The International Steam Pages

CF Froissy-Cappy Dompierre

James Waite writes about another French narrow gauge railway which he visited on 23rd May 2010, some of the locomotive note have been provided by Thomas Kautzor who also provided the pictures of the Alco in steam.

Thomas also adds "When I last visited in Oct. 2006, Decauville 1652 was being rebuilt. Brigadelok No. 4 (Krauss 7373) was still operational, together with locos Borsig 7 (not in use that day), Alco 9 and SAFB 10. The CFCD locos are listed on and on"

The 600mm gauge Froissy-Cappy-Dompierre railway has its origins in a large network of field railways built by the French and British armies in the build-up to the Battle of the Somme which began on 1st July 1916. The upper Somme river pursues a winding course through the ponds and marshes of this part of Picardy and is flanked on its southern side by the Somme Canal. For much of the First World War it marked the boundary between the spheres of operations of the British and French armies on the western front which is why it was chosen as the scene of the battle.

The section of the railway between Froissy and Cappy was built by the French army in 1915. It formed a part of “Ligne B” which ran along the southern bank of the canal from Cerisy in the west to the front line about 2.5km to the east of Cappy. At Frossy the railway connected with the metre gauge Réseau Albert, part of the Chemins de Fer Départementaux de la Somme which also included the metre gauge system at St. Valery-sur-Somme, today’s preserved CF de la Baie de Somme.

The Battle of the Somme lasted for several months. It has always been notorious for the appalling loss of life amongst the troops on both sides of the front. The British suffered 57,470 casualties on the opening day on the opening day. By the end of the year the total British casualties had risen to 513,289. French casualties amounted to around 434,000 and German casualties to around 719,000.

Opinion is divided about the extent to which these appalling losses resulted in any strategic military gains. On the ground all that was achieved from the allied point of view was that the front line moved around 8km to the east. For the railway this involved the gradual extension of the railway along the canal to the east as the troops advanced and lines fanning out to the north and south were also built.

By the end of the war north eastern France was completely devastated. The military railways were taken over by the French Ministère des Régions Libérées and played a significant role in the reconstruction of the towns and villages. By 1927 the need for them had declined. Cappy had always possessed a significant port on the canal. Up on the Santerre plateau to the south east of the village the sugar beet factory at Dompierre had reopened and it took over the railways from Dompierre to Cappy Port, to Barleux and to Chaulnes. The ground rises steeply on the southern side of Cappy. In order to ease the gradient for southbound trains a zig-zag was constructed, one of the few anywhere in Europe. A tunnel was also built to avoid a sharply curved section as the line leaves Cappy Port. The line was operated principally, if not exclusively, by Brigadelok 0-8-0T’s until the early 1940’s when diesels took over.

Much of the Réseau Albert, including the section through Froissy, closed on 31st December 1949. I haven’t been able to find out whether the 600mm gauge line between Froissy and Cappy Port survived until then but by 1953 the Barleux and Chaulnes lines had been abandoned and it was only the section between Cappy Port and Dompierre which was still in use. By 1970 the sugar company had announced its intention to close this remaining section. A group of local enthusiasts formed the Association Picarde pour la Préservation et l'Entretien des Véhicules Anciens (“APPEVA”) with a view to rebuilding the section to Froissy and taking over the existing line. They relaid the Cappy Port to Froissy line and ran their first train on 13th June 1971. The sugar railway closed in 1974 and was sold to APPEVA with much of its stock. Most of this consisted of ex-WW1 military vehicles and has since formed the basis of most of the preserved railway’s carriages.

The railway’s operating HQ is at Froissy. In addition to the running sheds there’s a large and quite lavishly equipped museum there which was built with the aid of an EU grant and opened in 1996. The line operates on Sundays between May and September with a limited service on weekdays in July and August. Outside the peak season many days see diesel-only operation.

Even when steam trains run the steam locos generally operate only on the level section between Froissy and Cappy and diesels take over for the run through the tunnel and the climb through the zig-zag up onto the plateau. This stretch sees steam operation only on special occasions, normally using the railway’s big WW2 Heeresfeldbahn 0-8-0 no. 10, much the most powerful loco on the line. These occasions generally include a May gala, the European Journée du Patrimoine in mid-September and the railway’s steam festival on the last Sunday in September before it closes for the winter. There’s a good selection of preserved freight stock which also sees use on special occasions. The railway’s website has a full English-language section and its timetable is at

Some of the steam locos which graced the line during its earlier years in preservation left after the death of their owner, one of APPEVA's founders but there are still several there of considerable interest as well as a large number of industrial diesels. Three steam locos are currently in working order. In addition to the WW2 HFB loco these include one of the classic Decauville 8t 0-6-0T's which started life with the French military during WW1, a type which must have seen extensive use on the line when it was first built. There's also a Brigadelok, typical of the locos which worked there in the 1920's and 1930's though this particular one came from Poland and has been considerably altered during its long life. The railway also has two more Brigadeloks which are more or less still in their original condition. One of them, no. 4 (Krauss Munich 7373/1917) was in regular use until 2007 but now needs overhaul. The railway's current project is the restoration to working order of 0-8-0 no. 8 (Vulcan Stettin 3852/1925) ex-DR 99-3461 and previously MPSB no. 9. Its new boiler has recently been delivered and the society is appealing for funds to complete its rebuilding.

There are some pleasant photo spots amongst the trees along the canal to the east of Froissy and a little walking will take you to some good vantage points on the zig-zag. The stretch on to Dompierre across the Santerre plateau is much more open and must be bleak when it’s cold and windy. The railway is around 90 minutes drive from Calais and can easily be visited on a day trip from south east England. The society's volunteers were very friendly and helpful when I visited for a gala weekend in May 2010. Definitely recommended.

These photos are arranged in order of a trip up the line starting from Froissy.

This Brigadelok in the museum is OK 8627/1918 and once worked at the Sucreries de Coucy-le Chateau. It is owned by AMTUIR and hasn't run for many years.

This photo gives a good idea of the layout of the museum. The loco is Neumeyer 19/1922, one of two locos from this unusual Munich-based builder to have survived. It was at Briqueterie Rohmer, Roumanzières (Charente) before moving to the CFCD in 1977. It's one of the locos which have since left Froissy.

This 0-6-0T is one of three locos at Froissy to have seen service on the Tramway de Pithiviers a Toury and was their no. 3-6 (O&K 8083/1915). It arrived at Froissy in 1998 and has been awaiting restoration since then.

Decauville 5 Progres-type 8t 0-6-0T 1652/1916 was built for the French military and later worked for the Sucrerie de Toury, exx Sucrerie du Nord-Est (near Reims). It moved to the CFCD in 1972 and is one of three locos currently in working order.

All three of the railway's working steam locos outside the shed at Froissy. The much rebuilt Brigadelok in the foreground ended up in France at the end of WW1 and worked for some years for the Ministère des Régions Libérées in Marne. It later moved to Poland and worked at Czarna Biatostocke as Tx 201 before arriving at the CFCD in 1985. It is normally given in France as Borsig 10334/1918 but there is another 10334 plinthed at Bialystock  and this is probably 10312/1918. 

Thomas found Alco 9 (57148/1917) in use, it has also since left the railway.

0-6-0T Decauville 5 working a freight train alongside the Somme Canal shortly after leaving Froissy.

The big ex-HFB 0-8-0 10 (Franco Belge 2836/1944) leaving Cappy tunnel. It also once worked at the Sucrerie Ternynck and was later no. 4-14 on the Pithiviers line. 

The HFB loco again backing its train up the middle section of the zig-zag. There's a yard at the lower section, barely visible through the trees to the right of the loco's smokebox.

The train crossing the somewhat bleak stretch of track near Dompierre.

Rob Dickinson