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Little yellow train of the Pyrenees

Pyrenean adventure
The Little Yellow Train 


Map Mont Saint MichelLocation:  Starting point at Villefranche de Conflent, in the eastern Pyrenees, 50 km inland from Perpignan.
Region: In the Roussillon part of the Languedoc Roussillon region
Distance from Paris:  900 km by road .
Nearest cities: Perpignan, 50 km
Nearest railway station: Villefranche-de-Conflent (Vernet les bains). (Mainline connection).
Other access from Paris: TGV train to Perpignan, then connecting local train service. 

Open carriage offers spectacular views

The route

The Little Yellow Train runs from Villefranche de Conflent, 50 km from Perpignan, to Latour de Carol, high in the Pyrenees near the Spanish town of Puigcerda.

   The most spectacular part of the route is the section from the start at Villefranche, up as far as the small town and ski-resort area of Odeillo – Font-Romeu. Hugging the sides of the deep valley of the Tet, the line winds up between forests, chasms and gushing streams. From the start up as far Mont Louis, near the summit, passengers are treated to spectacular views of the rocky mountainous scenery, including villages, two historic fortresses, and a precariously perched old hermitage.

    The line, which was begun in 1903, is a spectacular feat of civil engineering, and apart from the dozens of mostly short tunnels, it One of the many viaductsincludes many bridges and small viaducts, plus two remarkable viaducts spanning wider valleys. These include the remarkable Pont Gisclard, or Pont de Cassagne, which is the only railway suspension bridge in France.

   After Mont Louis, the line continues to rise for a kilometre or so, before reaching a broad high valley, which it skirts along for seven kilometres as far as the station at Font-Romeu– Odeillo.

   From here, it then descends some 300 metres down to a high valley on the Spanish border, and the frontier town of Bourg Madame. The station at Bourg Madame is just a few hundred metres from the Spanish border, and it is easy to walk to the old Spanish town of Puigcerda.

  The line terminates a few kilometres further on, at the small town of  Latour de Carol, where it connects with the French railway line from Toulouse, and the RENFE Spanish line from Barcelona.

Sights and excursions.

► Villefranche-de-Conflent:
Villefranche de ConflentHistoric walled city; a UNESCO world heritage site. The entire old city, crammed into the narrow valley floor, is circled by walls which were strengthened and fortified by the great military architect Vauban in the 17th century, after the area passed from Spanish to French sovereignty.
  Nearby:  Fort Liberia, another Vauban fortification, perched on the mountainside above the town.
  Nearby: 6 km. Vernet les Bains, an attractive small old town, up a side valley; starting point for routes and trails to le Canigou, the emblematic mountain of the Eastern Pyrenees.

► Mont Louis
Another Vauban fortified town and UNESCO world heritage site. Smaller and less impressive than Villefranche de Conflent

► Odeillo – Font-Romeu
Odeillo villageOdeillo is a small Pyrenean mountain village, best known nowadays as the home of one of the world's very first solar power stations.
  Opened in 1970, the solar power station was one of the first serious renewable energy plants. Run by the French National Research Centre CNRS, the “Four Solaire” is within easy walking distance of the station. Guided visits daily.
The villages of Odeillo and Via can be reached on foot from the station.

 Font Romeu is one of the more popular ski resorts in the Pyrenees.

Hiking trail: a hiking trail (sentier de randonnée) leaves from the village of Via, just below the Odeillo train station; it is an easy  9km hike back to the station at Cabanasse – Mont Louis.

Bourg Madame
  Small and not particularly interesting town; but it is only a kilometre or so on foot from the station at Bourg Madame to the historic centre of the Spanish town of Puigcerda. Travellers coming up on a morning train and back on an afternoon train have time for a quick trip into Spain.

Latour de Carol.
Of interest to rail buffs; the station at Latour de Carol is the only station in Europe, possibly in the world, to serve three different "normal" railway lines operating with three different gauges*.  The metre-gauge Train Jaune, the European standard gauge SNCF line to Toulouse, and the Spanish broad-gauge line to Barcelona.
(* The station at Montreux in Switzerland also has three gauges, but these include special rack-and-pinion tracks).



Important practical information


► Tickets and booking:
Though a historic scenic railway, The Little Yellow Train,is part of the French state rail network, run by the French train operator SNCF.
Day trips: the best day-return excursion is to buy a return ticket from Ria or Villefranche-Vernet-les-Bains  to Font-Romeu-Odeillo,
 or from Ria  or Villefranche-Vernet-les-Bains  to Latour de Carol for the whole route
Why Ria ?  Check out the important note just below before clicking through to the Trainline website

To book tickets for the Yellow Train or any other French or Spanish train trip, go to
Important Note:
Due to a glitch on the SNCF website, it is not possible to buy tickets between two stations on the Yellow Train route online... not even on the SNCF website.
To get round this problem, one of the stations (either the departure or destination) needs to be off the Yellow train route. If you plan to travel up the line from Villefranche, the obvious solution is  Ria (which is the next stop down the line from Villefranche in the direction of Perpignan).  It will cost about a Euro more, but that way you can buy your tickets online with no problem.
A single from Ria to Font-Romeu via Villefranche-Vernet-les-bains (where you have to change anyway) costs € 13.60 (August 2018) , just a few centimes more than the ticket from Villefranche to Font Romeu. 
  You can then forget about Ria, and go straight to the station at Villefranche to start your journey.. 
  Note that there are no reserved seats on the Yellow Train. Your ticket is valid on the date for which you purchased it. YOu are advised to get to the departure station half an hour before the train leaves, to ensure a good seat.

  Trainline EU is a one-stop online portal for train and bus ticketing throughout Europe, offering all the discounts (rail cards, youth rates, seniors) and no surcharge.
   As the Yellow Train route is part of the SNCF network, you can book tickets from any French station (such as Perpignan or Foix or even Paris) to any station on the Yellow Train route, notably Villefranche Vernet-les-Bains, Font-Romeu, Bourg-Madame or Latour-de-Carol.
  Book online with  Trainline.com .  All normal discounts allowed.

Tip .. As the line is part of the SNCF network, it is also possible to book a through ticket from, for example, Perpignan or Toulouse.

The options:
   The most popular trips are to start from Villefranche-Vernet les Bains, and travel to one of the highest stations at Mont Louis or Odeillo-Font Romeu, a bit further to Bourg Madame, or through to the end of the line at Latour de Carol.

Access by train:
Both ends of the line can be reached by normal-gauge train, the lower end by electric train from Perpignan, the higher end both by Spanish Railways (RENFE) line from Barcelona and Ripoll, and by SNCF trains from Toulouse and Foix.


Need to book ?
In the summer and at weekends, it is strongly advisable to book in advance, as the trains can easily be full. At other times, booking may not be essential, but remains advisable since all it needs is a couple of tour buses, and all the available places in any given train can easily sell out.  The best time to go is in Sping or in September or October, when many trains travel half empty, specially on weekdays.

Languedoc holiday gites
Check out a choice of cottages and gites in Languedoc-Roussillon
More hotels  in the area
Click here for a choice of  more hotels in the vicinity of the Yellow Train route
Regional guides :
click for...
Languedoc guide

► Accommodation:

The closest hotels to the main departure point are at Vernet les Bains, 6 km from the station at Villefranche.
Click hotel names for online booking and more details.

Recommended: Hotel Princess. A good quality three star hotel with restaurant. Reasonably priced.

Elsewhere on the line:

The Little Yellow Train of the Pyrenees is one of the great railway journeys of the world – a historic metre-gauge electric railway in the French Pyrenees, opened in 1909, and still going strong. The line rises through dramatic scenery from an altitude of 427 metres at its lower terminus at Villefranche de Conflent, to a summit at Bolquère Eyne, France’s highest railway station, lying at an altitude of 1592 metres (5226 ft) above sea level. It then drops down to a high Pyrenean valley, to its terminus at Latour de Carol.

Little yellow train
Approaching the summit

Pont Gisclard or Pont de Cassagne
Pont Gisclard - rail suspension bridge.


Technical specifications
The line:
Length
:  62.6 km, almost 39 miles.
Gauge: metre
Ascent: 1165 metres
Highest point: 1592 metres
Power: Electric 850v DC third rail.
Line opened: 1909
Steepest gradient:  6%
The trains:
Electric train units: seven out of ten of the original units are still operating.  There are also two modern panoramic multiple units, built by Stadler in 2004; these have air-conditioning, toilets and electric doors.
Safety features: three independent braking systems on each axel


Modern air-conditioned panoramic train
One of the 2004 air-conditioned Stadler units.

Below: Solar power station at Odeillo.
Fopur solaire - the solar power station at Odeillo


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except view of Villefranche de Conflent: GNU licenced photo by Balakao






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