Monday, 10 August 2015

The Vivarais Railway


Sometimes called Le Train de l'Ardèche, the metre gauge tourist railway running up the gorge of the Doux River is a great tourist attraction of Southern France.


In summer, visitors can ride in open sided carriages, the traditional rolling stock (left) being reserved for times when more  weather protection is required.

Closed in the 1960's, like so many rural lines in the UK, the line was promptly re-opened as a heritage railway and though it struggled for funds for a few years in this century it is now going strong again.

Part of the problem, our guide informed us, had been the cost of sharing the last kilometre of the route into Tournon with SNCF (the French  national railway.) To get around this the enthusiasts constructed a new station just outside the town at Saint-Jean-de-Muzols.



From there the train makes a daily round trip to Boucieu-le-Roi, a distance of about ten miles through some spectacular scenery, hugging the side of the gorge and looking down on the river far below. 

At the terminus the engine is shunted on to a turntable where the fireman (right) is able to display a combination of muscle power and superb engineering as he switches the direction of the engine without any power source but himself!


Because of the sharper than usual curves necessitated by the terrain, the steam locomotive is articulated according to the Mallet design. This means that what looks like a single 0-8-0 set of driving wheels beneath the engine is actually two in a  0-4-4-0 layout, the front set being mounted on a separate bogie which is able to turn independently of the main frame. 

The front set of wheels is driven by the second stage of the compound steam engine's power output.