On the French Narrow Gauge

Posted by Ben Angus On July 16, 2010 Comments Off on On the French Narrow Gauge

By the Not-Quite-So-Old-Dominie

I confess to a love affair with France, the French, their food and (especially) their drink, their scenery, the ambience – and I’m quite partial to their trains as well. Holidays tend to be based on moving from preserved railway line to preserved railway line, with the odd museum thrown in. So it was that the long-suffering wife and I presented ourselves at the booking office at the old station at Bligny-sur-Ouche, in Burgundy, this summer. It was a scorching hot day, and we’d already done the engine shed. Four or five steamers, including a vertical boiler loco hid from the heat. All were in very good condition, and all are used on the various steam days. Unfortunately, our visit was on a diesel day, but I was able to cope.

This line uses the track bed of a very old railway indeed. It was opened in 1837, as a mineral line, with coal being hauled away from local mines. The coal ran out, however, and with little else to carry, the railway was abandoned in 1880. In 1907, the mighty PLM took it over, extended it to Dijon, and reopened it for business. It survived until 1968, but its rural nature and limited traffic meant that it was ripe for closure. The SNCF lifted the track, and that would have been that. However, the local government took it over, relaid it to 600mm (about 2’), and reopened it for a second time, in 1978. Since then it has prospered, carting small trains of tourists up and down some four miles of the Ouche Valley.

A small 4w diesel fussed about and got our train out of its shed and into the station. The train – two bogie vehicles built on the ‘toast-rack’ principle, was to be pulled by a slightly larger and more powerful 0-4-0DM. Although narrow gauge, the track is made up of standard gauge rails, well laid, and the train ran very smoothly. The train was well filled too, and we rattled along quite happily. The valley is pleasant if not spectacular, and the whole constituted a nice afternoon out. Bushes and trees lined the route, and the air was thick with butterflies. One had the audacity to flutter up beside us, then drift into our ‘coach’. It hung about for about ten seconds, then drifted out the other side, where it accelerated away and out of sight. I kid you not!.

The far terminus is entered over a neat three-way point so there are clear intentions to develop the line. At present, the guard/ticket collector simply went round with a couple of enormous cool-boxes, full of bottles of cold beer. I think that I might have bought one. Or two. After the loco had run round, I chatted to the driver. There seemed to be no continuous brake. He confirmed that there was none, and indeed there were no brakes on the coaches at all. This however was apparently within the law, because the train ran at no more than 12 – 15mph. I wonder what our HSE would say. So, a pleasant afternoon run, on a well-maintained line. Only a few derelict vehicles, although some of the weeds could be looked at; otherwise, a preserved line that could show some of its bigger relations a thing or two. Certainly worth a visit.

By Ken McKee

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