The International Steam Pages

CGTVN (Canal Towing) Locomotives around Toul, 2014

Thomas Kautzor reports on a system that hasn't seen any kind of steam power for at 80 years. The second part covers the ‘Traction de l’Est’ (TE).

Canal towing railways in France have more often been treated as a “river navigation” subject than as an “industrial railway” subject. The ‘Compagnie Générale de Traction sur les Voies Navigables’ (CGTVN) was formed in 1926 to absorb the various private companies responsible for traction along the canals in the North of France. Some of these were even still using animal traction. The CGTVN was a subsidiary of the ‘Office National de la Navigation’ (ONN), France’s authority responsible for the management of the majority of the inland waterways network, which in 1993 became ‘Voies Navigables de France’ (VNF).

By November 1940 the CGTVN had extended its control over most canals of northern and eastern France. From Janville (Oise) northeast of Paris on the Canal Latéral à l’Oise, its reach extended as far north as Dunkerque and Calais and along the Marne-Rhine canal (CMR) as far east as Niderviller (Moselle), where it connected with the independent 600 mm gauge Traction de l’Est (TE), responsible for the CMR section to Strasbourg and along the Rhine canal to Mulhouse and Huningue at the Swiss border. In addition, a number of side canals to the Belgian and German borders were also operated by CGTVN. By then it was in charge of 2986 km of navigational waterways, of which 668 km were rail-operated with 933 electric locomotives.

For map from 1934, see (the lines in black are rail-operated).

And for a network layout from 1958, see (the rail-operated sections are double-traced).

In 1958, the CGTVN comprised:

1047 km of rail-operated lines, using 1700 metre gauge electric locos:

139 km of non-rail-operated lines, using 161 electric tractors;

2545 km of non-rail-operated lines, using 609 diesel tractors.

On those canals equipped with electric traction, the CGTVN had a monopoly (those barges not equipped with engines were obliged to use it), while on canals which were that was not the case they could use other means of traction (human, animal or mechanical).

The rail network was not one continuous network, at some places the tracks were interrupted by tunnels (where traction was either by cable car, aerial tractor or chain boat) or inclines equipped with boat lifts, and which were often operated by bodies other than CGTVN. But anywhere that there was enough space for the rail track to go through, it would have been laid.

With the increase in motorised canal barges and the decline of commercial traffic on smaller canals, the CGTVN finally ceased its activities in 1973 and the rail network was abandoned.

Today, a relatively large number of CGTVN electric locos still survive in and around Toul, some preserved along the Canal de la Marne au Rhin (CMR) and others elsewhere. Work on the 314 km long CMR between Vitry-le-François (Marne) and Strasbourg started in 1839 and it was opened for navigation between 1851 and 1853. After 1871, France lost control over the section from Lagarde (Moselle) to Strasbourg to Germany. On the section west of Lagarde there were two tunnels at Mauvages, which is France’s second longest waterway tunnel at 4877 metres and is still operated by electric chain-boat to this day (as is the longest at Riqueval (Aisne) on the Canal de St-Quentin in the North), and at Foug (866 metres), which was rail-operated. Many of the preserved locos around Toul have in fact chopped-off cab roofs for operation through the Foug tunnel.

I have sorted the photos from west to east for better understanding, starting from the eastern end of the Mauvages tunnel at Demange-aux-Eaux. The tunnel was built between 1841 and 1846. From 1880 a steam chain boat was used, in 1933 it was replaced by a 600 V electric chain boat which can pull up to 10 barges through the tunnel. There are four crossings daily, two in each direction. As a consequence of the fire in the Mont-Blanc tunnel in 2000, ridiculous security restrictions have been put in place: a maximum of only four boats are allowed on each crossing, the boats have to turn off their engines and the people aboard the boats are not allowed to cook on an open flame or smoke during the crossings.

All of the preserved electric locos except for C1135 at Toul were built by Applevage for the mechanical part and Alsthom for the electrical part. There were three types, those numbered under 1600 had an output of 6.5 kW, those numbered between 1600 and 2000 an output of 14 kW and those above 2000 an output of 22 kW.

The loco shed at Demange-aux-Eaux. The Marne is to the right while the branch to the left serves the port of Houdelaincourt, 3 km away;

Inside the shed is ONN E2010. While some locomotives in ONN ownership remained so but were operated by CGTVN, in other cases nobody bothered to repaint them with the new logo;

On the other side of the bridge, the technical port of Demange-aux-Eaux;

An older electric chain boat at Demange-aux-Eaux, the one in use was waiting for customers further east near the Mauvages tunnel entrance;

The western exit of the Mauvages tunnel. The electric chain boats get their electric power from the catenary that can be seen to emerge from the tunnel;

Applevage loco plinthed next to the road bridge crossing the canal at Mauvages (PK 91,495).

Applevage loco plinthed in the port at Void (PK 103,940). The rail track was in fact on the other side of the canal.

The Eastern entrance of the Foug tunnel. To the left is the old loco shed, with one track still emerging from inside. Until recently an Applevage loco was plinthed next to lock No. 14 here, but it has recently been sold to the municipality of Villey-St-Etienne (see below).

C1135 (Jeumont type J30 1930, 7 kW.) and E2001 (Applevage) are both plinthed in the port of Toul. The first one is the only non-Applevage CGTVN loco preserved in the area. Both have had one side of their cab roofs chopped for operation through the Foug tunnel. Another Applevage loco is plinthed a short distance away at the junction of the southern branch of the Canal de l’Est, a canal where rail tractors were never used.

E1607 plinthed in the parking of the Toul penitentiary. It also has a chopped roof.

Applevage loco at Est Métal Sa, a scrap dealer (who had loads of Paris Metros and RERs in his yard) in the industrial area northeast of Toul. It has a chopped roof and is thought to be E2009, which was formerly abandoned next to the canal at Mauvages.

Applevage loco next to the canalized Moselle at Villey-Saint-Etienne, 10 km northeast of Toul. It was recently moved here from Foug. Here the CMR joins the canalized Moselle for a while before branching off east.

E741 is plinthed in the backyard of the Musée de l’Automobile in the Parc de loisirs de la forêt de Haye in Velaine-en-Hayne (west of Nancy). It also has a chopped roof.


Rob Dickinson