The International Steam Pages

The CF du Haut Rhône, France, 2011

James Waite reports on his July 2011 visit to this small 600mm railway in Central France, between Lyon and the Swiss border..See also Thomas Kautzor's 2015 update.

The CF du Haut Rhône has its origins in the short 600mm gauge railway which opened at Meyzieu, in the eastern outskirts of Lyon in 1961 and which to a large extent was the brainchild of Jean Arrivetz and Pierre Virot, two local enthusiasts. This was, of course, a time when the preservation movement was in its infancy and there were still several 600mm gauge locos and rolling stock which had survived in France and which were awaiting rescue. The volunteers moved on to found the Vivarais preservation society in 1968. Partly because of this, and also because of difficulties caused by the eastern spread of the Lyon conurbation, the line closed in 1970 and most of its rolling stock went into storage. M. Arrivetz set up the Haut Rhône operation in the late 1980’s to provide a home for the historic 600mm gauge stock.

The first part of the line northwards from Montalieu Vercieu through the Corniolay woods opened in 1988 as far as the site of an old bridge over the Rhône which had been destroyed in 1940 shortly after France’s surrender to Nazi Germany. The remainder of the line, along the river bank as far as the Sault-Brenaz road bridge over the river some 4km away from the southern terminus, opened the following year.

The line has been steam-operated since 1993 and relies solely on a small group of volunteers for its continued existence. It runs only on Sundays and public holidays with a single train in the late afternoon. The woodland stretch is delightful though difficult for photography. The remainder is much more open and is well lit on a sunny midsummer’s afternoon. The station building at Montalieu Vercieu is a delightful structure. It was built in 1892 for the old CF de l’Est de Lyon station in the village which had been the furthest point from Lyon reached by this privately owned standard gauge line. The stock shed lies a few metres to the north.

The line is now home to four steam locomotives. Probably the most interesting of these is OK 0-4-4-0T Mallet 1769/1905 which worked for many years on the Pithiviers-Toury line and retains its Pithiviers numberplate 22-5. It now stands partially dismantled at the rear of the shed along with a Feldbahn-type 0-8-0T (Krauss Munich 6899/1914). Plinthed on a roundabout on the approach to the station is Decauville 0-4-0T 839/1912, another pretty loco but sorely in need of a coat of paint. The working loco is Decauville 8-tonne Progrès-type 0-6-0T (1797/1922) which was supplied new to the Papeteries de France in the department of Isère. During my visit the train included two former horse-drawn tramcars built for service in Neuchâtel in Switzerland in 1892, a larger trailer car from the Valenciennes tramways which dates from 1912 and a home-made carriage body on a Heeresfeldbahn chassis. The paint scheme is, shall we say, multicoloured but the two Neuchâtel tramcars in particular are delightful vehicles.

Another line operated by a small group of helpful and friendly volunteers. Well worth visiting. The society’s website is at, which includes a map of the line - click 'ACCUEIL' button. There is a location map below copied from the line's website.

If you’re in the area it’s well worth calling in to see the old Weidknecht 600mm gauge 0-4-0T (final picture below) which lives in the grounds of the Musée Henri Malartre at 645 Rue du Musée, Rochetaillée-sur-Saône, a few km north of Lyon. It’s the survivor of two of these very pretty locos built in 1912 (works number unknown, at least by me!) for the Lambert Frères organisation at Boulogne. It later moved on to a quarry at Chagny-Montchanin, not far from its present home. The museum proper is also well worth a visit. It’s home to a huge collection of veteran cars which are displayed in the main rooms of a medieval château. There are also some more recent motor vehicles, several tramcars and a car from a funicular in Lyon which are kept in a modern, purpose-built exhibition hall outside which two portable steam engines are displayed.

The working Decauville

Feldbahn locomotive

Pithiviers Mallet


Rob Dickinson