Not a very old ticket but a fond memory of a beautiful journey on a hot day in the Cevennes...
French railways were going through an extraordinary phase of transformation in the 1980s and 1990s. The country was rapidly becoming criss-crossed with futuristic high-speed electric lines. Many local lines were closing, or being upgraded with new rolling-stock and losing all their character, with stations reduced to unstaffed halts with bus shelters on the platforms. But just sometimes you could still stumble upon a gem!
On September 25, 1997 I was driving through southern France checking out some hotels for the holiday company I then worked with. Stopping around lunch-time in the city of Alès, I found a parking space right opposite the train station. I popped inside to see if anything was going on, and was delighted to discover that one of the three daily trains to the village of Bessèges was just about to leave. I purchased this ticket from the ticket-office and hopped on!
It was a wonderful hour-long scenic journey through tunnels, gorges and remote villages. There were never more than about three passengers on the train, a 1960s 2-car diesel unit of the type the French nicknamed 'Caravelles' after the contemporary aircraft. Bessèges station was a complete country terminus with a small goods yard and an interior stuck in a time-warp, with separate counters for 'Voyageurs' and 'Marchandises'.
When it was time to leave, the train driver and guard asked me if I'd like to ride in the cab for the return journey! Naturally I said yes! So I enjoyed a wonderful panoramic journey (strictly illegally) back to Alès and reality!
Of course it couldn't last forever. Even in 1997 I reckoned the only reason this line remained open was because the staff in the French Railways' Head Office in Paris had forgotten that it existed! The fact that I managed to acquire a French railway map omitting the line seemed to add weight to this theory.
Sadly, one of France's oldest and most beautiful branch lines, opened in 1857, saw its last passenger trains run in July 2012...
But all may not be lost! Amazingly, on March 3 this year, the French Railways (SNCF) announced a project to reopen the line...
Edited by NumisRob
04/27/2021 07:18 am