The International Steam Pages

Chemin de Fer du Val de Passey, 2014

Thomas Kautzor reports:

On Monday July 14 2014, I visited the Chemin de Fer du Val de Passey (CFVP, at Cholloy-Menillot, a small village just east of Toul. This railway is not well known by enthusiasts because it only has 5-6 operating days per year. The line is only 800 meters long, it starts at the 3-track loco shed and adjacent 2-track rolling stock shed along the road through the valley and runs along a forest to a first crossing loop where passengers park their cars and board the train. From here it enters the forest on a steep gradient to the end-of-the-line crossing loop, where the track ends at a rock (or mud wall). Here the loco is run around the train and it returns to the boarding station. The line is rather challenging to photograph, especially because trains only operate after 2 p.m., when the light is mostly at the back of the train. Visitors are however welcome to visit the shed in the morning from 10 a.m., when the locos are steamed up and in good light in front of the shed. The fare is only EUR 2, for which you even get a postcard as a ticket.

The line was started by Mr. Jacques Maginot, a banker who spent his holidays as a child in the Val de Passey. In the 1960s, Mr. Maginot tried to buy one of the Audincourt steelworks’ 500 mm gauge Decauville 0-4-0T, but that deal didn’t go through as the loco was not in very good condition. That loco later ended up on the C.F. Touristique du Tarn near Toulouse. In 1966, he found the Bagnall 0-4-0ST in Belgium. From 1970, he started acquiring land in the Val de Passey and built up his private railway. At first he thought of linking up the village of Ménnilot with his private residence, but because the land in the valley was owned by so many people, he quickly gave up on that idea. Mr. Maginot passed away in 1998, but luckily in 1978 he had founded a society which continues to operate his railway to this day.

The track was laid with 18 kg/m rail out on the line and 12 kg/m rail at the stations. The track through the forest crosses a small stream at two points and everything is very wet. A total of 600 tonnes of ballast had to be brought in to stabilize the track. In 1990 electrically-operated red-and-white square signals were installed at the depot and crossing stations.

W.G. Bagnall 5.5 tonnes 0-4-0ST N°. 2094/1919, named CHARLES, was one of four locos of Baguley’s MARGARETS & MERCEDES design built by Bagnall for Elias Wild & Son Ltd. (N°. 2092-2095), for resale to a French company. By the 1930s CHARLES was already reported in Belgium, where it worked at Ecausse d’Enghien. Mr. Maginot found the locomotive with a contractor in Nivelles in 1966 and in 1968 it was brought to France and entirely rebuilt, except for the boiler which was deemed in good enough condition and only retubed. In 1992, the boiler expired and Mr. Maginot built a new one, using the original plans, except that it was welded instead of riveted. Because of its relatively large boiler, CHARLES needs 30% more time to get steamed than the Decauville 0-6-0T. While it has been reported that one of the other three locos of the same orders survives in operational condition in England, owned by a clergyman who runs around his church every Sunday, I have not been able to find any trace of this loco. CHARLES is probably the only operational Bagnall saddle tank loco in Continental Europe.

The CFVP’s second steam locomotive is Decauville 10.5 tonnes 0-6-0T No. 1587/1916, named SIMONNE. It distinguishes itself from the other Decauville 0-6-0Ts preserved in France in that it has not a flat but a curved cab back, which allows better steaming. SIMONNE was one of over 300 locos of the same type delivered by Decauville to the French Army during WWI. It later ended up at the Toury sugar factory (Eure & Loire), where it was in use until c.06/1965. It was sold to Mr. Touquet of Quinéville (Manche), who kept her in the garden of his castle, exposed to the elements. When Mr. Maginot found her in 1978, she was still in relatively good condition except for the boiler. Because the estimate for a new boiler was 30 times what the loco has cost him to buy, Mr. Maginot decided to rebuild the original boiler himself with the help of a professional boilermaker. Luckily for him, he was able to convince the French boiler inspection body, APAVE, that he was able to do that. SIMONNE was taken out-of-service after Pentecost 2013 as it is now in need of new boiler tubes after 30 years in service.

The CFVP also hosts two i/c locos:

The red loco is a 3 tonnes Gmeinder built in 1938 and equipped with a 25 h.p. 2 cylinder Kaelble G 1102 engine. It was obtained from the sand quarry near Sierk-les-Bains (Moselle) and was restored to working order by a member in 1989. It is however rarely used as it needs to be hand-started and the CFVP is thinking of trading it for another diesel with a German railway.

The small cab-less diesel is 900 kg Heim HDD type N°. 302/1952, equipped with an 8 h.p. Bernard W112 petrol engine. It is used for track work and shunting and on Monday morning just came back from the forest, where a tree which had fallen on the track had to be removed prior to that afternoon’s operations.

Most of the rolling stock was built by Mr. Maginot himself. It consists of:

Four-wheel coach A 11 (built 1975, 12 seats);
Bogies coach B 21 (built 1972, 18 seats);
Bogies covered wagon with benches C22 (built 1992);
Four-wheel luggage van DP 1 (built 1990);
3x skip wagons;
2x flat wagons;
2x lorries for rail transport;
1x tank car for weed killing (400 liters);
1x electric power generator car for track work.

The Bagnall in action

Rob Dickinson