The TNL Tram Network 1935 – 1944 – (Chemins de Fer de Provence 87)

This post continues a series of reflections on the tramway network in and around Nice which are primarily translated from Jose Banaudo’s French language book “Nice au fil due Tram Volume 1: l’Histoire” [1]

Jose Banaudo’s excellent book on the Trams of Nice is sadly not available in English. This series of posts seeks to translate the text of the book for an English audience.

A more general impression of Nice in the War Years can be found on the Calameo website. [2] An English reader will require translation software or a good knowledge of French.

The Difficult Years (1935-1944)

Following the wave of tramway closures that began between 1929 and 1933 on the departmental lines and continued in 1934 on the urban network, the length of the network operated by the TNL was reduced to almost a quarter of the pre-war mileage. The fleet of rolling stock had been reduced by almost two-thirds, with a usable workforce of fifty-eight powered cars and twenty-six trailers, plus ‘tractors’ and wagons assigned to freight traffic. At that time, only Paris and Nice had so profoundly transformed their network ; in all other major French cities, buses had been introduced instead to complement existing tram lines or to replace those that were proving particularly difficult to operate.

A respite was needed but it did not materialise. Encouraged by the municipality and by public opinion, and always taking its Parisian counterpart as a reference, the TNL company continued to dismantle the trams. And soon, growing financial difficulties would force it to reduce its vast road network.


Further network reductions

A new redesign of the urban network took place on 18th March 1935. Tramway lines 4, 6 and 7, which connected the Passage-à-Niveau CP of Boulevard Gambetta to the eastern districts of the city, were transferred to road vehicles. The bus line 12, which duplicated other services, was abolished and two other lines were renumbered: the 9 of Righi became the 19, while the 39 of St. Roch was renumbered as number 9. Bus line 42 from Mont-Buron through the Col de Villefranche disappeared on 31st August 1936, and was reborn on 17th February 1936 on a different route, via Riquier.

On 18th November 1935, the tramway lines 20 from St. Laurent-du-Var and 29 from St. Augustin were switched to buses, a tram service 29 limited to Port – California was nevertheless maintained on rails. In addition, the lines 37 of Contes and 38 of La Grave were extended towards the centre by transferring their origin from Garibaldi Square to the end of Gioffredo Street (at the corner of Massena Square), from where the 36 already left for La Trinite.

As everywhere in France, the year 1936 was quite difficult. On 20th June, the staff of the TNL went on strike to demand the repeal of the laws decreed by the government and the reduction of the working week to forty hours. The St. Agathe depot was occupied and the red flag was raised on the power plant’s chimney. After almost two weeks of a total interruption of service, negotiations were successful and work resumed on 3rd July. However, the financial situation of the company continued to deteriorate and on 30th June, in the midst of the strike, the board of directors requested a revision of the agreements between the company and the city of Nice. As an indirect consequence of the conflict, the tramway line 5 Passage-à-Niveau – Ancien-Octroi was suspended on 4th July. The entire area north of the PLM line was thus deprived of a tram service, although the tracks were maintained on Boulevard Gambetta as far as the Passage-à-Niveau to allow the transit of goods trains between the Port and the Gare du Sud station.

Forced by strict cost-saving measures, the TNL reduced or abolished some unprofitable bus services. On 27th September 1936, the La Conque and La Liornala lines were closed while a 3 B Riquier -St. Philippe service was being tested.

The year 1937 did not see any improvement in the company’s finances, quite the contrary. To save money, the fleet of vehicles was reduced, the station at Place Garibaldi abolished on 5th April and the former depot at Carnoles, where the buses of the network of Menton were serviced, was abandoned on 19th April. During the summer, a new conflict broke out. The bus line of the Parc-Imperial closed on 11th July, followed the next day by five others: those of Bon-Voyage, Mantega-Righi, St. Isidore, Digue-des-Français and the Octroi du Mont-Boron. On the same day, the town hall and the surrounding streets were blocked by eighty buses gathered by the staff, displeased over the town granting many advantages to competing businesses that were jeopardizing their own employer.

This phenomenon had been felt for several years on the former departmental network, where the interurban bus lines that had replaced the trams were gradually being handed over from the TNL to private carriers. The lines AE Nice – St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat and BC Menton-Garavan – Val-du-Careï were abandoned on 21st December 1936 and 1st January 1937 respectively. Then came the turn of the AH Nice – Levens, first suspended from 15th April 1935 to 24th February 1936, then definitively abolished on 15th March 1937. The line AI Menton – Sospel was operated using a Rapides du Littoral bus on behalf of the TNL from 23rd March 1938.

Towards a New Operating Regime

As the economic situation of the company continued to deteriorate, a study on the reorganization of the network was submitted to the Inspector General of Roads and Bridges, Delemer, who submitted his report on 27th May 1938. On 11th July, the Caucade bus line was transferred from the Promenade des Anglais to the Rue de France. The next day, the board of directors requested the termination of the concession. As the municipality was slow to react, operations were totally suspended on 1st and 2nd August and the staff were notified of their dismissal. A provisional agreement was reached with the municipality as a matter of urgency to re-establish a minimum service on tram lines 21, 22, 29 (over it remaining length) and 35 as of 3rd August, eight city bus lines and four intercity bus lines. But as of the 6th August, the line AI Menton – Sospel was definitively abandoned by the TNL while the AC Nice – Cannes was taken over by the Compagnie des Tramways de Cannes.

On 15th August 1938, the company was relegated to the status of a temporary concessionaire which gave time for the city of Nice to find a new concessionaire. The next day, the network underwent a major overhaul: the Bon-Voyage bus line was replaced by a circular service 8-9 serving the St. Roch district, the Rimiez line was attached to line 2, while the St. Sylvestre, St. Laurent-du-Var, St. André and Miramar lines were simply abolished. The tramway network was cut off from the suburban lines of the Paillon valley and services 37 of Contes and 38 of La Grave, whose operation was maintained for the still important goods traffic fed by the cement factories. The tram lines were now reduced to five: 21 from La Madeleine, 22 from Carras, 29 California (shortened), 35 from Cimiez, 36 from La Trinite, plus a partial service 36 bar shortened to the Carrieres de Bon-Voyage.

However, the situation was far from stabilized and in the year leading up to the declaration of war, there was hardly a month that went by without route changes, route consolidations, line cancellations or reopenings, changes of numbers, inconsistent measures which had the effect of displeasing customers already quite weary of frequent fare increases and service interruptions. Thus, bus routes 8-9 and 11 were cancelled on 29th September and 3rd October respectively, the 34 became 4/34 and then 4/44 on a new route from St. Sylvestre to Hôpital-Pasteur, and routes 24 and 29 were renumbered 8 and 9 as of 13th October. The 6th October saw the trams make an unexpected return to the right bank of the Paillon with the creation of a new service 20 Gendarmerie – California, running from the Gendarmerie to Gioffredo Street on the track of the old line 34 of St. André which had not been in operation for four years, then the route of the 29 bar from Gioffredo to California.

On 30th November 1938, following a national call for a general strike in large companies, some of the staff stopped work despite a threat of job losses. The next day, the management dismissed several hundred striking staff, declaring itself ready to re-employ those who made a written request. One hundred and twenty-one agents were not reintegrated and their case was not finally settled until ten years later, after the war, by a decision of the municipal council. In the meantime, the year 1938 ended with further service changes. On 10th December, the terminus of line 8 of Caucade was moved to Piazza Gambetta (South Station) and was replaced by a variant 8A with a terminus in Piazza Garibaldi. On 12th December, the TNL abandoned its last intercity lines AF Nice – Monaco and AG Monte-Carlo – Menton. On the same day, services 9 (bus) and 20 (tramway) were replaced by a tramway line 9 Port – Pont-Magnan, extended to Carras on 15th December and then to California on 9th January.

On 1st January 1939, the TNL sold the bus lines it had been operating for eight years in the Principality of Monaco to a new company, the Compagnie des Autobus de Monaco (CAM), a subsidiary of its predecessor in Nice. This company abandoned the old tram depot in St. Roman to install its garage on a new site at the other entrance to the principality, in the Fontvieille district.

In Nice, a new 4L Risso – Parc-Impérial bus service was created on 16th January 1939 but it disappeared on 17th July, as did the 19 Gare TNL – Righi, which only operated from 14th May to 16th August. On 2nd February, the tramway lines 21 of La Madeleine and 36 of La Trinité took the new numbers 3 (shortened) and 3. While with these incessant changes the company was experimenting with a new numbering system. The company was using these alterations to experiment with all the possible solutions to transport the most passengers in the most economic conditions. And negotiations continued to settle the administrative status of the Nice network. On 25th April, the State Council withdrew it’s intention to terminate the concession, thus allowing the operator to continues for the time-being.

This picture shows the  line from Nice to La Madeleine in 1949 – Powered car No. 123 is pulling a very old-fashioned trailer. Although taken after the Second World War, this picture is typical of the decaying state of the tramways in Nice from 1935 onwards. The tram is in a relatively poor condition and does not display the line number, © Ch. Schnabel – Th. Assa collection. [3]


Tram lines
3 Gioffredo – La Trinité
3/ Gioffredo – La Madeleine
9 Port – Gioffredo – California
22 Port – Station – Carras
35 Hôtel-des-Postes – Cimiez

Bus routes
1 Port – St. Sylvestre
2 Riquier – St. Maurice
4 St. Sylvestre – Hôpital-Pasteur
6-7 Circulaire Passage-à-Niveau – St. Roch
8 Gare du Sud – Caucade
8A Garibaldi – Caucade


  1. Jose Banaudo; Nice au fil due Tram Volume 1: l’Histoire; Les Editions de Cabri, 2004, p97-100. Translated using ‘deepl’ translation software in August 2020.
  2. Les Alpes Maritimes Pendant La Seconde Guerre Mondiale by cdi06130;, accessed on 21st October 2020.
  3.—de-l-apogee-au-declin/31975780.html, accessed on 21st October 2020.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.