Train A Vapeur De Martel in the Lot Department
A steam train my goodness, a dream come true. I have been wanting to have a ride on this particular train ever since I saw the painted metal advertisement for the railway on one of the pillars of the viaduct going into Sarlat in 2009.
As soon as I saw the train I was instantly transported back to my childhood in the fifties, when I would walk down the road to the station to see the steam trains. The station Master’s wife would give me a cake or biscuits and a drink, served on a small table, then the station Master would tell me when a train was arriving at the station and I would run outside to greet it. Once the train was in the station the station Master would let me sit on the train in the first class carriage and I would look up at the pictures of places that I would imagine the train would take me too. Then after a few minutes he would shout “Christine, it is time to leave”, and I would jump down and run to the overhead bridge to see the train depart.
The society, Association du Chemin de Fer Touristique du Haut Query was formed in 1991 by a group of volunteers interested in restoring the line and turning it into a tourist attraction. They have cleaned the track, repaired bridges and points and replaced several hundred sleepers. A rock climbing club cleared loose rocks from the cliff face. They then acquired rolling stock which consisted of a Vesta (small steam shunter built in Lille 1927) and classed as an historic monument! Plus two diesel powered and two track maintenance crew vehicles, and a diesel shunter. In 2002 the society obtained a more powerful steam train, four more shunter’s and a diesel railcar to restore. This is a post war train nicknamed Picasso due to its raised control position is very off centre and therefore like a Picasso painting.
“Le Truffadou”, line which ran from Bordeaux to Aurillac took from 1880 to 1884 to build. It came into use in 1889 and competed with the boat traffic on the “River of Hope”. The rail lines were taken up in 1917 for use in the first World War effort. Later in 1919 the US Government replaced all of the rails and that is what is in use today. The trains were used to transport truffles and therefore the line was nicknamed “Le Truffadou”.
The power house, my goodness I so wanted to be an engine driver when I was a child. We sat near the front of the train so that we could get a good view of the engine and the driver. My “oh wow” moment continued for about another hour or so with the train hitting all of the senses, sight, smell and sound, the heartbeat of the engine was wonderful.
The Mirandol tunnel with its turrets and spiral staircase inside which was erected by the constructors to celebrate the lines safe completion: it is now a listed building.
In the first tunnel the conductor turned the lights off and everyone on the train shouted “Wow” as loud as possible. He then stated that there was to be no acrobatics when taking photographs of the magnificent vistas, he would prefer passengers not to fall out, and the only one allowed to smoke was the train.
Magnificent viaduct, the train stops here so that you can take photographs and buy refreshments.
On the journey back the train went at top speed through the tunnels, the smoke curling around, in and over the train, wonderful.
At 260ft up the cliff face you get a gorgeous vista of the Lot.
The train runs from Martel to St Denis and back again which is about an hour and twenty minutes. There are two trains that you can ride on, the diesel or the steam train. A good tip is to arrive about an hour before the departure time to get a seat. We arrived at about ten o’clock, the train was due to depart at eleven and there was already quite a long queue of people waiting for tickets. The trains run at eleven, two thirty and at four o’clock each day during the summer months and it costs 10,50 euro each for the steam train and 8 euro for the diesel train.
Well worth a visit or two or three.