No passenger trains have crossed one department of France in 50 years, however this is set to change.
The Ardèche in south-east France is now expected to see the return of a service in 2026.
On August 6, 1973, French newspaper Le Figaro reported: “The SNCF [France’s national rail company] has decided to suspend from today its passenger traffic on 666km of local tracks.
“This decision, in line with the programme contract signed with the state in 1969 and which laid out the closure of 10,000km of secondary [railway] lines, will mean Ardèche is the first department to no longer have passenger trains”.
The geography of the Ardèche in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region and its low population density (59.6 residents/km² in 2020 compared to 106.1 residents/km² in France generally according to the country’s official statistics agency Insee) contributed to the closure of the line.
The department is currently only served by freight trains, non-stop passenger trains when there are problems on the left bank Rhone river railway and the historic steam train ‘Train de l’Ardèche’.
This ‘Ardèche exception’ is soon to be resigned to history, however. In 2022, under the initiative of the Occitanie region, part of the line between the towns of Pont-Saint-Esprit and Nîmes in the neighbouring Gard department reopened.
The plan is for this line to be expanded up to Le Teil station in Ardèche from the end of 2026, with eight return journeys a day with the journey from Nîmes to Le Teil taking 1 hour and 20 minutes.
The Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region is even looking into expanding the line further up to Romans-sur-Isère in Drôme, another neighbouring department by 2028.
This is not the first time the idea of reopening trains in the Ardèche has been mooted. Local politicians have regularly called for the line to be reopened since the 1980s but each time the project has been delayed. In 2019, the re-opening of the Valence (Drôme)- Le Teil line was planned for 2024 but has not come about.
A significant reason why this project keeps being delayed may be the cost and the poor expected returns.
In 2014, Réseau ferré de France, which maintained the railway network between 1997 and 2014 - estimated that reopening the line would cost €10.7million for an annual revenue of only €1.76million