Tour de Provence with Caravelle X-4567 - Part 1

Day 1 - From Carnoules to Marseille St. Charles

Last minute adjustments to the Caravelle prior to leaving the depot in Besse-sur-Issole

The ATTCV organized from 30 September to 2 October 2010 a public excursion with one if its heritage Caravelle railcars, the X-4567.
  • The first day took participants from Carnoules to Gardanne and then on to Marseille.  
  • The second day provided a return trip from Marseille to Nice (and with passengers continuing on TER to the street market in Ventimiglia).
  • The third day's excursion included a trip along the Blue Coast west of Marseille, to Miramas and Aix-en-Provence, prior to a late evening return to Carnoules.
Over a total of ca 22 hours of railcar operation over these three days, and roughly 700 km of track distance covered, the ATTCV association demonstrated its members' capability to effectively and reliably run a railcar service in the midst of regular scheduled rail traffic (with local, regional as well as TGV services). From a technical point of view a very successful three days.

The first day's travel consisted of two legs:
  • The first leg of the first day took us from Carnoules to Gardanne, on the railway line that hasn't been used for passenger traffic since 1939 (except for the ATTCV tourist train between Carnoules and Brignoles).This train celebrated the opening of the line in 1880 and was called "Sainte Baume Express", as the line passes through the northern slopes of the Sainte Baume mountains (despite its low speed, max 40 km/h, frequently slower!).
  • In the second leg, the Caravelle was so to speak "on home ground", as the railcar had for some years been used in passenger traffic in the Marseille area.This journey took us from Gardanne to the Marseille Saint Charles station - on modern tracks and at high speed. I've chosen to here call it "Service Regional".At the same time it was an exploration of the status of the track between Brignoles and Saint-Maximin (-la-Sainte-Baume), the possible future western terminal for ATTCV's tourist train.

Sainte Baume Express - Carnoules to Gardanne

The eastern terminal of the tourist line, Carnoules-les-Platanes, was the starting point for this "express line" and a journey that would carry crew and passengers for three days, covering some 700 kilometers of railtrack in Provence.

The train from Carnoules to Gardanne served two purposes, viz. to be
  1. an inauguration journey for ATTCV. This was the first time a journey with any of its railcars took place end-to-end over the line Carnoules to Gardanne.
  2. the celebration of the opening of the railway line from Carnoules to Gardanne , 130 years ago (it was opened on the 29th of November 1880).
At 13.15 on Thursday 30 September 2010 this "special" train left Carnoules-les-Platanes with passengers and an almost equal number of members of the Association.


The first 22 kilometers to Brignoles via Sainte Anastasie, were simply routine. That part of the line is the part used for the regular tourist traffic operations.

Brignoles station

It has been discussed for some time now that the line would be extended, to Tourves and Saint Maximin, villages further west of Brignoles. But for the moment, the end of the tourist line is in Brignoles. And there the interesting part of the journey starts..

End of (present) tourist line

As most of the line between Brignoles and Gardanne (except for the westernmost part between Gardanne and La Barque) is used only for occasional military transport "exercises", the first most striking evidence of that the line is in strong need of some immediate attention was all the branches of trees and bushes hammering the sides of the railcar. Leaning out the railcar windows was strongly discouraged.

Leaving Brignoles westwards also brought the attention to another aspect of this line, viz. the high number of unprotected level crossings. Some two dozens of those cross public roads, where it therefore was necessary for the train crew to disembark the train and with flags and/or ropes halt road traffic during the passage of the train. A time consuming exercise which required the crew to consist of at least three members.

The first station after Brignoles is Les Censiés, where a number of schoolchildren, with two teachers, are neatly standing to greet the train. Potential future passengers perhaps, when the tourist train will get the necessary permissions to cover this part of the line.

Les Censiés

Along RN7
Passing along the old National Route no 7 (from Nice to Paris) the Caravelle soon reached the village of Tourves, where locals had met up to welcome the train. The station and the track is today surrounded and lined by trees, but in the past had several parallel tracks and several installations for the bauxite trade. The station was once an important station for freight.

The Tourves station seems to be privately owned. A concrete garden grill has even been installed on the (former) passenger platform.


Further to Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baumes, or Saint Maximin for short, the possible future terminal for the tourist line. Here the station building has been restored and is now used by the local administration. No signs or anything indicate that this has been an important station on the line.

Quite a few people had assembled at the Saint Maximin station to welcome the train, including some local politicians and a local police officer. Local politicians show an interest in ATTCV in the future extention of the line to this village (but the future will show if that interest will be accompanied by more than moral support).

Saint Maximin

Saint Maximin

After Saint Maximin, the train takes us on a route with a fascinating view of the valley north of the mountains, with its fields and the A8 motorway. Soon we reach Porcieux. The station in Porcieux is being rebuilt to house a part of the local administration, including a public library.


Porcieux station being converted into a library

At Porcieux station you may rent a so-called velorail, a bicycle on rails, and take a scenic self-pedalled tour to Saint Maximin.

Porcieux also marks the beginning of a view that won't leave us until Gardanne, viz. the remarkable mountain Sainte Victoire.

Sainte Victoire

People come out of houses and shops, smiling, cheering and waving their hands. Even car drivers who have to wait for our passing smile and wave.

A party of cars with photographers follow the train

The train causes traffic congestion
We reach Trets after a some 10 km through forests and large vineyards.


At Peynier-Rousset we have to wait a few minutes to get clearance for entering the part of the Carnoules - Gardanne line that is still used (for freight trains).

 We make a very short stop at La Barque-Fuveau, with its large silo and transportation museum (Musée provençal des transport urbains et régionaux. This museum also has some railway pieces, e.g for narrow gauge, 600 mm).

600 mm and model railway tracks at La Barque-Fuveau station

La Barque-Fuveau

Then arrival in Gardanne and it's large installations for bauxite processing, one of the main reasons for construction of the Carnoules-Gardanne line. Thus, end of line - and the Sainte Baume Express!

The train had left after lunch from Carnoules-les-Platanes and reached Gardanne 5.5 hours later. The average speed became low because of the stops at some two dozen unprotected level crossings (where the train crew had to descend and manually with flags and ropes block the road for all traffic).


Service Régional - Gardanne to Marseille St. Charles

The last part of the first day's journey took us from Gardanne to the Marseille Saint Charles station, where we would 1.5 hours later, after stops at intermediate stations in the Marseille suburbs.

Now our Caravelle is free to use all its horses to show her high speed capability. Well, maximised in tourist traffic to 100 km/h, but in any case considerably faster than the 40 km/h permitted on the Carnoules to Gardanne line. Here the Caravelle shares the track with railcars of today, modern and streamlined.

Stops at at the stations of Simiane, Septème, St.Antoine and Sainte Marthe. Nothing exciting, per se, but quite a contrast to the stations we've seen earlier today.



St Antoine

Ste Marthe

Then we enter the Saint Charles station in Marseille, in the very center of this big city.

Quite an interesting five and a half hours after leaving Carnoules-les-Platanes.

Marseille St Charles station

It's soon dark, so it's time for a walk to the hotel, for a shower and a nice dinner.

Read all parts:

[This is an edited version of an article on the now closed web site railtrain.org/attcv/]