Les Chemins de Fer et Tramways de Provence - la Ligne Nice a Digne (voie-metrique)

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The Nice to Digne metre-gauge line is the only one of the metre-gauge lines near Nice to remain open. Despite a chequered history its future now seems relatively secure. This is the first post about this line. I have travelled on it a few times in recent years and will do again when we are in Nice once more. It has seen some dramatic improvements in the permanent way and rolling stock in the past 5 or so years.

The next length of the journey along the Nice to Digne railway line starts at La Manda and takes us to Plan du Var, where the TAM formed a junction with the Nice to Digne line. The TAM operated the line from Plan du Var to St. Martin Vesubie.


We begin the next stage of our journey along the Nice to Digne les Bains line at Colomars Station. The modern halt is on a section of railway line which was not part of the original alignment. The as-built alignment had to accommodate access for the branch-line to the bridge over the River Var and had to allow for a height gain to permit trains to travel over the top girders of the truss-bridge over the Var.
In the last post we noted that there was a short-lived tramway which left the Nice to Digne line at Plan du Var. It travelled up the Valley of the River Vesubie as far as St. Martin Vesubie.


Tramway services left Plan du Var Station travelling North and diverged from the Nice to Digne line before reaching the Vesubie River. The images below are old postcards of the location of the junction and show the development of the site over a number of years. Initially a stone arch bridge took the road over the Vesubie, but when this failed it was replaced by the concrete arch bridge visible in some of the pictures.
This is the next stage of the journey up the Valley of the River Var on the Nice to Digne metre-gauge railway:


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. ..... 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. .......
This post covers another short-lived tramway which provided a service up the valley of l'Esteron from Pont Charles Albert over the River Var to Roquesteron, a distance of more than 20 kilometres.



Before the tramway was constructed the Charles Albert Bridge was a suspension bridge (built by Marc Seguin in the mid-19th Century) [2] but this bridge was not designed to accommodate tramway loading. In 1913 it was rebuilt to accommodate the trams, just as was necessary with the Pont de la Mescla on the Tinée tramway. The replacement structure had six spans of over 30 metres in concrete built by the company Thorrand. In the foreground of the image immediately below, there is the Pont-Charles Albert stop and the lime kilns at La Lauziere overseen by the perched village of La Roquette sur Var, © Yann Duvivier. [6] This 'new' bridge was replaced in the mid-20th Century by the one which is in use today.

Another of the branch tramways left the Nice to Digne line close to La Mescla Station and travelled up the valley of La Tinee.


I first looked at this tramway in 2013. It was only a short blog recognising the existence of the line in the valley.


This line was 26.5 Km long and connected villages in the Tinée valley to Nice to Digne line. Like other lines of the Tramways Alpes Maritimes (TAM), the electric current was single phase. The civil engineering works (bridges, tunnels) were executed by the Department.

The line was built in 1911 and operation started on 1st April 1912. Landslides affected the operation of the line in the early months. The original opening was delayed from January to April because of landslides and on 2nd April a further landslide affected several hundred metres of track and destroyed power lines.

The line ceased operations in 1931.
The available imagery from the time of the tramway is limited in extent and is supplemented by images from later dates.
The next length of the line from Nice to Digne takes us from La Mescla to Le Pont de Gueydan. It is at Le Pont de Gueydan that the line leaves the banks of the River Var and follows one of its tributaries.


Beyond La Mescla the railway continues to hug the river bank on the South West side of the River Var. The satellite image below shows the extent of quarry workings on the north bank of the river associated with Lafarge Bétons Centrale Malaussène (Construction Material Wholesaler)! Two bridges are visible in the satellite image. The first in the bottom right crosses both railway and river, the second appears to be an internal industrial bridge across the river.
Although I have travelled on this line a number of times, I have only once travelled beyond Entrevaux and that was in 2001. So looking at the line in 2018, I am almost in virgin territory by the end of this post!
New territory for me. The now removed TAM tramway from Pont de Gueydan to Guillaumes up Les Gorges de Daluis .....


The line from Le Pont de Gueydan north to Guillaumes followed the valley of the River Var and ran through the Gorges de Daluis.

Marc Andre Dubout, writing in French, says that the line was probably the moist daring of secondary line construction work with very steep gradients, numerous tunnels, two remarkable bridges. He comments that it is the most impressive tramway from a tourist perspective with 'unique viewpoints and singular landscapes'.
One of the bridges on this route has the distinction of being one of the earliest reinforced concrete arch structures in France.
After a detour up the tramway to Guillaumes we continue on our way towards Digne and travel as far as Annot.


The first two significant structures on this section of the line are a bridge which carries the N202 over the railway and then the Tunnel de Saint Benoit which is also known as the Tunnel du Pont de la Reine Jeanne and is curved in plan and 110 metres long. This tunnel's north-east portal is a matter of metres from the road bridge.
The line has left the River Var behind and now wends its way along a number of different watercourses.
Our journey along the Nice to Digne line recommences at Annot. We are halfway between Nice and Digne. My memory of travelling on the line is that Annot was touted as being an excellent destination when travelling from Nice, to allow access to mountain walking. A little research shows that to be the case. The map below is a copy of the hiking route map which includes an extensive range of walks. The ".pdf" from which it is taken can be accessed by following the link in the references at the bottom of this post. [1] The train we travelled on through Annot to Digne in 2001 was full of hikers who left the train at Annot.

We are close to the highest point on the route by the time we complete this section of the journey. Soon, after a long tunnel we will be on a downward ruling grade.
This is an aside from the string of posts about the Nice to Digne Line. The valley of the River Var has been prone to flooding over many years. A friend mentioned landslips which occurred at Annot in 1994 and 1996 as a result of heavy rains. The 1994 incident was part of a much wider catastrophic event affecting the whole River Var catchment area. The link below provides some details of the 1994 floods:


On 5th November 1994 an extreme flood event caused the lowest and the second-lowest dams on the Var to collapse. The flood wave inundated parts of Nice, including Nice’s international airport which is situated near the river mouth. It was out of service for several days. The airport lost the business of 50,000 passengers, with damages running up to an estimated 4.5 to 6 million euro. Elsewhere roads like the RN202 were cut, power and telephone lines were interrupted, and three people died and four disappeared. This estimate of lives lost is low compared with some, for instance HydroEurope say that 70 people were estimated to be killed, with large scale infrastructure damage and economical losses from the closure of the airport. The economic damage is estimated at 550 – 800 million Euros. Of the three most recent flood events the flows of 1994 were an order of magnitude higher than the others - 1994 (3680 m3/s), 2011 (1330 m3/s), 2016 (1280 m3/s).
The volumes of water involved in the 1994 floods were unbelieveable!
The next stage of our journey takes us out of the catchment of the River Var and into the Valley of the River Verdon. ....


The centre piece of this section of the line is the 3.5 kilometre long tunnel which links the valleys of the Verdon and the Vaire together - the Tunnel de la Colle Saint Michel.

The railway line between Meailles and Thorame-Haute was on the last stretch of the line from Nice to Digne to be built. The length involved was that between Saint-André-de-Méouilles and Puget-Théniers.

Work began in January 1900 on the final 27km of the line. The tunnel boring took a number of years to complete. Steady progress was made on the tunnel. The project had a significant setback when, in April 1909 part of the land mass above the proposed location of the station at Thorame-Haute collapsed onto the site of the station engulfing the part built buildings and platforms. Stabilisation of the mountain required the construction of a 114 metre long, 33 metre high retaining wall. The wall was 1.5 metres thick and reinforced by 7 buttresses. [22]

The station was opened to travellers on 3rd July 1911 [23] with the inauguration of the full line taking place on 6th August 1911. The station at Thorame-Haute quickly became a significant tourist destination providing access to some high quality hotels in the upper reaches of the Verdon valley. A wealthy clientele travelled from the Côte d'Azur to access such hotels as the Alp'hôtel de Beauvezer, and the Fontgaillarde in Thorame-Haute.
Its been highlighted to me that in my last post in this series I did not provide details of Thorame-Haute Viaduct. In that post, I provided rail-level images and then rushed on to the site of Thorame-Haute Station. This short blog is an attempt to rectify that mistake! I guess you could also see it as a bonus for patiently bearing with me as I meander along the line between Nice and Digne-les-Bains!

This next post focusses first on the Station and buildings close to it at Thorame-Haute. It highlights a local festival and the importance of the chapel adjacent to the railway station.


The blog then takes us on from Thorame-Haute to Saint Andre les Alpes.

In a number of these posts I have been picking up some images from 'www.railsim-fr.com' as there is now a rail simulator version of the Nice to Digne line.
The next step along the Nice to Digne railway line takes us from Saint-Andre-les-Alpes into the next valley - the valley of L'Asse.


Our journey recommences in Saint-Andre-les-Alpes. The feature image shows the village with the station in the foreground. The image immediately below gives a panoramic view of the village from the north, showing the first of the lakes in the Verdon valley behind the village, as well as the railway station in the bottom-right.
The next post in the series on the line from Nice to Digne covers the length of the route from Barreme to the station at Mezel.


As an interesting aside, research on line suggests that the final location of Barreme station was not the location originally intended. I have found a sequence of drawings which seem to locate the station to the north-west of the present location further along the Nice -Digne line, beyond the bridge in the village centre. It is possible that I have misunderstood the drawings, but it seems that there was another location planned and that the station would have had larger facilities if the original plans went ahead.
Barreme Station has been used as the source for a model by Aubertrain (http://aubertrain.com/modules.html). The diorama is 602 x 400 x 250 mm in size and costs 875 euros.

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