Happier times – Chemin de fer du Vivarais in the 1960s
The Chemin de fer du Vivarais, arguably France’s premier narrow gauge railway, has announced that it is suspending operations. It seems that the line and its steam locomotives have failed to pass strict railway safety criteria. An attempt to keep services going during 2008 by importing a diesel locomotive from Poland came to nothing, because of the costs involved. The line is in deep financial difficulties. A translation of the official press release posted on the Vivarais website appears below.
PRESS RELEASE – April 10, 2008
The fate of the Vivarais Railway – a discussion with all partners.
The Vivarais Railway, a key element of the identity and heritage of the Ardeche region, is currently in real difficulties. Bearing in mind the importance of the railway in the economy of the region and the possible impact of any decision on the railway’s employees, the General Council – the majority shareholder of this private-public partnership company – invited all concerned stakeholders (local and other shareholders) to discuss the fate of the Vivarais Railway during a round table this April 10 at Privas.
Created in 2003, the Chemin de Fer du Vivarais management board faces a difficult situation:
- a recurring annual deficit because of the investment necessary to maintain the track and infrastructure,
- a considerable quantity of equipment under repair or awaiting movement,
- a new station must be built in the medium term in order to free up the aligment owned Reseau Ferre de France, between Tournon Saint-Jean-de-Muzols, that the SEM must return by 2011.
The General Council, a majority shareholder, has invested more than 2 million euros in the structure.
Despite all these efforts, the Vivarais is experiencing a real crisis.
Taking into account the elements of context and the history of the Vivarais, the chairman of the General Council, Pascal Terrace, wanted to analyse the situation along with the other players involved in the Mastrou (mayors of municipalities in Tournon, Saint-Jean – Muzols, Lamastre and Boucieu-le-Roi and other shareholders). Those present at the meeting reached a number of conclusions. These included:
- That safety is not negotiable and that the state of infrastructure and rolling stock is such that we cannot authorise operations,
- That it is technically impossible to resume the season with steam locomotives (which are the attraction of Vivarais). Operating without steam would be inconsistent with the information provided to customers, undermining the attractiveness, identity and the credibility of the Chemin de Fer du Vivarais,
- The 2008 season is heavily compromised.
It was these observations that lead the the partners who me ton April 10 to conclude that it would be impossibile to run the railway safety and, at the same time, meet customer expectations in full.
They agreed that there should be a pause in the railway’s operations. They also pledged to engage in a process of reflection, study and construction to define the conditions suitable for a subsequent resumption. This should be part of a project involving the various public and private stakeholders of the area so that the railway’s long-term viability and sustainability would be secure.
Vivarais Railway website.