Nice to Digne-les-Bains Part 4 – Plan du Var to La Mescla (Chemins de Fer de Provence 65)

After a detour to look at the metre-gauge TAM tramway from Plan du Var to St. Martin Vesubie we continue along the main line toward Digne. We board the train once again and head North from Plan du Var.Travelling in the other direction, this Soulé/Garnéro two car unit is on the 14.25pm  Digne les Bains to Nice Sud on 6th July 2004. [1]

North of the Station the line crosses the River Vesubie and continues on the east side of the River Var towards Chaudan, about 2 kilometres north of Plan du Var..Looking back to Plan du Var across the valley of the River Vesubie. [2]Road and Rail bridges over the River Vesubie [3]Chaudan village in 2010. [3]The halt at Le Chaudan is between the two roads on the East side of the Var. [4]

Some close-up shots of the station are shown below. The view from the Station platform is beautiful in both directions. The platform is provided with a small shelter and there are no other facilities at the station.

This picture is taken on the platform at Le Chaudan in 2010. [3]The view north from Le Chaudan Station. [3]The next stop on the line is La Tinée Arrêt. This station is also sited between the two parts of the Route de Grenoble but there is a passing loop provided which allows trains to cross at this point on the line.  The approach to the station is shown in the image above. [3]

28 kilometres from Nice, the Station was opened in 1892 and was the provisional terminus of the line from Nice during the construction towards Digne.

La Tinée was also the starting point of the electric Tramway service operated by the TAM, heading up to Saint Sauveur sur Tinée. The trams shared the line as far as Mescla. The line to Saint Sauveur sur Tinée operated for just 19 years much as the route to St. Martin Vesubie. It was opened in 1912 and closed in 1931

La Tinée is the name of the tributary of the Var whose confluence is a little further north.The station buildings are large. The image above shows the station from the roadside looking north. [5]. A water tank was provided as were significant goods handling facilities. The following pictures document the state of the station in 2010 and are to be found on the http://www.formule4.com website. [3]Arriving at the Station from the South in 2010.An early postcard showing La Tinee Railway Station.

La Tinee Station, boarded up in 2010.An obstructed view back towards Nice.Three locomotives were recovered from Les Réseaux Métriques du Massif Central. BB401 was one of these. According to Jose Banuado (Le Train des Pignes) BB401 joined the Chemins de Fer de Provence in 1971. It was built in Marne by Les Ateliers C.F.D. de Montmirail.The water-tower was north of the main buildings of the station.After La Tinee, the railway continued North into Les Gorges de la Mescla.The railway line hugs the East bank of the Var for about a further 2 kilometres until it reaches another halt – Le Reveston (Arrêt). [3] On the way it is protected at points from likely rock falls by some interestign structure and also passes through one tunnel – Tunnel de Barre du Pin.Tunnel de Barre du Pin is 84 metres long. The south portal is shown in the adjacent image, the railway tunnel runs below the old road tunnel. The North portal is shown below. [6]

This early postcard image shows the tunnel and the old road. The old road curved round the rock outcrop above the tunnel. [6]Very slightly downstream of the Tunnel de Barre du Pin tunnel, the railway passes under concrete structures (casquettes) which are not strictly galleries but which protect the line from rock falls. [6]

At Le Reveston  the railway passes through the halt and then crosses the River Var on a steel truss girder. It approaches Le Reveston tightly sandwiched between the two arms of the Route de Grenoble. The Google Streetview image immediately below shows this clearly.

The line the curves round following the old road through the halt and across the Var on the steel truss bridge.The tunnel beyond the bridge is just visible in the shot above and shows up better in the image immediately below.There is a public footpath on this side of the truss bridge and a maintenance pathway on the other side which provides access to the building beyond. That building, which is visible in some of these shots, is a power station and is shown in monochrome below. [3]At the beginning of the plant’s operation in 1900, there was no pedestrian bridge or other access to the plant. Conflicts arose when plant operators crossed the bridge over the railway tracks to reach their workplace. It took over ten years (until 1912) for the wisdom of a pedestrian access being provided to prevail in the minds of those in power.The bridge will be added in 1912, after ten years of vain quarrels.

In 1953, a short stub line was provided (35 metres long) to provide access from the railway to the plant. There was a point installed at this time which eventually was removed in 1998. [3]

The first electrical plant in the Alpes Maritimes, it was set up under the direction of Alexandre Durandy in 1896 to generate electricity for the tramways. It delivered about 2000 horsepower (1.5 MW) in three-phase current of 10,000 volts 25Hz transmitted to the Sainte-Agathe plant of the TNL. The power-station was rebuilt in the 1950s and takes water from further up the valley of the Var. The turbine house is visible in the monochrome image above. The water supply by pipe and gallery comes from some distance further up the river valley.

The Tunnel de Mescla South portal is visible in the pictures of the truss-girder bridge above. The tunnel is 934 metres long. [10]The North portal is now-a-days smothered by the modern road network as is the Station of La Mescla. The present station building is disused but it sits on the site of one built in 1904 to replace another station some 500 metres further upstream. The original station building of 1904 can be seen on the postcard image immediately below.The 1904 La Mescla Station with the tramway bridge visible in the distance. The image comes from the mid to late 1920s. [7] It is just possible, in this image, to pick out the tramway branching from the Nice to Digne main line before the concrete bridge is reached. This building replaced an earlier station some distance north of this point.

The Station at La Mescla was immediately adjacent to the confluence of the two rivers – the Var and the Tinee as demonstrated in the title provided by the photographer of the postcard image below.The next few images focus on the tramway bridge and its predecessor. [3][4]The bow-string concrete arch bridge was not the first bridge at this location. The original suspension bridge was not designed to carry the loads which would have been placed on it by the trams. It was built in 1883 to provide better access to the Tinee Valley, and was removed in 1909. [11] The tramway turned sharply onto the concrete arch bridge which was built in 1909. [9] It replaced the earlier suspension bridge. The adjacent photograph shows the bridge in excellent light. It was a graceful structure. [13]The view of the old bridge from the South s now obscured bt the much newer road bridge across the Var. [8]

It may be helpful here to reflect on the early history of road building in the hinterland behind Nice as that history goes some way to explaining the route chosen for the railway in later years.

A route north from Nice was first promulgated via Levens and indeed the road to Levens was built in the mid-1850s. The Valley of the Var being notorious for flooding an the erosion of the river banks. However, consideration was then given to containing the river not only to prevent flooding and its economic effects but also to address health issues including the malarial marshes near the coast. [12]

The construction of a dike along the Var, from its mouth to Baus-Roux over a length of over 23 kilometres, also allowed the construction of a road accessible to motor vehicles. This new road became the main access to the valleys of Estéron, Vésubie, Var and Tinée. It became indispensable.

Construction of this new road was easy. It was based on a flat stable surface and provided for an excellent road on long straights and broad curves. The climb alongside the river was gradual and the land gained by retaining the river created space for future widening of the road an other transport projects. [12]

As early as 18th August 1860, an imperial decree was promulgated, declaring the public utility  of the works to contain the Var. The French State carried the full cost of the work and the length from the coast to Baus-Roux was finished quickly (by 1869).

The new road was given the designation IR205 (Imperial Road No. 205) and ran from the coast up the Var and into the Gorge at Le Chaudan. It ran through the Gorge, exiting at La Mescla and then followed the valley of the River Tinée to Saint-Etienne a dn over the pass to the Valley of Haute Ubaye and then on to Barcelonnette. The link to Barcelonnette was perceived to be of great strategic importance.

The image below is a hand-drawn map of the road network in the immediate area north of Nice and the valleys of the hinterland.

However, the proximity of the border, coupled with an ever-increasing deterioration of Franco-Italian relations from 1881, lead the military authorities to oppose the extension of the road to Barcelonnette. This situation immediately benefited the Var valley and more particularly the Haut-Var, since a route further west to reach Barcelonnette was now required and the route along the Var was ideal. [12]

It is natural, therefore, that the thinking of engineers planning the new metre-gauge railway should think first of the Valley of the River Var.

The route of the railway north and west of La Mescla will be the subject of a separate post, as will the tramway in the Tinee Valley.

References

  1. http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/peclegg/sncf/articles/article_2010_07.html, accessed on 11th July 2018.
  2. http://www.beyond.fr/villages/planvar.html, accessed on 11th July 2018.
  3. http://www.formule4.com/route_code.php?rcode=37, accessed on 8th July 2018.
  4. https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Le+Chaudan,+06450+Utelle,+France/@43.8710267,7.195743,17.25z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x12cdb61fb9048de5:0xeddd760d1f05ab36!8m2!3d43.870819!4d7.198762, accessed on 11th July 2018.
  5. http://cccp.traindespignes.free.fr/gare-tinee.html, accessed on 11th July 2018.
  6. http://www.tunnels-ferroviaires.org/tu06/06151.1.pdf, accessed on 11th July 2018.
  7. http://marc-andre-dubout.org/cf/baguenaude/tinee/tinee.htm, accessed on 11th July 2018.
  8. https://structurae.info/ouvrages/pont-de-la-mescla-2, accessed on 12th July 2018.
  9. https://structurae.info/ouvrages/pont-de-la-mescla accessed on 12th July 2018.
  10. http://www.tunnels-ferroviaires.org/tu06/06078.2.pdf, accessed on 11th July 2018.
  11. https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pont_de_la_Mescla_sur_le_Var_-_Les_Travaux_Publics_de_la_France.jpg, accessed on 12th July 2018.
  12. https://passeurdememoires.wordpress.com/2016/10/23/notre-202, accessed on 12th July 2018
  13. https://infovallees.wordpress.com/2016/11/15/patrimoine-8, accessed on 12th July 2018.

One thought on “Nice to Digne-les-Bains Part 4 – Plan du Var to La Mescla (Chemins de Fer de Provence 65)

  1. Pingback: TAM Tramway from La Mescla to Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée – Revisited (Chemins de Fer de Provence 67) | Roger Farnworth

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