On 11th July 1913 a momentous event took place that would influence the lives of many people in this area of southwest France for the next 20 years. The tramway line opened between Caussade and Caylus. Today, this might not seem much to shout about. But when you consider that the main method of transport for centuries previously had been horse-drawn carriage or cart, this initiative was almost revolutionary.
I thought about this the other day when we went to Toulouse and drove past the old tramway station houses at Caylus and Septfonds. The main railway network had already come to this part of France some years before. However, the hilly terrain made it impossible for the fast trains to serve the outlying villages. The idea of constructing a secondary network of narrower-gauge tracks to link up with the main lines was bandied about for years before it became a reality. Charles de Freycinet, a big cheese during the 3rd Republic was behind the Plan Freycinet, whose aim was ensure that the main cantonal towns were never far from a mainline railway.
Finally, the Conseil Général – departmental administration – took the decision to go ahead and a ‘Compagnie des tramways de Tarn-et-Garonne’ was set up. Six lines were constructed between 1913 and 1926: Caussade-Caylus was one of the first.
The line was 22 kilometres long and had a gauge of 1 metre. Steam engines pulled the carriages. The whole journey took 1h 15mins. Today it takes about 25 minutes. But it probably took several hours by horse-drawn vehicle. The tramway’s terminus was at the hilltop above Caylus since the terrain is too steeply undulating from that point even for the tramway to negotiate.
The tramway quickly became a success. Apparently, on 4th August 1913, less than a month after its opening, they had to lay on three evening trains to take people home from the dog show at Caussade. World War I brought a temporary pause to the line’s success, since traffic stopped almost completely. Nonetheless, 35,000 passengers travelled on the line in 1919.
The wagons carried not only passengers – each carriage could seat 24 – but also goods such as coal, wood and straw. Sometimes the load was too heavy on the steeper parts of the line and some of the passengers had to get off and walk.
Transport technology was changing rapidly, though. What had seemed such an innovation at the time quickly became obsolete. The advantages of cars and lorries over a fixed-line railway soon became obvious. Rural depopulation no doubt had an influence, too. The Caussade-Caylus line ceased operation in December 1933, only 20 years after its inauguration.
Very little remains of the track itself. Old postcards and photos show sections of it. For example, it appears that it ran down the centre of the main road in Caussade and Septfonds. The only buildings remaining are the station houses at Caussade, Septfonds and Caylus.
I have been unable to find any figures for the cost of this enterprise. I would be surprised if it ever broke even.
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