TNL Tramways – Recovery after the First World War (Chemins de Fer de Provence 83)

This blog is based on the text of the book written in French by Jose Banaudo: Nice au fil du Tram: Volume 1, Histoire; Les Editions du Cabri, 2004. The translation is intended to promote a better understanding by an English audience of the tramways of southern France. Errors in the translation are mine, and for me to correct. Please let me know if anything in this blog post is incorrect.

Difficult recovery

Like all transport companies, TNL faced the post-war years of economic, social and material hardships that arose from the long-running conflict. All developments of the network. in progress or planned, were suspended. The political upheaval experienced by Europe deprived the region of part of its rich seasonal clientele. Habits were changing and car transport was rapidly taking off, taking away a significant amount of passengers from the trams. Monetary inflation was felt in the price of raw materials and supplies at a time of urgent repairs after years of intensive service with limited maintenance. Inflation also affected the income of the employees. During the conflict their loyalty to the company survived, but after 4 years of constraints they decided to defend their own rights.The years after the first World War were ones of social unrest. in May 1920 the police and army occupied the Ste. Agathe depot to prevent striking workers disabling the network, (c) Baussano – collection Gerard Santos. [1]

On 15th August 1919, for the first time in twelve years, the staff went on strike to obtain a salary increase and a limit to the working week of eight hours a day and forty-four hours a week. The strike lasted a month, the company obtained permission from the city to increase its rates, the abolition of the reduction on round-trip tickets and the exemption from the cost of parking on public roads, which made it possible to give the employees what they demanded and to hire more than two hundred additional staff.

The constant search for savings was prioritised above the quality of the service to customers, especially on the departmental lines where the service had been reduced to two or three trips a day on certain sections during the war years. Not only did the service not improve, but in some cases it was further diminished. For example, on La Grave-de-Peille route there was only one round trip per day in 1919. In the face of protests raised by this failure, a new service was introduced the following year with two round trips three times a week but no traffic the other days! On the urban lines, the service also left much to be desired and the Municipality of Nice, while granting concessions to the company, did not fail to remind it of its obligations. Under the terms of the agreement, the operator had to pay the city a percentage of the profits; however, under the pretext of the exceptional difficulties caused by the war, arrears accumulated.

In Nice City Council, the discontent was such that for the first time some elected officials proposed to replace the trams with buses. At the meeting on 29th March 1919, one councillor stated: “We will clean up, we will remove the rails, the present inconvenient cars, the horrible wires and trolleys, and we will replace this worn-out, old-fashioned system with buses as the most modern cities are doing.” The idea gained some traction, so much so that in the following year the secretary general of the Tramway Union, Guardiano, thought it necessary to reply: “If the municipality found an advantage in replace the trams by automobiles, it would do so in the face of more than a thousand fathers of families who would be made redundant and then, at that time, we do not know if the automobiles of the mayor would roll quietly.“… The social climate remained tense because a new strike broke out from 13th to 16th May 1920, during which the prefecture and the municipality immediately intervened with troops to keep the depot of Ste. Agathe open and escort the seventeen tramcars which remained in circulation.

Expansion projects of the departmental network

Urban projects planned for 1914 had been started before the war. This was not the case for the  departmental lines.

However, at Levens, work on the extension to the village continued at a slow pace during the war. The formation had been completed by 1917, including the curved tunnel, but the terms for moving the terminus facilities were still unresolved between the department and the company.The tunnel leading to the village of Levens, the structure was completed but never used. No tracks were laid through the tunnel (c) Yann Duviver. [2]

On the line from La Pointe-de-Contes line to L’Escarene, the work was interrupted following the death of the contractor and the termination of the contract by his widow. Despite the difficulties of all kinds, the department nevertheless resumed work at the end of 1919.

In the first half of the 20’s, the development of the departmental network was still on the agenda for the Alpes-Maritimes General Council. However, persistent economic difficulties discouraged public investment in trams to rural areas where road transport now seemed to offer a more flexible and less expensive solution. The commissioning of the new Haut-Var and Esteron lines of the TAM network proved to be a big mistake, the lines were not viable from the beginning, this reinforced an evolution towards road transport.

Even with most of the work complete, the TNL began to wonder whether it was viable to complete and maintain the route into Levens village and between La Pointe-de-Contes and L’Escarene (particularly given that by 1923 work had commenced on the PLM Nice-Cuneo line).

The commissioning of these new links was postponed. As were two other projects planned by the TNL: the establishment in Menton of a TNL passenger and goods station closer to the port or in the Careï valley, and the putting underground of the tramway in a part of the crossing of the Monaco principality.

It became clear very quickly that these new projects would not be viable, given the deficits being experienced on the other departmental lines. New agreements were made with the local authorities which were intended to secure the future of all of the TNL lines, however the decree of 15th May 1924 which followed the negotiations only brought a brief stay of execution for the least remunerative lines which it had been designed to preserve.From 1st January 1923 all of the trams on the TNL network were numbered with large numerals at either end of each tram. Here in Place Massena a ram running on Ligne 11 is clearly visible directly alongside another running on Ligne 9. [3]

A first restructuring of the urban network

On the Nice network, the tramway system was founded on a single rate in each of 1st and 2nd class. A single journey had a single price no matter the distance. This policy was part of the agreement with the municipal authorities and as the city expanded it continued to apply. Expansion since the beginning of the 20th century had been very significant. Maintaining a single urban tarrif amounted to a significant loss of possible revenue for the TNL.

The TNL obtained authorisation, on 6th July 1920, to introduce multi-tier pricing by dividing each line in two, three or four sections, depending on the distance traveled. From 1st January 1923, all the lines of the network were renumbered and their number placed prominently on a color disc at each end of the tram. N ° 1 to 16 designated urban lines and their partial services, but did not include the No. 13 so as not to deter superstitious passengers. Nos. 20 to 24 were applied to services on the line to Monte Carlo; Nos. 26 to 30 to those to the valleys of Paillons; Nos. 31 to 34 to those on the line to Antibes and du Cap; tNos. 41 to 46 to the Monte-Carlo and Menton group of lines, on the same date, the stops were classified in two categories, fixed and request, which a few years later were designated by red and green plates.

But now the tramway no longer dominated the field. Small and large automobile manufacturers were marketing chassis and engines for very reasonable prices. Private entrepreneurs were equipping themselves with trucks and buses. Initially they provided links to the tramway and railway networks. As early as 1921, the Société Anonyme Nicoise de Transports Automobiles (Santa) opened a Nice – La Turbie line via the Grande Corniche and a Nice – Colomars circuit through the hills, with the financial support of the department and the city of Nice. The following year, it created a Nice – St. Isidore service through Caucade. Tramway access to this large cemetery to the west of the city was planned before the war, but the route from La Californie was not built and the families who came to see their loved ones graves had to walk a
painful climb from Carras.Urban buses appeared in Nice on 28th May 1925 on the Massena-St. Sylvestre line via Jospeh Garnier and St. Barthelemy boulevards (now Auguste Reynard). The TNL operated this first service with road buses (a Scemia body on Schneider chassis). We see one of these buses (No. 6) ready to start in front of the Casino. These buses had an open driving position and rear platform, they derived directly from the type H vehicles put into service in 1916 in the capital by the Compagnie generale des Omnibus (CGO), but compared to their Parisian cousins they have the advantage of a pneumatic tyres not solid tyres, © Collection of Henri Dupuis. [4]

Bus No. 3 which was a Scemia-Schneider bus. Its driver is M. Ponza and rhe bus was runnign on ligne C – Masséna – Caucade in 1928. (c) Collection of Gérard  de Santos

Fearing that this potential competitor would move into the city and considering the development of this new mode of transport in Paris, the TNL took the initiative, asking the municipality to permit the TNL to operate by “omnibus automobiles” urban lines that had not been completed. The authorization was granted on a temporary basis on 19th February 1924 and confirmed by decree of 1 July 1925, for two routes:

  • Masséna – St. Sylvestre by Boulevards Joseph-Garnier  and
    St. Barthélémy (now Auguste-Raynaud), commissioned on
    28th May 1925, and
  • Saluzzo – Caucade by Dubouchage, Victor-Hugo and Gambetta Boulevards, on 5th October

Subsequently, the Caucade line saw its terminus transferred to Place Masséna on 3rd May 1926, going beyond the central area of the city to reach the  Promenade des Anglais via Avenue des Phoceens. On the same day, it was increased by a Massena – St. Isidore service via Caucade. Thus, after having been neglected for so long by public transport, the Nice cemetery became a particularly well served destination! These new routes were operated by Schneitler and Sontuzt buses directly derived from those operating in Paris.

As the first buses appeared, the tramway network underwent two modifications. Line 3 was restricted to a terminus on Boulevard Tzaréwitch at the crossroads with Rue Clavier. This spared the tramway the steep climb to the Parc-lmpérial Hotel. That prestigious hotel, now deprived of its rich pre-war Russian clientele, was in decline pending its future transformation into a high school. From 21st December 1925, the route of the circular lines 6 and 7 was extended from the Port to Boulevard Ste. Agathe, where the double track laid from the beginning of the network was used until then only for access to the depot and transit of freight trains.

At this pivotal time in the history of TNL, the registered office was located at 79, Avenue de Breteuil in Paris (15th arrondissement). The Board of Directors, chaired by Mr. Vincent
Arnaud, was composed of Alfred Dumur, Alphonse Frédérix, Jacques Le Chatelier, René Théry and Joseph Lemonnier. Mr. Fernand Saran and Jean Umdenstock were auditors. The local management, whose offices were located within the compound of the depot at 15, Boulevard Ste. Agathe in Nice, was composed of Messrs. Joseph Lemonnier, Director; Thierry, Chief Engineer of the Department of Exploitation; Schopfer, Chief Engineer of the Electrical Department and the rolling sotck and locomotives; Benet, chief engineer of the track and works department; Gallais, Head of Administrative Services and Accounting.

Jose Banuado gives the following details about the TNL in 1927, [5] …….


The ‘Statistics of the French railways’ published by the Ministry of Public Works  for the year 1927 reports the following figures that allow an idea of the financial, administrative and technical situation of the TNL at that time. The TNL then operate 141 km of lines, divided as follows:

  • Urban network: Nice 26 km (excluding common trunk routes).
  • Monaco network 5 km.
  • Coastal network 50 km.
  • Departmental network 60 km.

The staff is composed of 1373 people, 14 of whom are in administration, 846 in movement, 323 to the equipment and 190 to the track.

The fleet of rolling stock includes 17 freight tractors. 175 power units a travellers. 96 passenger trailers and 162 freight cars.

Trams travelled 5,437,583 km during the year, including 4,164,884 on the urban network, 984,534 on the coastal network and 288,165 on the departmental network .

The total number of passengers carried was 35,416,562. of which 31,680,850 on the urban network. 2,976,441 on the coastal network and 759,271 on the departmentai network.

The total volume of goods transported is 489,689 tonnes of which 299,239 were on the urban network. 148,376 on the coastal network and 42,074 on the departmental network.

Revenues amounted to 24,521,671 francs, including 22,080,605 francs in passenger traffic, 2,286,958 in freight traffic, and 154,108 in miscellaneous revenue. The expenses amount to 22,597,515 francs. i.e. a profit of 1,924,156 francs and a total cost/income ratio of 0.92. But it must be taken into account that only the urban network allowed this level of return to be reported. The coastal lines recorded a deficit of 453,771 francs and a coefficient of 1.1, while the departmental network was subject to a déficit of 431,971 francs and a coefficient of 1.36. These figures pointed forward to likley closures on lines outside the conurbation.

During the year, 925 accidents were recorded, including 6 derailments, 539 collisions with cars, people or animals, and 380 miscellaneous accidents. The overall toll was 4 killed (1 traveller and 3 third parties) and 114 wounded (12 workers. 68 passengers and 34 third parties).


  1. Jose Banaudo; Nice au fil du Tram: Volume 1, Histoire; Les Editions du Cabri, 2004, p78.
  2. Jose Banaudo; Nice au fil du Tram: Volume 1, Histoire; Les Editions du Cabri, 2004, p79.
  3. Jose Banaudo; Nice au fil du Tram: Volume 1, Histoire; Les Editions du Cabri, 2004, p80.
  4. Jose Banaudo; Nice au fil du Tram: Volume 1, Histoire; Les Editions du Cabri, 2004, p81.
  5. Jose Banaudo; Nice au fil du Tram: Volume 1, Histoire; Les Editions du Cabri, 2004, p82.

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