The International Steam Pages

Chemin de fer et du Port de la Réunion Remains, 2012

Thomas Kautzor reports on his visit on 15th/16th January 2012.

The French island of La Réunion in the Indian Ocean became an Overseas Department in 1946. Sugar has traditionally been the chief agricultural product and export.

  • Compagnie du Chemin de fer et du Port de la Réunion (CPR), private company, 1878-1888 ;
  • Chemin de fer et Port de la Réunion (CPR), state corporation, 1888-1951 ;
  • Chemin de Fer de la Réunion (CFR), state corporation, 1951-1964 ;
  • Société des Entrepreneurs de Transports en Commun de la Réunion, 1964-1976.

With the growing importance of sugar cane cultivation on the island, discussions to build a metre gauge railway started in the second half of the 19th century. In 1878 a private company was created, which in 1882 completed construction of two lines from the capital St-Denis around the western side of the island to the southern town of St-Pierre (87.4 km) and along the northern and eastern coast to St-Benoit (38.8 km). In the same year a decree was passed authorizing the building of a line between the two termini, which would have made a complete circle around the island, but that line was never constructed.

Steam Locomotives:

The railway used a total of 50 steam locos over the years, 37 0-6-0Ts and 0-6-2Ts and 13 Mallets, some obtained second hand from mainland France after WWII:

0-6-0T 1 – 8 Schneider 1878-81 15.0 t.
0-6-0T  9 Schneider 1893 15.0 t.


10 – 12 Weidknecht  1900 12.5 t.
0-6-0T 13 – 16 Decauville 1913 16.1 t.
0-6-0T 17 – 19 Decauville 1920 16.1 t.
0-6-0T 21 – 25 SACM 1883 15.0 t.


26 – 27 Blanc-Misseron 1901 19.6 t. 1941 ex Blanc-Argent
0-4-4-0T 30 – 31 Focquet 1921 22.0 t.
0-4-4-0T 33 Couthon 1910 22.0 t.
0-4-4-0T  40 – 43 Thiriau 1922 22.0 t.
0-4-4-0T 44 – 46 Thiriau 1927 22.0 t.


47 – 48 Haine-St-Pierre 1931 22.0 t.


49 Haine-St-Pierre 1933 22.0 t.


58 Corpet-Louvet 1909 18.0 t. 1949 ex TIV


63 Corpet-Louvet 1903 18.0 t. 1949 ex TIV


70 – 71 Corpet-Louvet 1908 21.0 t. 1949 ex TIV


74 Corpet-Louvet 1909 18.0 t. 1949 ex TIV


76, 80, 82 – 84, 87 Corpet-Louvet 1910-14 21.0 t. 1949 ex TIV

TIV = Tramways d’Ile-et-Vilaine.

However, prior to WWII, the first diesel railcars (two Brissoneau-et-Lotz two-car sets) had already arrived and following the war steam was replaced.

Diesel locomotives:

BB 1 – BB 4 bogie Brissoneau-et-Lotz 1947 320 h.p. 1952 ex Dakar-Niger

(BB 1 was extensively tested on the CFD Vivarais during the summer of 1947. Because the CPR was threatened with closure following WWII, all four were first assigned to the Dakar-Niger in French West Africa. After it was decided to maintain the CPR – for a few years – they were sent back to France for refurbishment and then on to La Réunion).

Motor draisines:

ZI 1 4-wheel Mirenowicz 1938

ZI 2 4-wheel Campagne (DC) N°. 5266/1956

ZI 3 – ZI 7 4-wheel Billard (4.4.15 VM) N°. 733-738/1937, 1949 ex TIV

Diesel railcars:

ZM 1 – ZM 2 bogie Brissonneau-et-Lotz 1939 150 h.p. 18 seats

ZM 3 – ZM 8 4-wheel Floirat 1951/52 120 h.p. 38 seats

ZM 9 – ZM 11 bogie Billard (A150D8) 1959 150 h.p. 32 seats

Railcar trailers:

ZR 1 / ZR 2 bogie Brissonneau-et-Lotz 1939 32/34 seats

ZR 3 – ZR 8 4-wheel Floirat 1951/52 42 seats

ZR 9 – ZR 11 bogie Billard (R150D1) 1959 48 seats

The Brissoneau-et-Lotz railcars and trailers both had single driving cabs and were run coupled back-to-back. They could be run in multiple units. The Floirat railcars were identical to the ones delivered to various African railways and to Madagascar. They had single cabs and could be turn with the help of a jack mounted under the body. The Billard sets are derived from the A150D7 and R150D models delivered to the FEVE (Spain). The railcars have driving cabs on both sides, while the trailers have none. They are equipped with automatic couplings and can be run in multiple units. Both the Brissonneau-et-Lotz and Billard sets had specially-designed bodies (inclined at the tops) to be able to fit into the tunnels.

All of the CPR’s coaching stock and most of the goods stock (5 t. capacity) was two-axled. Most of the island’s sugar mills were linked to the railway and during the cutting season cane was transported on the railway into the mills, while sugar was transported to Le Port (km 19.7 on the line to St-Pierre) for export. The railway also possessed a tank wagon for the transportation of rhum.

Despite the introduction of the modern diesel equipment, 1956 saw the closure of the section from Le Port via St-Paul (the island’s second largest town) to St-Pierre. The rest of the railway was closed in 1962/63. The 15.1 km section between St-Denis and La Possesion was however kept in place for emergency service whenever the coastal road was closed due to storms and rock falls. This section runs mostly through a succession of tunnels, with the isolated station of La Grande Chaloupe (km 9.1) in the middle, where a small operational base was set up. It includes France’s longest metre gauge tunnel between St-Denis and Ravine à Jacques (5680 m). At both ends the track was truncated to end just outside the tunnels on the outskirts of both cities, leaving a total of 11.2 km of track, of which 10.4 km are underground. In St-Denis it ended inside the Caserne Lambert military camp, where there was a small halt. In La Possession it crosses a masonry bridge after exiting the tunnel and ends at a platform next to a parking lot at Camp Magloire, 150m from the exit. The three modern Billard train sets were kept operational for this service, as well as draisine ZI 2 and some wagons used for work trains. The service was however abandoned in 1976 after a new four-lane coastal road was built. Thereafter some of the surviving pieces of rolling stock were put on display across the island, while others were abandoned at La Grande Chaloupe.

Association “Ti Train Lontan”:

In 1988 a small group of volunteers took on the task to preserve and restore what was still possible, basing itself at La Grande Chaloupe. All of the rolling which had been spread out over the island was brought back home and restore to the best of the group’s capacity. The station building at La Grande Chaloupe was declared a Historic Monument in 1988. The station comprises the station building, a loop and a siding running through a small workshop with an inspection pit and ending behind the station building.

Initially, the tourist service was very successful, transporting 20,000 passengers between 1990 and 1992. However a lack of interest and support from the authorities has led to a sad decline and nowadays the railcars only operate for pre-booked groups or on special occasions. There are only four or five active volunteers left. Between 2006 and 2008 the steel bridges on both sides of La Grande Chaloupe were removed and restored. Only the track between La Grande Chaloupe and La Possession is open to traffic, while on the St-Denis side the 730 m tunnel to La Ravine à Jacques is used to store most of the surviving rolling stock (a gate has been fixed onto the tunnel mouth). Between there and St-Denis the track is still in place but would need major repairs for trains to run over it again.

The following rolling stock survives in the care of the society:

0-6-0T N°. 8, Schneider N°. 2009/1881 (also reported as N°. 2011/1879), 15.0 t., plinthed outside the Departemental Library in St-Denis from 1963 to 09/1989, designated an Historical Monument, stored behind the station building;

motor draisine ZI 1, Mirenowicz 1938, 2.5 t., derelict inside the tunnel; 
motor draisine ZI 2 (red), Campagne DC N°. 5266/1956, 2.9 t., operational for work trains; 
diesel railcar ZM 9 (green), Billard A150D8 1959, 14.0 t., 150 h.p., 32 seats, operational (plinthed at St-Denis 1980-88); 
diesel railcar ZM 10 (crème and red), Billard A150D8 1959, 14.0 t., 150 h.p., 32 seats, derelict inside tunnel (plinthed at Etang-Salé 1980-88); 
diesel railcar ZM 11 (purple red), Billard A150D8 1959, 14.0 t., 150 h.p., 32 seats, operational; 
railcar trailer ZR 3, 4 or 5, Floirat 1951, 7.5 t., 42 seats, derelict inside tunnel; 
railcar trailer ZR 9 or 10 (crème and red), Billard R150D1, 10.0 t., 48 seats, derelict inside tunnel; 
railcar trailer ZR 9 or 10 (blue), Billard R150D1, 10.0 t., 48 seats, operational; 

(ZR 10 was plinthed at La Possession from 1980 to 88, ZR 11 also survived after closure and was plinthed at St-Suzanne from 1980-88. It was in such a poor condition that restoring it proved impossible and it was decided to turn it into a home for the society’s model train layout. Its body however burnt down and had to be scrapped and today only its bogies remain stored behind the station building)

four-wheel covered van, 1949 ex TIV, plinthed at St-Denis until 1988, operational; 
four-wheel wagon chassis, 1949 ex TIV, operational; 
four-wheel flat wagon, built on chassis of cut-down Floirat railcar trailer ZR 3, 4 or 5 from 1951, operational; 
bogie tank wagon, Ets. Maurice Fauvet 1931, operational;

four-wheel flat lorry, CPR, operational.

The society’s contacts are:

Ti Train Lontan, 4 rue Pierre Rosselin, La Palmeraie, F-97499 St-Denis - Tel. +262-692 85 36 78

Other CPR relics:

Along both lines out of St-Denis, many structures of the railway remain to this day:

St-Denis (km 0, Front de Mer): passenger station formerly used as bus station, now as “Les 3 Brasseurs” pub, one goods shed used to house shops, the other to be turned into a restaurant, short track remains.

St-Denis – St-Pierre:

tunnel de protection (85 m);
tunnel (5680 m);
Ravine à Jacques: steel bridge;

tunnel (730 m): used for rolling stock storage;
Ravine des Tamarins steel bridge;
La Grande Chaloupe (km 9.1): operational base of the tourist railway;

Ravine de la Grande Chaloupe steel bridge;

tunnel (4020 m);

Ravine Lafleur masonry bridge;
Camp Magloire halt: terminus of tourist railway;
Étang St-Paul: large steel girder bridge used as footbridge;

St-Paul (km 28.4): station used by insurance company and legal center; 
Cap Lahoussaye tunnel: used by one lane of the RN1A road; 
Grande Ravine masonry viaduct (5x 18 m): destroyed except for abutments; 
Petite Ravine masonry viaduct (7x 18 m): used by the RN1A road; 
Ravine des Colimaçons viaduct (5 arches);

St-Leu (km 53.4, rue de la Compagnie des Indes): station used as post office;

L’Étang-Salé (km 66.6, 74 av. Octave-Bénard): station used as tourist office, water tank masonry foundation, service housing kitchen; 
L’Etang du Gol steel bridge (100 m); 
St-Louis (km 76.1): station part of school; 
Rivière St-Etienne steel bridge (10x 50 m): masonry piles used by the RN1 road; 
Ravine des Cabris masonry bridge (2 spans); 
St-Pierre (km 87.4, bd. Hubert-Delisle): station as “Café de la Gare”, goods shed used for shops.

St-Denis – St-Benoit:

Ste-Marie (km 10.1): station as private home;
tunnel du Phare de Ste-Suzanne: 50 m tunnel used by hiking and cycling path (“Sentier Littoral Nord”);

Ste-Suzanne (km 17.1, 7 rue de la Gare): station used as social center; 
Cambuston (km 22.8): station abandoned; 
Bourbier masonry bridge (150 m) near St-Benoit; 
St-Benoit (km 38.8, rue Alexis de Villeneuve & rue Bertin): station abandoned.

Other railways:

Only one narrow gauge sugar plantation railway is known to have existed on La Réunion, at the Usine de Beauchamps in St-Benoit. From period photos it appears to have used second-hand U.S. WWI equipment. No trace of it survives.

The Cirque de Mafate is a sparsely populated caldera which was formed from the collapse of the large shield volcano the Piton des Neiges. There are no roads into it and it can be accessed only on foot or by helicopter. The area is exceptionally humid and a major project was developed to transfer water by underground aqueducts from the area towards the dry western parts of the island, mainly to irrigate sugar cane fields around St-Paul and St-Leu. It totals over 30 km of underground tunnels. For this project the following diesel locomotives are known to have been supplied by Schöma:

Schöma V 4898 1986 CHL 20G B 600 .08.1986 Semafor, St.Arnould en Yvelines [F] für Mafate Reunion

Schöma V 4899 1986 CHL 20G B 600 .08.1986 Semafor, St.Arnould en Yvelines [F] für Mafate Reunion

Schöma V 4900 1986 CHL 20G B 600 .08.1986 Semafor, St.Arnould en Yvelines [F] für Mafate Reunion

Schöma V 5141 199x CFL150DCL B 750 neu Mafate, Reunion [F]

Schöma V 5142 199x CFL150DCL B 750 neu Mafate, Reunion [F]

Schöma V 5243 1991 CFL150DCL B ? neu Mafate, Reunion [F]


José Banaudo & Jean-Noël Biga, “Le Rail du Bout du Monde – La Fin du Chemin de Fer de La Réunion”, pp. 19-24; 
Bernard Vieu, “Le chemin de fer de la Réunion”, Connaissances du Rail N°. 89 (pp. 4-11) & N°. 90 (pp. 19-26); 
Eric Boulogne, “Le Petit Train Longtemps”, Editions Cénoman, Le Mans/La Vie du Rail, Paris, 1982, ISBN 2 905596 35 X/2 902 808 41 0; 
Eric Boulogne, “Autorail touristique à la Réunion”, Connaissances du Rail N°. 136, 06/1992; 
Daniel Vauxelaire, “C’Était Hier” Volume 5, Editions Orphie, 2011, ISBN 978-2-87763-729-9.

Rob Dickinson