The International Steam Pages

C.F. Touristique du Tarn, 2013

Thomas Kautzor writes of his visit to a French narrow gauge railway in August 2013: This report covers the steam locomotives, a separate report covers their numerous interesting narrow gauge diesels.

On Aug. 15th - 18th the CFTT was holding its annual steam festival, on the way I also visited the C.F. Touristique des Lacs de Monclar.

The Association pour la Conservation Occitane de Véhicules Anciens (ACOVA) was created in 1975 by a group of Toulouse railfans in order to build and operate the C.F. Touristique du Tarn (CFTT) at St-Lieux-de-Lavaurs (Tarn), 34 km northeast of Toulouse. St-Lieux-de-Lavaurs was a small station on the 600mm gauge La Ramière – St-Sulpice branch of the Société des Tramways à Vapeur du Tarn (STT). With a network of 46 km, the STT was the largest (true, sub-metre) narrow gauge railway network in France after the C.F. du Calvados.

The STT’s first section was opened between the Midi station at Laboutarié (on the now closed Albi – Castres line) and the large town of Graulhet (12 km), a major industrial center for tanneries which did not rail access, in 1895. In 1903 the second section between Graulhet, Giroussens (later renamed La Ramière) and Lavaur (20 km), which linked up with the Midi Montauban – Castres line, was opened. In 1925 a 14 km line from La Ramière to St-Sulpice, at the junction of the Midi Montauban – Castres and P.O. Toulouse – Capdenac lines, was opened to give better access to and from Toulouse. However, by then competition from road transport was already strong and by 1931 most of the passenger services had been turned over to buses. In 1937 the whole network was abandoned.

The railway had seven steam locos: three Decauville 0-6-2Ts built in 1895, of the same type as the one from Royan preserved at Pithiviers, three Weidknecht 4-6-0Ts built in 1903 and 1913, of the same type as the C.F. du Calvados locos, and a Decauville 2-6-0T built in 1925. In 1923 a unidirectional Berliet type RBMA bogie petrol railcar together with a small trailer were acquired, these saw use on the section from La Ramière to Lavaur until closure in 1937. A rumour says that the steam locos were sold to Africa after closure, however this could never be confirmed and most people believe that they were in fact probably scrapped.

At Laboutarrié the STT also connected with the Cie. du Tramway de Laboutarié à Réalmont (LR) of the same gauge, a 5 km horse tram built by M. Benoit to give access to the town of Réalmont and opened in 1901. After Mr. Benoit’s death his wife took over as head of the company, the only example in France of a woman at the head of a railway transport company. The railway carried on and in 1930 an attempt at modernisation saw the purchase of a Berliet petrol loco, however in 1933 the line was closed down. In Réalmont the LR used a horse-hauled road transport trailer to take the goods wagons directly to the customers.

The section east of St-Lieux was chosen for the CFTT because it was the only section of the STT not running beside the road and therefore the right-of-way was still available. Just east of there the STT used to cross the Agout river on a large six-arch masonry bridge which was converted to road use after closure (another large four-span metal bridge at Briatexte was scrapped after closure). The small station building with attached goods shed at St-Lieux was also still standing and is in use today, the goods shed having been extended into the CFTT’s first loco shed. Other structures to have survived were the large two-storey station at Graulhet, the operational centre of the STT, which burned away last year, and the station, goods shed and railcar shed at La Ramière, which are now on private property. 3.6 km of 500mm gauge track has been laid from St-Lieux east across the viaduct to Les Martels, the site of a very beautiful flower park which I wouldn’t have expected in France. Midway there is a crossing loop for two-train operations. The trackbed has been rehabilitated 1 km beyond Les Martels to the point where it meets the road to Lavaur, shortly before La Ramière, and 300 meters of track have already been relaid. The line’s major feature besides the viaduct is the short street-running section on St-Lieux.

With recently-obtained funds from the EU and the region, the CFTT has been able to buy a huge shed to keep all of its large collection of locos and rolling stock under cover. The shed is so large that additional tracks could be added to hold four times what is already stored there.

In 1975 500mm gauge was chosen because the first track, locos and stock were obtained from the Salins du Midi salt pan railways on the Mediterranean coast in Aude.

The CFTT have since built-up a huge collection, for a list of the locos of French, Swiss, Spanish and German origin, for details see, four of which are classified as “Historic Monuments”. The Couillet 0-6-0T ex-Sucrerie de Maizy was regauged from 600mm, it has been in need of a retube and work to its boiler since last year. As it is privately owned, the CFTT will only pay for the work if the owner accepts to sell it to the CFTT, or wait for the owner to pay for the work himself. The three Decauvilles were all used in the Audincourt iron works near Montbéliard (Doubs), which was supplying iron to the Peugeot works. They were acquired via different sources. No. 2 is dismantled while No. 3 (green) and No. 4 (blue) are operational. The small Decauville from New Caledonia was brought to France in 1998, it was transported by French Army helicopter from the mine to the port of Nouméa and shipped from there to Marseille in a container. The CFTT is collecting funds for its restoration, which will be partially funded by the Ministry of Culture due to its “HM” status.

Couillet 0-6-0T ex-Sucrerie de Maizy Decauville from New Caledonia
Decauville 3 Decauville 4

Rob Dickinson