More on Vivarais closure


Trailer coach and 1937-built Billard railcar behind at Boucieu-le-Roi (© James Waite, Steam in Europe)

(Click on picture for many more pictures of the final weekend of operation and the original article, Sudden closure of the CF du Vivarais.)

Behind The Water Tower had the sad distinction of being the first English language web source to report the closure of the Vivarais in our post of 18 April. Now we reprint part of a longer article from International Steam Locomotives based on a report by James Waite which fills in many of the missing details.

The metre gauge CF du Vivarais, long regarded as the doyen of French preserved railways, closed suddenly on Sunday 13th April 2008 for at least one year and possibly much longer.

The railway had been struggling to maintain an effective service during the past few years. In 2007 Mallet 0-6-6-0T no. 414 maintained the steam service almost singlehanded. The railway’s other four 0-6-6-0T’s, all of which were built new for the railway, were all out of use as were its three other steam locos. No. 414 required major overhaul which started as soon as the 2007 season had ended. It has taken longer than expected and the 2008 season began on 21st March with all services being worked by railcar no. 213, the only available vehicle.

From its rescue after the closure of the system in 1968 until 2003 the line had been run by the CFTM, an enthusiast society. It was handed over to a company in which the Conseil General de l’Ardèche, the regional government, has a majority stake on the basis that it would provide much needed funds to renew the permanent way and to upgrade the railway’s infrastructure. The Conseil General convened an emergency meeting last Thursday 10th April at which it decided to suspend services indefinitely, ostensibly on safety grounds. The last train ran the following Sunday 13th April.

The need for major investment is clear for all to see. The SNCF has given notice to terminate from 2012 the railway’s use of the 2.5kms of mixed gauge track, the “tronc commun”, which lead to Tournon station and depot. Replacement facilities would be needed for which land has been acquired but no construction work has yet started. The Conseil General estimates that between 8 million and 10 million euros are required to put the permanent way back into first class condition, to refurbish the steam locos and to build the new station and depot. There is currently no commitment to provide any of this money. The railway has 15 employees whose work prospects are, at best, uncertain. The tourist industry in the region is heavily dependant on the railway which often ran trains as long as 10 coaches during the summer. The local press has described the closure as a catastrophe.

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