Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Tuesday 2 February - Blanc a Argent Narrow Gauge

Today I made my annual pilgrimage to Romorantin and Valencay to visit the Blanc a Argent narrow gauge railway which I first visited some 42 years ago. Being winter, the first and last hours were in darkness but the narrow gauge part was cloudy but bright with some sun towards the end of the day.

I took the metro across to the Gare d'Austerlitz and arrived in plenty of time for the 0707 train to Salbris.  This was old Corail stock, very comfortable with a window seat in a compartment.
Our locomotive was a "Sybic" unit, good for 200 kmph is dual voltage - 1500Vdc and 25Kv ac (Sybic Bicourant)
The platform supervisor came up on to the engine on his Segway
Chatting with the driver
The Segway is a good way of getting around the station with its long trains.  Car knockers have Segways fitted with a basket to carry their tools, hoses etc.

Although the train and the track in parts were good for 200 kmph we rarely reached that speed but we made the station stop at Les Aubrais and Salbris on time and I found the narrow gauge hidden away behind what remains of the SNCF freight yard.

The first of the five unique meter gauge units at Salbris
Of course I chose the front seat with a view of the driving position.
We left right on time with a two woman crew, the first time I have seen lady drivers on this line.  We picked up a few kids at La Ferte Embault and Selles St. Denis but rolled through Loreux and Villehervier as there was no business.  

These trains are pretty rough.  Until a few years ago the track was very bad and all the rails have been replaced. The trains were run at too high a speed and this resulted in serious truck wear which has not been fixed.  They ride poorly through curves.

Faubourg d'Orleans is on the outskirts of Romorantin  and the train empties - all eight schoolkids got off to go to school (more about this on the return) leaving me as the sole occupant to travel on to Romorantin, the end of this run.  The lady train crew thanked me for traveling and hoped I would have a bonne journee.
These trains are articulated but the two cars are of unequal length, the shorter car carrying the weight of the motor and hydraulic transmission.
I walked along to the road bridge over the river Sauldre to get a picture of the train returning to Salbris.
I had arrived at Romorantin at 0917 and the next train to the end of the line at Valencay was not until 1225.  What to do until then?  I walked into town and had coffee and a croissant.  The town has changed quite a bit since I first visited.  Many of the interesting shops have changed hands and several cafes have closed.  There is now a proliferation of wireless phone stores, estate agents, hair dressing and beauty salons.  I sauntered back to the station to catch the action around 1115 with trains arriving from Salbris and Valencay and a departure for Salbris.
I walked up past a stand of trees with good growths of mistletoe to the rail bridge to see the action 
The train on the right has come in from Valencay and is about to continue to Salbris.  The train on the left is the arrival from Salbris.

Video of a train crossing the river on its way to Salbris with a cheerful wave from the lady engineer.

74503(R) and 74504 on shop trucks.  03 has been there for many years while 04 was involved n a crossing collision neqr Varennes and plans are to repair it.  The service was provided today by 01, 02 and 05. 
A compromise joint in the platform road at Romorantin.  The rail on the left is the original while that on the right is the recent standard
Carving by the door of a house opposite the station

Work continues on the restoration of the interesting church

After a glass of wine I journeyed on to Valencay.  I was the only passenger.  I have many pictures of Valencay taken on earlier trips so I did not bother unduly here.  The journey goes through Gievres where there is a platform transfer to the SNCF.  The line then goes under the SNCF, and crosses the river Cher and canal and stops at Chabris where the crossing gates are still manually wound up and down.  They are due to be automated next year.

Valencay is on hard times.  I chose Tuesday because this is market day.  I arrived at 1300 but the place was dead.  The only place I could find to eat, apart from a restaurant with an expensive menu, was a pizzeria which only had a terrible set menu.  At least the salad was OK.

My trip back to Sabris was in a through train.  It used to be that one had to change trains at Romorantin as the Valencay train turned back there.  Since last August there has been a change so that travelers going through do not have to change trains.  Speedy Gonzalez drove from Valencay to be replaced at Romorantin by the lady.  I was the only one traveling from Valencay but the conductor warned me that there would be a lot of school kids getting on at Faubourg d'Orleans.  Sure enough it was crowded with kids who were loud but generally well behaved.  A few got off at the intermediaste stations but many transferred to the SNCF at Salbris, many were going to Lamotte Beuvron, home of the Tarte Tatin.

I had to wait half an hour at Orleans for a very slow train to Paris.  I took a look at the Orleans trams at the station.  They were very full indeed.  On the way back to Paris we stopped in the dark at every one of the ten stations to Etampes.  A slow end to a good day.

Click here to see all pictures taken on the Blanc a Argent Railway

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