Steam railway in France

Scenic rail routes in France

Scenic railways and tourist trains in France - the connoisseur's guide to France

The best scenic railways in France, including both standard routes on the national network, and preserved narrow gauge railways
On this page ►  Scenic long-distance rail routes in France Heritage lines, steam routes and other scenic routes, listed by region

France's scenic railways  
Unlike the United Kingdom or the USA, France did not close down half or more of her railway or railroad network in the nineteen-sixties and seventies, at the start of the motorway age. As a result, modern France still boasts a dense rail network, including a lot of rural branch lines, some of them quite long, that would have been savagely axed many years ago if France had had a "Docteur Beeching".
  Yet things may change.... A new report published in February 2018 calls for the closure of many unprofitable lines.

Thanks to a network of minor and sometimes very scenic railway lines, amateurs of rail tourism, or those equipped with a Eurail or Interrail pass, or indeed any visitor, can visit some of the parts of France that other means of transport do not reach.

Evidently, the most scenic rail routes are to be found in the mountainous regions of France, which means the southern half. Below is a list of some of the more interesting of these routes, including some long-distance lines.

a) Long distance rail-tourism routes

The most interesting long-distance scenic tourist rail routes in France are those crossing the Massif Central mountains, in central southern France.  And they are genuinely long-distance, and very scenic.

Garabit viaduct1. (Clermont-Ferrand) - Arvant - St.Flour - Millau - Beziers : the longest (Arvant-Béziers is over 300 km)  and perhaps most unlikely of France's long-distance single-track lines, often threatened with closure, is still open. There is one through train a day in each direction. This line is known as "la ligne des Causses" or "la ligne de l'Aubrac", and it takes a day to travel the full length. The line is remarkable insofar as it runs across the top of the plateaux of the Massif Central, up to an altitude of 1100 metres, and is also electrified. Highlights include the Viaduc de Garabit (photo right), one of the masterpieces of Gustave Eiffel, spanning the gorge of the river Truyère, and the descent into the deep valley of the Tarn. The line actually runs underneath the modern Millau viaduct, on the A75 motorway; it also goes through Roquefort, home of the famous cheese.  

Allier gorge between Nimes & Arvant2. (Clermont-Ferrand) - Arvant - Brioude - Langogne, Alès, Nimes : "La Ligne des Cévennes" : the second long distance route across the Massif Central, busier than the Ligne des Causses, (up to four trains per day each way). This line is also more spectacular, as it runs through the upper end of the Allier gorge (photo left), in a section where no roads go, and drops down towards Nimes through the spectacular Cevennes mountains, on a twisting line with dozens of tunnels and impressive viaducts. In summer, special tourist trains operate between Langeac and Langogne. Regularly threatened with closure, this line has just been reprieved, and major renovation has taken place since 2009. In summer, there is an Inter-cités train from Clermont Ferrand to Marseille.... but for how long?

Tip:  Those who enjoy rail-tourism may like to do the round trip from Clermont Ferrand or Arvant to Béziers (stay overnight - or stay overnight at Sète, on the coast), then TGV from Beziers to Nimes, and return to point of departure by the Cevennes route.

3. (Clermont-Ferrand) - Arvant - Aurillac - Figeac - Toulouse :  the route is the same as route 1 above, as far as Neussargues, a once-important railway junction in the middle of nowhere. From there, it rises to almost 1100 m at the Lioran pass (col du Lioran), with its station at the foot of the ski slopes, and in walking distance of the cablecar. The line then follows the Cère valley to Aurillac, before dropping down through chestnut forests to the town of Figeac, in the Lot. After that, it twists along the steep sided Aveyron valley, through a series of tunnels, past picturesque villages, before the final stretch to Toulouse.
   Viaduct enthusiasts may want to then take the single track line from Toulouse via Albi to Rodez, crossing Eiffel's other great viaduct, the Viaduc du Viaur. From Rodez, there are connections back to Figeac and Aurillac, or a bus or train connection to Séverac le Chateau on route 1 above.
  It is also possible to connect from Aurillac via another picturesque branch line to Brive-la-Gaillarde, on the Paris-Toulouse main line.

4. (shorter)  Clermont-Ferrand - Arvant - St Georges d'Aurac - Le Puy - St Etienne - Thiers - Clermont Ferrand. A branch line circuit taking in two 1000 metre summits, the remarkable city of Le Puy en Velay, and about 40 kilometres of the gorges of the river Loire.

Heritage railways in France

Tourist trains, heritage lines, steam lines and other scenic routes:

Heritage railways in Northern France:

Heritage railways in Western France:

Heritage and scenic railways in Eastern France : Jura and Vosges mountains.

Heritage railways in the south of France :

Aquitaine region
Artouste mountain railway
Auvergne region (Massif Central mountains) Languedoc region Midi Pyrenees region Provence -Côte d'Azur region Rhône-Alpes region
Other travel pages :  Hotels near train stations Driving in France
Rail travel in France Eurostar services to France Coach travel in France

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Photo top of page: Heritage line in France - a historic 0-4-4-0 locomotive takes on water at Le Chambon sur Lignon, on the Velay express line in Haute Loire..  
Photos below: steam service on the remarkable Chemin de fer de Provence, in the Provence Alps; and the Little Yellow Train of the Pyrenees.

Chemin de Fer de Provence - steam
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