21 July 2024

Eclectic France

Observations on the sites, sounds and events around France


Steaming in the Tarn

The Chemin de Fer Touristique du Tarn is a relative rarity in France: a steam-hauled narrow-gauge railway. You’ll find it in the picturesque Tarn region roughly midway between the cities of Albi and Toulouse.

The terminus of the railway.
Rolling stock and engine sheds.

The train runs between the village of Saint Lieux lès Lavaur and the Jardins des Martels. Like many other preserved narrow gauge and steam railways, the track is not long – it’s only three or four kilometres from end to end. But the trains run slowly and there is plenty of time to take in the view. The highlight of the trip for many will be the crossing of the River Agout over an old-fashioned railway bridge.

The view from the train when crossing the Agout river.
Crossing the Agout

Trees border the track for much of the journey. This helps create a feeling of being taken back in time. When in the open you have a great view of the wider countryside. During our visit, the train stopped in a clearing in the wood on the return journey. Here some of the railway staff – mostly volunteers we assumed – told us more about the railway and the history of society that preserved and operates it.

The railway runs on part of a line that originally connected the villages of La Ramière and Saint-Sulpice. The total distance of that line would have been around 10-12 kilometres at most. The line only operated between 1925 and 1931. Preservationists took it over in 1974. It operates three preserved narrow-gauge locomotives but these don’t run every day so it’s best to check before visiting.

There is a small museum adjacent to the station at Saint Lieux lès Lavaur. This contains locomotives, rolling stock and other artefacts associated with the railway. It also tells the wider story of industrial narrow-gauge locomotives in France. Visitors can also look around the engine sheds. We arrived too late in the day to look around these, but they should be well worth making the time.

Our trip started at the Jardins des Martels and these are well worth a visit in their own right.