Le P'tit train

WW1 Decauville Railways

Railway and Museum - Froissy

131T Alco-Cooke 1917

Train No 9 : 131T Alco-Cooke 1917 120 ch/hp

Situated on the banks of the Somme river in the village of Froissy this museum is dedicated to Narrow Gauge Railways.

Getting there is fairly straightforward and it is well sign posted: Le P'tit train de la haute Somme (The wee train of the upper Somme).

From Albert take the D 329 out to Bray sur Somme and then on towards Proyart for a couple of kilometres following the signs. Coming from Villers Bretonneux continue out the N 29 towards St Quentin as far as Proyart, turning northwards onto the D 329.

The buildings are not immediately evident as they are situated up a short entrance drive - but there are sufficient panels and posters to help you recognise where to turn in.

There is plenty of parking but be aware that it can get busy. If you are intending to take the train get there early.


Opening Times

The museum is only open when trains are running. There is a small café available.

Apart from a couple of Special Events the trains run Sunday afternoon in May and June and then every afternoon except Mondays from the first Sunday of July to the end of August.

Visit their site to make sure of any changes and also for the times of the trains (which are more frequent on Sundays). Much of the site is available in English though the French version is slightly fuller in technical details.

Admission in 2008 was 9 Euros for an adult, 6 for a child up to 12 and free for the under fives. This allows access to the museum as well as a train ride. Remarkably good value, with a small reduction on weekdays when the train is hauled by a diesel.

Museum Web Site Museum Web Site
 

A little history about the line

From about 1880 the French military considered the importance of being able to move armaments and equipment rapidly to the front line in the event of a conflict breaking out with Germany.

The system they settled on was that designed by the French industrialist: Paul Decauville using a 60cm gauge railtrack. It was easily put into place with the sections coming prefabricated - rather like a modern model railway system. It had the enormous advantage of using light rolling stock and it was thus possible to lay tracks across even boggy ground.

The system became extremely important within many of the fortresses to the east of France (Verdun, Epinal, Belfort) and was soon the de facto system used by the French and British military for maintaining a lifeline to the front.

The section that has been preserved by the Appeva Association was originally built in preparation for the Battle of the Somme in 1916. It was started near Villers Bretonneux and was slowly extended along the Somme and its lakes as the front moved forward, eventually reaching as far as Bouchavesnes. It was able to transport about 1500 tons of munitions etc a day.

As the line got closer to the front so the steam engines were replaced by diesels which were less identifiable (When you see the smoke billowing out of one of the steam engines you can well believe this).


Following the war the train system was used in the reconstruction of the local society by transporting sugar beets and sugar for the Santerre Sucrerie at Dompierre up on the plateau. The Halt at Cappy was originally utilised for loading barges on the Somme.

As the road systems came back to life and transport styles changed so the narrow gauge railways fell into disuse. In 1971 a group of enthusiasts clubbed together in order to save a part of their heritage, buying up the rights to the line (still WW1 material) and part of the rolling stock. They have since received grants to enhance and display their remarkable collection of narrow gauge engines and stock.

The first passenger train ran on the 13th June 1971 followed by the first steam locomotive on the 14th July.

It should be noted that these wee trains were still being manufactured and used in WW2 however only a couple of the working steam trains date from the Great War.

This should not detract though from the pleasure of a visit and a chance to ride on a system that was so very familiar to troops from both sides. In fact as the Germans developed a system based on the same gauge captured rolling stock and lines were quickly adapted.

During the battle of Cambrai in November 1917 a part of the planning had included the intention of connecting track into the German rail system (which in places ran almost alongside the British), rather than create new rails from scratch.

Diesel T24

Diesel T24 : Tatra Coferna 1941 200 ch/hp

 

The Train Ride

The journey will take about an hour and consists of an out and back again ride up to the Dompierre plateau. If you are there on a Sunday the first part of the ride will be hauled by a steam train.

From Froissy the train takes a shaded route alongside the Somme with its ponds and lakes to the small Halt at Cappy. As this is a single track system this is the point where the two engines pass each other or the exchange is made from steam drawn to a diesel engine.

From here the train departs through a 200 metre tunnel around Cappy. The original track during the war ran through the centre of the village.

Continuing along in the shade the train mounts the hillside by means of a switch back connection. These little trains are not overly powerful and were required to pull quite heavy loads (Both during the war and by the sugar mills afterwards). To gain the top of the hill a simple system of laying the tracks in a Z allowed the engine to pull and push their loads to the top and back down again with a minimum of effort and within a very short distance.

After the switch back, the train breaks out into open countryside running alongside the road for a few hundred metres before crossing it.

This is the end of the line, in the area of the old sugar mill (long since gone). The engine will be uncoupled and moved to the back of the carriages ready for the return journey.

For younger visitors the ride is entertaining - for those of a certain age who can remember steam, the wooden benches and the clickety-clack of the rails the ride is a trip down memory lane.

With the clouds of black smoke pouring out of the funnels you could be forgive for wondering how during the war they managed to keep any of the rail movements secret - because in this modern age of the TGV it is easy to forget that back then almost everything was steam drawn.

 

The steam Festival 2008

These photos were taken in May 2008 when steam trains conducted the entire journey.

Click on the thumbnail, it may take a moment for the photo to load

 

The Museum

Train No 2

Train No 2 : 020T Neumeyer 1922 35 ch/hp

The museum which opened in 1996 is well worth the visit for both the enthusiast and the casual visitor alike. It contains the largest collection of 60cm roilling stock in Europe.

Apart from the fun of being able to go for a ride through the countryside the museum provides a large variety of engines and stock in 1800 sq metres of display area.

Explanatory panels (in English, French and German) provide a background history to the narrow gauge railway from its development at the beginning of the 19th century to its present use on the Froissy line. A major section of the museum depicts the railway system during the First World War, but its use during the aftermath and eventual use by private industries are also gone into in detail.

Obviously the work of the Appeva Association is explained and seeing old photos of some of the vehicles gives an idea of the amount of labour that has been put into the engines to bring them up to their current condition.

In addition to the historical explanations each item on display has a panel giving a wealth of information about construction etc.

Upstairs there is a small gift stall and café offering views over the exhibition area and the Somme.