Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Little Yellow Train

2010 is an important anniversary for the Little Yellow Train which crosses the Catalan Pyrenees Regional National Park in the Eastern Pyrenees. It is 100 years since the first section of the line, between Villefranche and Mont-Louis, was opened to the public. The line was subsequently extended, reaching  Bourg-Madame in 1911 and Latour de Carol in 1927. Latour de Carol on the French - Spanish border is of interest because there are three different gauges found at the station. Those of the main French railway from Toulouse/Paris, the Spanish railway from Barcelona and the Little Yellow Train.

The 63km, single track line, starts at 400m above sea level and follows the Têt river valley. As it climbs higher, the landscape opens out and there are great views of the Canigou, Cambre-d'Aze, Carlit and Puigmal massifs. The bright yellow train with cherry red trim, the Catalan colours, reaches its highest point at Bolquère. At 1952 m above sea level, this is the highest railway station in France.
There are 19 tunnels and among the many bridges and viaducts, there are two that stand out which have Historic Monument status. The  Séjourné viaduct  (217 m  long  65 m above  the River Têt) and the Gisclard bridge (222 m  long and 80 m above the river.) The Gisclard bridge is the only railway suspension bridge still in service in France. The bridge has been repainted twice: in 1960 and again in 2009.

The Little Yellow Train crossing the Gisclard suspension bridge with the first snows of winter.

While testing the line in Oct 1909, an accident led to the train careering out of control, leaving the track on a bend and the deaths of 6 people. Among those that died that day was Albert Gisclard the engineer responsible for the Gisclard bridge. This accident led to the addition of a third braking system.

Today 200 000 people a year are transported by ‘The Canary’ at an average speed of 35km/h reaching a top speed in places of 55km/h. The train is electric, as it was in 1910, and recieves power at 850 volts, from a third rail. The dam at Lake Bouillouses was originally built to provide a resevoir of water for one of several hydro electric generating plants along the valley that generated the electricity for the line.

22 stations are still served served by the line as in 1927, although 14 stops have become request stops.  If you want to leave the train at a station that doesn't have a permenant stop, you have to tell the driver when you join the train. If you want to join the train at a station that  is a request stop, you have to stand in a prominant postion on the platform and indicate for the train to stop.

The train runs all year round. An engine with a snow plough clears the line of snow in the winter months.

Timetables until 3rd March 2011 can be found here.

There is a collection of old postcard images of The Little Yellow Train here.

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