Discovering a Former Railway Line

Former station house at Féneyrols

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.

Micheline at Ajaccio Station. These trains were still in service when we backpacked in Corsica, but have been replaced by modern rolling stock.

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.

Spectacular route

Twin châteaux of Bruniquel

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.

Penne with château on the right (you get a closer view from the road)

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.

Tranquil Aveyron at Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val

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.

Built-in Obsolescence

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.

Gorges de l’Aveyron at Saint-Antonin

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.

Tourist routes

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.

Château at Féneyrols

You might also like:

Trip Along the River Aveyron
The Little Train from Caussade to Caylus
Letting the Train Take the Strain in Corsica 

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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12 Responses to Discovering a Former Railway Line

  1. Pingback: Discovering a Former Railway Line - France Property Magazine

  2. Pingback: Discovering a Former Railway Line - Rory Ramsden - Luxury French Property Finder & Buyer's Agent in south west France

  3. Scott Perrizo says:

    Hi, Vanessa, love this post as well as all your others, I don’t respond often enough to let you know that, my apologies! I thought that the line at Lexos was still running past the turn of the century, that my friend from Parisot used to catch the train there to go overnight to Paris for work, so wondered if there was a different line that closed in the 1950s? Thanks and best regards, Scott

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Thanks, Scott, for this. The line from Lexos still runs, but it is the line from Montauban to Lexos that was discontinued in 1955. A line still goes from Toulouse via Lexos-Villefranche-de-Rouergue, but the frequency is much less than before. Lexos was a kind of rail hub for a while and both lines went that way during that time. It’s complicated and you need to know the railroad network around here to fully see what I’m talking about. Suffice it to say that there are fewer railroad lines now than at one time.

      Like

  4. Osyth says:

    I’m a train lover though never a train spotter. There’s not much network left in Cantal. Mostly the trains are actually SFR buses these days. But if you fancy a lovely trip you can always take the Auvergne Blue from Riom es Montagne up to Lugarde. Recently I took the train from Grenoble to Geneva. Breathtaking and very efficient … yes, I do love trains!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      I’ve always wanted to take the train from Aurillac NE along the Cère Valley. We normally stay in a place called Thiézac (which you no doubt know), halfway between Aurillac and Murat and you can see – and hear – the train from where we stay. Despite the number of times we’ve been there, we still haven’t done the train. The Auvergne Blue sounds well worth a trip.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Osyth says:

        My daughter and stepson took the train from Murat to Aurillac and then Aurillac to Toulouse after our wedding … we met them in Toulouse and flew back with them to England. They had absolutely loved the Murat-Aurillac part and still talk about it from time to time. So I hope you get the chance.

        Liked by 1 person

      • nessafrance says:

        Then we must definitely do it. We might need two cars, though, so that we can station one at either end if the return train doesn’t go for some hours. But that’s a detail that shouldn’t stop us doing it.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. We have found the local trains in France very reliable so far!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      I think there’s less scope for the local trains to go wrong. Whenever someone comes down here from Paris on the TGV or an inter-city train, it’s invariably late. And when we went to Paris in April, our outbound train was cancelled and the inbound one was an hour late! So we don’t have a great experience of French trains. Glad yours is better!

      Like

  6. MELewis says:

    The train is my absolute favourite way to travel. It is such a wonderful way to see the countryside while relaxing with a book. We often take the trains in Switzerland, and they really do run like clockwork.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      I find it relaxing, too, although my attention is often drawn away from the book to the countryside! When we were in Italy some years ago, we found the trains ran to the second there, too – Mussolini’s legacy, so they say. Not quite so reliable here in France.

      Liked by 1 person

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