Tramways de l’Aude – Overview – Part 2

This second part of the overview of Les Tramways de l’Aude is based on the first of a series of three articles provided by Loco-Revue in its magazine in late 1961, written in French by C. Lacombe. It is not a direct translation, and it seeks not to repeat information already provided in the first post in this series. [1] In addition a short set of notes are provided about the Compagnie du Midi which also served the department de l’Aude. Another post will look at the remaining articles by C. Lacombe. ….

Lacombe said, in 1961, that network of the Tramways de l’Aude was not remembered well. By 1961, it had disappeared from the public consciousness.

In his first artic!e, published in October 1961, he covers the history of the network and some basic network details. [2]

History: The Department de l’Aude was not well-served by standard gauge lines (and the network of general interest). It was crossed at its widest point by the Bordeaux-Sete line. The Department provided an overabundance of agricultural produce and its vineyards were prolific but transport difficulties were almost insurmountable.

Transport by road was at a premium, capacity was low and tariffs were high. A series of different tramway/railway projects were considered and by 1895 the Department set up a study group to look at the creation of a network of line ‘of local interest’. This work culminated in a public utility inquiry sanctioned on 8th January 1898. The result was the adoption of a planned departmental network of over 300km in total.

We outlined the lines involved in the first post in this series:

https://rogerfarnworth.com/2018/08/27/tramways-de-laude-overview-part-1

The network linked the chief towns of the canton which were not served by the Compagnie du Midi. It also extended outside the Department de l’Aude to allow important connection to the Bordeaux to Sets railway line. This is particularly true for the line to Olonzac in Hérault.

The proposed network was declared as being of public utility in a decree dated 25th March 1898. A limited company was very quickly constituted in Paris (56, Rue de Provence) with a capital of 4,500,000 francs. It was named as the “Compagnie des Tramways a Vapeur du Department de l’Aude” (TVA or TA). Mr Hely d’Oissel was the Chairman of the Board of Directors. A decree dated 8th March 1899 replaced a company owned by Mr. Hugues Bardol  by this new company. The line located in the Hérault, and the connection to Caunes were separately added to the concession in June 1900 and declared to be of public utility in October 1900.

Construction work started on 1st May 1898. Completion/opening dates were provided in the first post in this series. [1]

The first line to open to the public was that between Carcassonne, Caunes and Conques, on Sunday, 10th March 1901. Routinely, three daily round trips took place on this line. As a result of the popularity of this line, the Compagnie des Tramways de l’Aude was authorized, by decree of 1st July 1901, to raise its capital to 12,850,000 francs, which provided sufficient funds for the completion of the network.

Various changes were made to the planned works during construction. Some lines were extended, some shortened. Particular lengths were clearly unlikely to be profitable and were abandoned. These lengths included sections between: Saint-Pierre-des-Champs and Pierredroite; St~Martin~le~Viel and Alzonne; Ferrals, Corbieres and Villerouge; Bizanet and Villedaigne. A decree made on 6th September 1904 regularised these changes and a second decree on 2nd February 1905 confirmed the final table of lines.

Ultimately, 12 years after work commenced in 1898, the last line was completedcompleted in 1910. This, says Lacombe, is worthy of note as there were many unfinished networks of this type in France. However the war of 1914-1918 brought significant disturbance to the network, as it did to many French networks then in service. Until the Great War, the permanent way was well-maintained. Then. during hostilities, no maintenance work was undertaken, and by 1919, the permanent way was in a deplorable states. The company discovered that it needed to change at least 180,000 sleepers to stabilise the line, in the end, the number of sleepers replaced came to 208,000. The work was not completed until 31st December 1923.

Apart from the need to undertake significant maintenance, the post-war period seems to have been a period of relative prosperity, despite the improving road conditions meaning that competition from private cars was developing rapidly. The commissioning, in 1926, of petrol railcars retained passengers who seemed to appreciate what was an innovative form of transport. However, low railway tariffs for passengers and goods resulted in increasing deficits as the years passed.

Mixed-mode train/bus services were tried from 1930 with little success. The bankrupt company sought the support of the Department. The Department took control of the network and maintained services without alteration until 23rd July 1932 when it offered the whole network to La Société générale des transports départementaux (SGTD) for va period of 8 years. The rail service did not last. The mixed rail-road service lasted only until 1st January 1933. The railway operation was closed on this date and buses took over the service. Decommissioning was authorised by decree on 7th August 1934. 

The Network: All the lines of the network were designed with steep gradients and tight curves, with a view to keeping costs of construction to an absolute minimum. Gradients could be as steep as 1 in 20 and curve radii as tight as 40 metres. The metre-gauge track was made with Vignole rail weighing 20kg per metre laid on sleepers spaced at 0.85m. In stations, tracks were separated by 1.7m. For much of the network, rails were laid within the road construction. There were no signals and train safety was secured by phone calls.

There were no major structures on the network, although the trams crossed some relatively significant road bridges. An example being the 3-span masonry arch viaduct over the River Vixiege on the present D625 north of Plaigne. There were a number of smaller bridges built specifically for the network:

  • Small girder bridge over the River Jammas at Salles-sur-l’Hers.
  • The track crosses the “canal due Midi” on a 15 metre span metal bridge at Homps.
  • The railway crosses the River Aude on a metal bridge at Cuxac.

At certain points the Tramways de l’Aude cross the lines of other companies, particularly the Compagnle du Midi. At Castelnaudary, the tramway and GC 19, crossed the Midi tracks at PN 226. An overpass, adopted by ministerial decision of October 20, 1916, replaced this NP and was completed in March 1922. In Bram, the Fanjeaux line cuts the Bordeaux-Séte railway line. In Lézignan-Corbieres, the link between freight and passenger stations crosses the Midi tracks by means of a skew-bridge (74°) of 11.71m span. Incidentally, this bridge was opened to traffic in 1910, too soon after its completion: the recently laid masonry reveals disturbing cracks! 

Compagnle du Midi: The Compagnie des chemins de fer du Midi (CF du Midi), was an early French railway company which operated a network of routes in the southwest of the country, chiefly in the area between its main line – which ran from Bordeaux, close to the Atlantic coast, to Sète on the Mediterranean – and the Pyrenees. [3]

The company was established by the Pereire brothers, who thus broke the virtual monopoly held in France by James Rothschild on the slow-paced railway projects taking place in the area of Paris during the 1840s and 1850s. Rothschild responded by strengthening his grip on the sector with an alliance to the industrialist Talabot. The Pereires in turn founded their financial company Crédit Mobilier. [4]

In 1934 the company was merged with the Chemin de fer de Paris à Orléans to become part of the Chemins de fer de Paris à Orléans et du Midi (PO-Midi).

In 1856, the Midi completed its rail line from Bordeaux to Toulouse. [5][6] In 1857, it continued on from Toulouse through Narbonne to Sète. [5] This put it in competition with the Canal du Midi, and on 28 May 1858 the railway took over the lease of the canal. [5][7]

The Compagnie du Midi’s interests spread across the whole area north of the Pyrenees. Its interests in the Department de l’Aude were limited to a few key lines. This left significant space for a company such as Les Tramways de l’Aude to provide local services.

The creatures image at the top of this blog shows the lines of Le Compagnie du Midi marked in red, those of the Tramways de l’Aude marked in blue. It also shows the lines referred to in the text above which eventually were not constructed by the Tramways de l’Aude. These are shown as dotted lines.

 

References:

  1. https://rogerfarnworth.com/2018/08/27/tramways-de-laude-overview-part-1
  2. C. Lacombe; Les Tramways de l’Aude; Loco-Revue No. 211 – LRPresse, October 1961.
  3. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemins_de_fer_du_Midi, accessed on 31st August 2018.
  4. Migule A López-Morell; Rothschild; Una historia de poder e influencia en España. Madrid: MARCIAL PONS, EDICIONES DE HISTORIA, S.A. p. 141, 2015.
  5. L.T.C. Rolt; From Sea to Sea. Ohio University, 1973.
  6. Chandra Mukerji; Impossible Engineering. Princeton University Press, 2009. 
  7. http://fr.structurae.de/projects/data/index.cfm?id=p0000077https://structurae.info/ouvrages/canal-du-midi, accessed on 31st August 2018.

Bibliography:

Henri Domengie; Les Petits Trains de Jadis/Sud-Ouest de la France; Editions de Cabri, 1986, p226-233.

C. Lacombe; Les Tramways de l’Aude; Loco-Revue No. 211 – LRPresse, October 1961, p338ff & p361.

C. Lacombe; Les Tramways de l’Aude; Loco-Revue No. 212 – LRPresse, November 1961, p

C. Lacombe; Les Tramways de l’Aude; Loco-Revue No. 213 – LRPresse, December 1961, p

Michel Vieux (ed: Roger Latour); Tramways à Vapeur de l’Aude – Le petit train des vignes.

Les tramways à vapeur de l’Aude; Fédération des Amis des Chemins de Fer Secondaires – Patrimoine Ferroviaire (https://www.facs-patrimoine-ferroviaire.fr), No. 171, 1982.

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