The Network of the Tramways of Nice and the Littoral (TNL) at its Height (Chemins de Fer de Provence 62)

As I have mentioned in the last month or two, I have been very fortunate indeed. … For my birthday this year, my wife has bought me two books about the tramways of Nice. Both of these books are written in French by Jose Banuado and published by Les Editions du Cabri. [1]

I am enjoying reading the first of the two volumes at the moment which covers the history of the tramways in Nice. I have had some conversations of a number of forums about the TNL which ran the tramways along the coast and in the city of Nice as well as a number of lines which travelled up into the hilly countryside behind the coast.

Sadly the full story of the TNL network is currently only available in Jose Banuado’s books which are written in French.

I have teamed up with Google translate to translate some of the pages of Jose Banuado’s book  and I hope that I have fairly translated his work which follows in italics. This is not an official translation, it just part of my endeavour, as someone with very little knowledge of the french language, to understand the text. If you are fluent in both French and English and have access to Jose Banuado’s books, you might want to check my translation to ensure I have fairly represented his work. [2] I guess the text in italics is more a paraphrase than a translation.

This post focusses on the years immediately before the First World War. It was at this time that the network reached its fullest extent and it was the time when it was both in its best condition and carrying the greatest number of passengers. After the First World War things began to change and competition from other forms of transport increased.

The pictures included in the text are not those included in Jose Banuado’s book.

The TNL Network at its Height (Jose Banuado Volume 1 : p62-68)

Like many French rail transport networks on the eve of the first world war, the TNL experienced, significant growth in all areas: mileage exploited, number of passengers and tonnage of goods, staff numbers, etc. There were a number of improvement and development projects underway, both for urban and interurban traffic, but the economic and human upheavals brought by the war were soon to bring a halt to the overall prosperity of the tramways of Nice.

The Completion of the Departmental Network

On the eve of the war, one line of the departmental network in the hinterland behind Nice remained to be built and an extension to another had just been agreed.

The 1904 convention provided for the extension of the La Grave-de Peille line along Les Gorges de Paillon to reach the village of L’Escarène. L’Escarène was the capital of the canton and had a commercial importance but also a military significance, because from L’Escarène one could extend the tramway towards Lucéram and Peïra-Cava, at the edge of the highly strategic Authion massif. However, the new PLM international route Nice-Breil-Cuneo had just been confirmed across the same route. This resulted in a rapid diminution of interest in the establishment of a tramway in what were very sparcely populated gorges

The general council, still wishing to see L’Escarène connected to the TNL network, decided to replace the planned line with a totally different route: La Pointe-de-Contes – L’Escarène, by the Nice pass. A convention was signed for this purpose on 5th and 18th April 1913. A month later, a decree was made on 19th May 1913 pronouncing that the new line was of public utility. The proposed line was 7.569 km via La Pointe. Work was started immediately across difficult terrain, including a long deviation below the village of Blausasc.

In addition, since the location of the terminus of the Nice-Levens line required tram passengers to walk nearly a kilometre to reach the village, an extension to Levens village was promulgated in October 1908. 1,089 km long and comprising a tunnel, this extension provoked long discussions concerning its financing. It was the subject of an agreement made on 20th February and 2nd March 1912 which was ratified by the decree of public utility on 9th July 1913. But within a year the war impeded further progress on work that had just begun …

The Completion of the Urban Network

The network in the city of Nice had last seen alterations not long after the turn of the 20th Century. They were supplemented by a new line when on 8th February 1908, the city of Nice granted the TNL a line connecting Magnan bridge to the suburb of La Madeleine. Declared of public utility on 21st February, the line was give the route number 12 and began operations on 27th April 1908. A single track followed the shoulder of the road up the valley for a distance of over 2.2km. It facilitated the rapid urbanization of this popular district where small factories, laundries, restaurants and cafes opened up. La Madeleine became a popular Sunday walk destination.

Closer to the centre of Nice, three lines had been granted in the period from 1902 onwards and should have entered the quadrilateral formed by the Boulevard Gambetta, the Rue de France, the Avenue de la Gare and the Avenue Thiers, which is nowadays called “Quartier des Musicians” because most of the streets are named after famous composers of the 19th century. Place Gambetta   Line 6 (Masséna-Gambetta) was to take Rue Alphonse-Karr and Chemin St. Etienne (today, Rue Georges-Clemenceau) to access the bridge under the PLM railway. In its final route, Line 7 Saluzzo-Gambetta followed Avenue Beaulieu (now Maréchal-Foch), Rue la Paix and Chemin St. Etienne, where it joined the route of Line 6.  Between Masséna – Potiers, Line 7 was then intended to follow the streets Alphonse-Karr and Cotta (now, Marechal-Joffre) and the Avenue de Fleurs as far as the junction with the Rue des Potiers. However, as a result of opposition from residents in the Musicians Quarter the company and the municipality decided not to construct the lines in the Quarter.

As might be expected in a more popular area, close to the Old Town, Line 11 Masséna-Port had no more luck. The route initially planned via Rue de St. François-de-Paule and Cours Saleya sparked protests from the market traders on the route. [The image below indicates the extent of the market and highlights the likely disruption that would have been caused by the tram route.] A new route via the Streets of Rues du Palais et de la Terrasse, Les Quais du Midi and Des Ponchettes (today, Etats-Unis and Rauba-Capèu), the Quai Lunel and La Place Cassini (today, Ile-de-Beauté), which was the subject of a concession. But the opponents did not desist and this line through the historic heart of the city was never built.In the first half of the 1910s, the completion of the urban network was the subject of arduous negotiations between the municipality and the TNL. On 5th and 6th February 1912, two amendments and a new convention were signed to alter the lines to be built. The four routes not yet realized were abandoned in favor of extensions and new links towards the suburbs of the city:

• an extension of line 4 Port-Lazaret, via the Boulevard Empress-de-Russie;

line 6 (Massena) Boulevard Joseph Garnier-St. Sylvestre via Avenues St. Barthelemy (today, Auguste Ravnaud), Cyrille-Besset and Boulevard de Cessole;

line 7 Place Saluzzo-Rue de Lépante;

line 7 bis (Masséna) Carras-Caucade;

Line 11 (Masséna) Place de Tende-Eglise St. Roch;

• an extension of line 12 to Le Madeleine-Supérieure;

line 13 (Masséna) Place Saluzzo-Col de Villefranche on the flank of Mont Boron.

Plans were made for extensions to line 5 to L’Ariane and from the Cimiez line to Rimiez. The draft convention for all of these lines was submitted to the inquiry of public utility during the winter of 1912-13, but from 15th December it was revoked by the city. The municipal elections of 5th May 1912 resulted in the replacement of Mayor Honoré Sauvan by General François Goiran, who was very critical of the company and did not want to grant it too advantageous conditions. After endless discussions, a new project was proposed on 6th March 1914. It consisted only of lines 6, 7a and 11, on different routes  to those previously proposed.

In the spring of 1914, the TNL operated a network of 166.5 km, including 33.6 km of urban lines, 2 km of routes within the port area and 130.9 km of coastal and departmental lines. If common lines are deducted the total reduces by about 5km. The rolling stock fleet consisted of 174 powered units (including 9 in Monaco) and 90 passenger trailers, as well as 13 tractors and 140 freight cars. The staff consisted of a thousand employees, ensuring an annual traffic of nearly 25 million passengers and more than 200,000 tons of goods. For 1913, the last year before the war, with 4,564,544 francs of receipts and 3,227,730 francs of expenses, the financial balance sheet of the company was largely profitable and the coefficient of exploitation remained at a rate of 0.71 to the envy of many other networks.



  1. Nice au fil du Tram Volume 1 and 2, Jose Banuado; Les Editions du Cabri.
  2. Nice au fil du Tram Volume 1; p62-67.

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