It is unusual for a well-established preserved railway to be forced to close, but fortunately, in one case, this proved not to be the end of the story. Don Benn reports on the revival of one of France’s best-known heritage lines.
We have visited The Chemin de fer du Vivarais, or the ‘Le Mastrou’ as it is also known, many times over the 40 odd years we have been going to France, and although its superb scenery remains, of course, the terminus is now an air-conditioned modern building some miles out of Tournon, near to the beginning of Le Gorge du Doux.
This is somewhat out of character by comparison with the ancient locomotives and rolling stock being used, but was a necessary part of the reopening of the line in 2011, using a number of grants, and in view of the refusal of SNCF to allow the dual-gauge running into the town centre station in Tournon-sur-Rhône to continue.
The line was originally part of a network of metre gauge lines around Vivarais, built between 1898 and 1903, but closed in 1968.
A tourist operation started over part of the line in 1969, running from what is now the terminus at St-Jean-de-Muzels to Lamastre and extended into the terminus at Tournon-sur-Rhône in 1970, a total distance of 33 kilometres. It continued without much change for the next 35 years, but lack of funds to maintain the line and rolling stock forced closure in 2008. Reopening started with a Velorail service in 2011, with the steam service following in July 2013.
Read more in the Issue 224 of Heritage Railway – out now!