Do you enjoy travelling by train? I do, except of course when it’s cancelled or held up by the wrong sort of leaves or by vandals removing the copper from the electric cables, as happened to us recently in Sweden. We especially enjoyed travelling on the narrow-gauge, single-track railway in Corsica when we visited once without a car.
Sorting through my hundreds of photos recently, I came across the one at the top of the post. It’s the station house for Féneyrols, on the River Aveyron. The sharp-eyed among you will have noticed an anomaly: there is no railway track.
Most of the line from Montauban to Lexos was replaced by a road after 1955, when the last train ran. From Montricoux and Bruniquel all the way up to Lexos, the road follows the Aveyron, and what a spectacular route it is! Not only is the road a delight to drive on, since the curves are shallow, but it runs along the wildest part of the river, where it has carved deep gorges over the years.
This route also reveals some of the area’s outstanding monuments and sights: the châteaux of Bruniquel, the ruined fortress of Penne, the picturesque village of Cazals, the riverside town of Saint-Antonin and the château of Féneyrols. Not to mention the many tunnels that were constructed through the hillsides to give access to the railway.
It must have been wonderful to take the train on that line, meandering along the river, stopping at the little halts along the way and enjoying the scenery.
As with so many such projects, it was almost obsolete by the time it was finished. An imperial decree of 1853 recognised the need for a railway line to link the coalfields and steelworks of Décazeville and Aubin in Aveyron with the Garonne, thus providing them with access to the markets of Toulouse and Bordeaux. Much of that traffic had formerly gone by barge on the River Lot.
And so it was decided to take the shortest route from Montauban, along the Aveyron up to Capdenac. After considerable construction and financing difficulties, the single-track line was finally opened in 1858.
A short golden age followed, during which the railway carried around 33,000 tonnes of coal a year. All good things tend to come to an end, though, and other routes were constructed in the 1860s which provided better access, superseding the Aveyron route. It struggled on, mostly with passenger traffic, until its closure in 1955. The mines and steelworks it served were in decline themselves by that time.
Today, many former railway lines have been transformed into hiking and cycle paths. While researching this post, I came across this website about walking in France, which describes some of these hiking routes.
If you are ever in our part of SW France, I hope you get a chance to drive along the route of the old railway (now the D115). It’s worth a detour. There is still plenty of evidence of its former use, in the shape of station and other railway buildings, now mostly private houses.
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