Ardèche in south-east France will welcome the first passenger train to stop in the department in 50 years today (August 29, 2022) – but it will be empty.
The service to Le Teil station will only be used to reverse trains on their way to Gard. It is part of SNCF’s decision to re-open a local line and serve four daily round trips from Pont-Saint-Esprit to Avignon (Vaucluse) and one to Nîmes (Gard).
Ardèche is the only department in France to lack a train service.
The state-owned rail company closed lines on the right bank of the Rhône river in 1973, meaning locals have to rely on cars or travel to take the train from neighbouring departments.
However, SNCF is expected to open a second regional line and it is hoped Le Teil will then be included as a passenger stop in 2024. Other Ardèche towns, such as Viviers, could follow.
Franck Pallier, director of Cutpsa, a local association representing the interests of public transport users which has long campaigned for local train stops, said: “The fact the department is ‘train-free’ was so ingrained in our minds that we’d come to believe they would never come again.”
SNCF chose Le Teil as the station is already equipped with technology to reverse trains. The station is due to undergo a €12million renovation.
Over the years, it has not been entirely abandoned. SNCF uses it around 200 times a year when the line on the left side of the Rhône is under maintenance. Freight trains also stop there.
The return of a passenger service has been talked about since 2010 but many locals had lost hope.
Cutpsa members plan to meet at Le Teil on August 28 to celebrate the event. “My job is now to let people understand they will soon be able to hop on a train from Ardèche,” said Mr Pallier.
“People had lost faith that it would ever happen over the years.”