The International Steam Pages

Petit Train du Jardin d'Acclimatation

Thomas Kautzor reports on an historic French 'park railway'.

After 135 years of almost non-stop operations, the 'Petit Train du Jardin d'Acclimatation' must be the longest-operating narrow gauge railway near Paris and in France. The parc is open daily (April to September 10.00-19.00, October to March 10.00-18.00) and the railway also operates daily. Website: (link broken 5th April 2019)

The Jardin d'Acclimatation (JA) in Paris' Bois de Boulogne was opened to the public in 1860 by Napoleon III and his wife. It 's initial purpose was to host exotic plants and animals from France's colonial Empire. At times, and up to 1931, "savages" from the colonies and further away were also put on display in the parc. Today it operates mainly as a children's amusement parc, with a zoo, a museum, carousels and some other attractions.

In 1878, after Paul Decauville presented his narrow gauge railway system at the Paris Universal Exhibition, the JA immediately purchased this terrific invention. Initially, the 500mm gauge line started at the Place de l'Etoile and crossed the Bois de Boulogne, but the outline was later modified, with Porte Maillot becoming the terminus. At the beginning, small 8-seat coaches were hauled by a pair of ponies, although at least two steam locos are known to have been used temporarily on the railway as well:

  • Decauville 0-4-0T LILLIPUT of 1878, new, built as Corpet 242/1878, returned to Decauville and subsequently sold to Kortmann & Co., the Netherlands;
  • Corpet 0-4-0T LE FURET 327/1881, new, fate unknown.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, the ponies were replaced by petrol locos, first dressed as a steam loco and later as a Renault taxi. In 1945, due to petrol shortage, the locos were replaced by battery locos which had probably been previously used during the Universal Exhibition of 1937.

Between 1956 and 1960 Renault provided seven steam-outline i/c locos (No. 521001-521007) with 11 h.p. "Frégate" engines. These would haul the 12-seat wooden open sided coaches built in 1910, of which there used to be 30.

In 2003, with the Renault Diesels becoming tired, a steam-outline Diesel loco named ANNONCIADE was obtained from Soquet in Ambérieu (No. 58/2003). However, this was only a temporary solution and so the parc decided to have its Renault Diesels rebuilt as battery locos in order to limit CO2 emissions. So far, two of the Renault locos have been rebuilt, PIETRA in 2011 and LAETITIA-MARIE in 2012. The 60 batteries with an autonomy of 2 working days are carried in the flat cars used to carry strollers. Another of the Renaults named BETHSABEE was kept in original form, but equipped with a strange wooden cab, and is on display.

During my visit there were three trainsets available, each consisting of a stroller flat car (two of which are equipped to carry batteries) and five 12-seat coaches each.

The line is 1.6 km long and consists of a double-track central section with loops at both ends. The depot is located next to the parc station, a large five-track open-sided shed with a small crane on one side. Just outside the parc, the line crosses Bd. des Sablons at level, the train has priority over road traffic here. Just next to the gate inside the parc, the petrol pump formerly used to fuel the locos still stands next to the track.

Rob Dickinson