The International Steam Pages

Toul Military Railways, 2014

Thomas Kautzor reports on a system that hasn't seen anything resembling a steam locomotive for at least 70 years.

While M. Maginot was very much inspired by the 600 mm gauge Toul military railway when he built the CFVP, none of its lines ever reached into the Val de Passey. The closest it got was Domgermain Fort, which rises above the valley. And while the steepest gradient on the CFVP is 40%0, on the Toul network is could go up to 80%0.

The city of Toul, at an altitude of 220 meters and surrounded by several hills, had all the advantages of a natural fortress. After the French defeat in 1871, it found itself on the German border and was therefore developed into a fortress by General Adolphe Séré de Rivières. Beside the town itself, a number of larger and smaller defensive fortresses were built on the hills along the upper Moselle valley and towards Nancy. The first 600 mm gauge railway was installed in 1888 at the Toul arsenal for a demonstration in the presence of Minister of Defence Freycinet and Capitaine Péchôt. Soon thereafter the rail system was adopted and over the next decade a dense network was built under the supervision of Capt. Péchôt, linking all of the outlaying fortresses with Toul and the arsenal. The total size of the network was then estimated at 150 km. The large loco shed and railway workshops near the cemetery (on Avenue du Colonel Péchôt), now still in use as a military garage, then housed around 15 Péchôt-Bourdon type articulated steam locomotives. The railway was used to transport supplies, drinking water and ammunitions, as well as to move artillery equipment around. All of the forts were served by at least weekly supply trains.

During WWI Toul was about 50 km away from the front and saw no combat, however the network was rapidly extended towards the North and the Northeast. Later, in 1918, the U.S. Army set up an important 600 mm gauge railway depot at Abainville near Gondrecourt and the Toul network was linked up with the U.S. network. Shortly thereafter, once the Germans had retreated from Verdun, that network was in turn linked up with the large German military network. In their retreat the Germans had left behind much of their equipment. From 1917 the French steam locomotives were supplemented by diesel and petrol locos.

Over the next ten years the military networks between the Moselle and the Somme were used in the reconstruction of the front-line areas, after which much of the stock was sold for use in industry. Most of the Péchôt-Bourdon locomotives however reintegrated the French Army depots (never to be used again). In the 1930s the experience from the Toul railwaymen was used during the construction of the electric and diesel-operated railways which served the then under construction Maginot Line.

In 1940, Toul was taken by the Germans after a short battle, after which they quickly lost interest in the completely destroyed city. Only in 1943/44, when raw metal was in short supply, did they again find interest in the fortifications and everything made of steel, including the rail network, as well as the rolling stock (and in particular the Péchôt-Bourdon locomotives) was dismantled and sent to the Ruhr as scrap metal.

Today, although very little remains of the former railway lines, its location can still be guessed at many places. At the port of Toul, two metal bridges which once carried the railway across the canal are still in place, with the rusted rails barely hidden under the pavement.

At Villey-le-Sec (8 km SE of Toul) a 600 mm gauge railway has been relaid for 1.3 km around the fortress’ main block and a track branches off to take visitors down to the main entrance. The red Berry type 3655 diesel loco (Deutz F4L912 engine) was obtained from Solvay/Usinor/Sidelor in St-Germain-sur-Meuse (55) and restored and regauged from 635 mm gauge by the Army’s 4e Régiment de Commandement et de Soutien (4e RCS) in Nancy in 01/1982 for the society which maintains the fort. It hauls two open bogies coaches. Down inside the fortress are two Péchôt bogies wagons, including one equipped with a water tank, as well as some four-wheel ammunition flat wagons. Two-hour visits take place at 3 p.m. daily except Mondays in mid-summer and on Sundays and holidays from May to September.


Rob Dickinson