texas I started working for companies who were investing in Africa and found myself needing a place for R&R and eventually retirement. Southern France was our choice for several reasons, the climate, ease of getting to Francophone West Africa via Paris, scenery that reminded us of parts of Texas and, naturellement, good food and wines!

    Initially we stayed in a holiday apartment when we could, starting in 2004, but in 2009 we decided to rent an apartment in the same village while we searched for a suitable home, a search that lasted nearly 9 years. The apartment served us well but the village wasn't what we were looking for, so we became quite desperate until we found a new block of apartments being built and bought one as a stop gap measure. The apartment served us well for five years but only a year ago did we find a house to our liking, the one with a home cinema that is now the railway room with Moor Street Station slowly taking shape.

    Meantime I started photographing the trains that serve the region. One of my favourite locations was near Nissan lès Ensérune which is between Béziers and Narbonne on the Midi Main Line. Today this area includes TGVs, Grandes Lignes, freight and local passenger trains with good variety. In years passed we also had Spanish Talgos and Italian couchettas. I also traveled by train to work, and with a Senior Card and huge discounts the accountants never complained. Béziers to Charles de Gaulle airport used to be easy, the Perpignan to Bruxelles direct route. (Along came Marseilles as the cultural capital of Europe and the train ran there from Bruxelles, requiring a 1+ hour layover in Lyons which somewhat defeats the purpose of high speed trains.) Anyway, after this wordy introduction, a few early photos from my collection.

    While visiting Montpellier we popped into Gare St. Roch to see what was going on. The first train on the UP line platform 1 was a Duplex TGV of the early series:


    The next one was a bit of a surprise, a Class 66 "Shed":


    Later sighting of these locos included rooftop air-conditioning units, hardly a luxury in the south!
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  2. Focalplane

    Focalplane Western Thunderer

    The first time I traveled all the way from England to southern France by train I took a few photos, though by the time we had arrived in Béziers I think it was dark!

    Arriving at Paddington before crossing over to St. Pancras:


    Then a near empty train shed at St. P:


    Finally a Eurostar in sight:


    Next Stop Lille. This was a good connection, arriving in time for lunch at the station restaurant:



    The four tracks of the TGV station are under the station concourse. The local government insisted on having the TGV station in the centre of the city and it has made the place a boom town.


    The TGV from Lille to Perpignan included two trainsets and the duplex was waiting in the station for the reseau (single deck) international trainset to arrive from Bruxelles. So I found my seat and took this photo of the upper deck in a first class coach.

  3. Focalplane

    Focalplane Western Thunderer

    Early days at Nissan on the Midi Main Line. Between Montpellier and Perpignan there is one tunnel. The Malpas Tunnel was cut through a ridge of soft rock on which stands the ruins of an ancient Oppidum. There are two more tunnels through the ridge, one for the Canal du Midi which is at a higher level, and one to drain the Etang du Montady, which is at a lower level (and dug in the 11th Century). On the western side of the tunnel is a single track road with an access down to track level. The first two shots are of an east bound TGV traveling toward and into the tunnel:



    This is not a high speed line and trains are limited to about 160 kph (100 mph). The single deck "reseau" (systemwide) trains are mostly used on cross country services with the "duplex" (double deck) being needed for Paris services. The train in the photos could be running from Bordeaux to Nice, though this route was also served by loco hauled "grandes lignes" conventional trains.

    A little to the west of the tunnel is the nearly abandoned station at Nissan. Now an "arrete" only one morning and one evening train stops here and then by request.


    The bus shelter on the left and the yellow line are what is left for the DOWN service. The station building was, at the time the photo was taken, let out to a family but more recently has been empty. Passengers (and photographers) crossed the tracks by a small footpath grade crossing with warnings that trains do travel fast. I didn't have to wait long for a train:


    A few words on the "reseau" trainsets. The original TGV concept was very similar to the "reseau" though it was painted in bright orange colours. The coaches share bogies and consist of 4 second class at one end, 3 first class at the other with a buffet car between. Reseau trains run at 300 kph but can (and sometimes do) run up to 32o kph. Their design is to be able to sustain speed, stop and restart on a 3% incline.
  4. Focalplane

    Focalplane Western Thunderer

    Around Béziers. In its own way, Béziers is/was a railway town. Large freight yards are slowly being ripped up and the engine shed/works is hardly used these days. At least one TGV from Paris terminates here and the first train of the day to Paris departs at around 4:30am having been stabled overnight. The secondary line north to Clermont Ferrand also joins the Midi Main Line at Béziers. In years past several lines belownging to the separate Herault company also converged on Béziers but used a different station.

    The SNCF station has five platforms and has had three TGVs in place at one time in my experience. A lot of freight also rumbles through the station. At one time this was my "local" station for going to work so it will figure in many more photos to come.

    By the way, I am entering my posts in chronological order so it might be a good idea to put the date (or dates) on each post.

    First typical railway station architecture for the region:

    March 13, 2010

    And a Reseau arriving from the west:

    March 20, 2010

    We used to do a lot of walking a cycling along the Canal du Midi and west of Béziers the railway was often visible from the tow path. This photo was a bit of a surprise, a short tank car train with 5 locomotives. Only the first electric locomotive is working, the other two are being relocated while the two diesels were often seen at different locations, ready for emergency use but mostly for maintenance work on the catenaries.

    March 13, 2010

    The scene on the other side of the tracks includes the drained Etange de Montady.

    I have included another photo from the Tunnel at Malpas with an east bound freight train emerging and running toward Béziers:

    March13, 2010

    This time I managed to scramble down to above the tunnel portal.
  5. Focalplane

    Focalplane Western Thunderer

    An hour at Nissan - Ends with a surprise! Nice sunny day in July, why wasn't I at the beach? Well, here are the photos:

    First, an eastbound mixed stack freight, probably from La Boulou:

    20 July 2010

    20 July 2010

    Next an eastbound TER EMU in Languedoc-Roussilon colours:

    20 July 2010

    Followed by a westbound unit:

    20 July 2010

    These were built by Bombardier and are seen all over the country in various sorts and sizes. Comfortable to ride in, fast and apparently reliable.

    Finally, the surprise:

    20 July 2010

    20 July 2010

    SNCF and RENFE used to run a service from Montpellier to Cartagena (the one in Spain!) which used Talgo coaches. The Talgo sets had inter-changeable axles so they could quickly cross into Spain (more on this much later). They also have very few wheels as part of the design. Indirectly this was good because SNCF is charged by the axle. The coaches are diminutive and have a generator car at one end. Earlier the Talgos were red and of a different, older design. This set is painted in the current corporate colour. Nowadays RENFE uses French Reseau trains for services from Barcelona to Lyon and Marseilles under the sharing agreement with SNCF. I find the RENFE Reseau interiors to be inferior to the French ones and have less sound proofing.

    Another observation: French passengers are almost universally quiet on TGVs and Grandes Lignes expresses; Spanish passengers are often noisy and use their mobiles while sitting, something the French almost never do.
  6. Focalplane

    Focalplane Western Thunderer

    Malpas Tunnel - Two Trains. On the same day as the last post I moved to the western portal of the Malpas Tunnel and photographed this sequence of two trains meeting inside the Malpas Tunnel.

    First, an eastbound Reseau TGV enters the cutting:

    20 July 2010

    It passes my access ramp and enters the tunnel:

    20 July 2010

    Where another train is visible. Note that in the next photo the driver of the local train has dimmed his lights:

    20 July 2010

    And we can assume the driver of the Reseau did the same. The trains pass while still in the tunnel:

    20 July 2010

    And the lights are back on. The local train is one of the few older sets left in the area. They were mostly seen on the few remaining branch lines but also filled in during off peak times.

    20 July 2010
  7. Yorkshire Dave

    Yorkshire Dave Western Thunderer

    On these 'newer' sets do not the wheels spread on their axles on a special section of track at the border stations?

    I take it from the catenary the lines are still electrified at 1,500v DC. Unlike the north electrified at 25kv.

    Please keep the photos coming...:)
  8. AJC

    AJC Western Thunderer

    It's interesting how the comparative national characters of European railways survive alongside one another. We were on the Île de Ré before Easter (not a lot of railway interest there now, though there was a characterful metre gauge affair in the first half of the 20th century there's precious little of that left). Obviously we travelled by TGV, but here's a local train, heading to Bordeaux, I think - and a bi-mode, interestingly - under the train shed at La Rochelle. No freight in the yards by the station now, but a fair amount (including grain hauled by a 66) coming out of the docks.


    Apologies for the intrusion, looking forward to more of your images.

  9. Focalplane

    Focalplane Western Thunderer


    I will get to answer and illustrate the Talgo wheel question later but yes, there is a shed through which the coaches are passed that quickly changes the axle over. A train will pass through the shed in about 5 minutes.

    The voltage on the Midi Main Line is 1.5kV DC. When a TGV enters the LGV (Ligne Grande Vitesse) you can hear and feel the change over to 25kV AC.
    Last edited: 18 May 2019
  10. simond

    simond Western Thunderer

    You rarely feel the change over from 25kV to 3rd rail en route to Folkestone, though I have recollections of it some years back.

    I wasn’t on the Javelin whose pan reputedly was wiped off by Sandling tunnel mouth. Oops.

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  11. Focalplane

    Focalplane Western Thunderer

    Above Nissan lès Ensérune. A great place to watch and photograph trains on the Midi Main Line just west of Béziers. This is the same ridge that the line passes through in the Malpas Tunnel. The Oppidum is well worth a visit if you happen to be in the area but don't park your car in a remote location, tourists can suffer from thefts, etc.

    The first photo shows a single Duplex TGV traveling toward Paris, probably from Perpignan. At Montpellier a second trainset will be waiting to form the full train to Paris. Red = first class, green = second class, buffet car between:

    July 29, 2010

    Next up, coming from Narbonne AutoTrain Terminal, is a Germany-bound car transporter train. These are slowly dying out in Europe, as in the UK. The coaches are DB, the locomotive SNCF:

    July 29, 2010

    July 29, 2010

    July 29, 2010

    Next up, also from Narbonne direction, is a Grandes Lignes express, formed of a classic SNCF "nez cassé" locomotive and smooth riding coaches. This train could be anywhere from Bordeaux to anywhere up to Nice, a true cross country journey. The second photo shows the locomotive emerging from the Malpas Tunnel. The locomotive is a 1.5kV DC type.

    July 29, 2010

    July 29, 2010

    July 29, 2010

    At last, a train going west! A regional stopping train using a Bombardier built EMU in Languedoc-Roussilon colours. Note the shared bogie arrangements.

    July 29, 2010

    Another TGV, probably on the Toulouse-Dijon route, using a single deck Reseau trainset. The train is passing Nissan station.

    July 29, 2010

    As it emerges from the Malpas Tunnel you can see the streamlining effect applied to the roof of the first/last coach:

    July 29, 2010

    The last photo is an interesting one and shows a "hybrid", often seen in the area but actually very rare system wide. The locomotives are Reseau design, the coaches are Duplex. The paintwork blends the two together nicely. The reason they exist is simple, they couldn't build the locos fast enough and the completed duplex carriages were desperately needed on the Paris-Lyon route.

    The locomotive is N0. 619, the last Hybrid trainset to be built in 2007.

    July 29, 2010

    Attached Files:

  12. Focalplane

    Focalplane Western Thunderer

    More from Nissan, then a visit to Coursan.

    The first train is another "Nez Cassé" which needs to be explained. Broken Nose refers to the front profile of these locos! This one is hauling a westbound Grandes Lignes express:

    16 August, 2010

    Here is a close up of number 22323. The 22 means it is a bimodal loco, capable of going anywhere there are overhead wires. The logic is very simple. The DC only locos are the 72XX class, the AC only locos are the 15XXX class, so add the two together and Voilá, 22XXX class!

    16 August, 2010

    I then decided to visit the next station to the west at Coursan, a fine communist run town on the Route Nationale which the citizens like to close down on summer Saturdays when everyone is trying to get to their holiday destinations. The station is also an arrete like Nissan but in better condition:

    16 August, 2010

    To get to the other side you look both ways and walk across the boards to a rather nice concrete shelter:

    16 August, 2010

    While over there a double headed freight train approached:

    16 August, 2010

    Both locos had their pantographs up. The lead locomotive is a 72XX class 1.5Kv DC "nez cassé". I think the other is probably of the same class.
  13. Focalplane

    Focalplane Western Thunderer

    Un Train Peut En Cacher Un Autre.

    The Midi Main Line from Nimes to Narbonne has a high casualty rate at grade crossings, of which there are many. This is particularly true between Nimes and Montpellier where the population density is higher than further west. So this sign appears quite often:


    This crossing is west of Nissan station, allowing vignerons to access their vineyards. Fences are rare around vineyards and often non-existent along the tracks in this area. One such road runs alongside the tracks with little space for the overhead wire masts, giving a rare opportunity to photograph trains unhindered by the infrastructure. This location will feature in future postings.

    But first, does one train hide another? Let's see:

    First a westbound Grandes Lignes express with a bimodal "nez cassé" No. 22376 approaches the crossing:

    16 August, 2010

    As it passes by, a Reseau TGV approaches (the lights are back on because the locos have already passed each other):

    16 August, 2010

    The TGV would be completely hidden from view on the other side of the crossing until the westbound train cleared the crossing.

    16 August, 2010

    16 August, 2010

    Both trains were probably traveling near the 160 kph limit for the line.
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  14. Focalplane

    Focalplane Western Thunderer

    Look! No Catenary posts! As mentioned in the previous post there are times when the catenary wires cannot be supported on both sides of the tracks. This location is close to the grade crossing and became a favourite of mine.

    First, a Bombardier TER local EMU going west towards Narbonne:

    September 29, 2010

    Followed by an eastbound express "en Voyage":

    September 29, 2010

    The loco number, 507217 is actually 7217 with the prefix 50 which is a code, but I cannot remember what the code means! I'll do some reading up on this.

    September 29, 2010

    September 29, 2010

    Another express, this time westbound:

    September 29, 2010

    September 29, 2010

    Finally, for this posting, a Permanent Way vehicle trundles by:

    September 29, 2010
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  15. Yorkshire Dave

    Yorkshire Dave Western Thunderer

    I've noticed this the Germany - fences only exist along the lineside where deemed necessary otherwise they're non-existent.
  16. oldravendale

    oldravendale Western Thunderer

    Obviously the French and German public are more intelligent than the Brits as they know that it's not a great idea to walk along railway lines so don't need fencing off......:D

  17. Focalplane

    Focalplane Western Thunderer

    A couple of months later. . . .

    Another Grandes Lignes express going east:

    November 19, 2010

    Then a double Bombardier EMU set with no graffiti:

    November 19, 2010

    Then, a west/south bound Duplex, No. 243 came into view:

    November 19, 2010

    November 19, 2010
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  18. Focalplane

    Focalplane Western Thunderer

    Something completely different!

    The freight yards at Bézier are (or were) extensive and at one point a spur goes across the Canal du Midi to the French subsidiary of Cameron Iron Works, which coincidentally is a Houston based oil service company. I am not sure how much this spur is used today but as is often the case the French system leaves the infrastructure in place until it is removed by an "Act of Parliament" that negates the original approval to build the yard and spur. That last sentence is verging on the political, so please don't take too much notice of it.

    The spur uses a lift bridge to clear the canal traffic except when trains move stock in and out of the factory:

    November 21, 2010

    November 21, 2010

    November 21, 2010

    November 21, 2010

    November 21, 2010

    I always thought when we used to walk along this towpath what a fine working model this could be. Anyone?

    By the way, many of the plane trees along this stretch of the Canal du Midi have died of a disease in recent years and have been cut down. It no longer looks like this.
  19. Focalplane

    Focalplane Western Thunderer

    Le Train Jaune - 1

    France has numerous narrow gauge branches under SNCF control and the Train Jaune (Yellow Train, for obvious reasons!) is one of the more famous. It runs from Villefranche-le-Conflet to Latour de Carol in the eastern Pyrenees and is one journey many railfans have to take. I fully endorse this and recommend it. But if you do decide it's for you, go in the "shoulder months" which means either side of July/August. However it runs year round, weather permitting, though there are other times when it doesn't run (how very French, I thought, typing that!) so do check on line before making the trip. There are going to be several postings about the Yellow Train, but the first was during an exploration of the Tet Valley in December 2010.

    I stopped in the village of Olette, a few kilometers west of Villefranche and discovered that a train was running up the valley towards Latour de Carol. I'll let the photos tell the story:


    The Yellow Train runs on a third rail electrical system with the power coming from several hydro-electric plants along the way.

    December 11, 2010

    December 11, 2010

    December 11, 2010

    December 11, 2010

    December 11, 2010

    December 11, 2010

    December 11, 2010
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  20. chrisb

    chrisb Western Thunderer

    Please forgive the intrusion into your thread but for those that don't know there's a stunning model of part of this line being built in HO scale as described here