Train du Centre Var - Bauxite mining

Bauxite Mining - Red Faces Museum

The Gardanne - Carnoules line was opened 29 november 1880. Passenger traffic ceased in 1939. 

One of the main products transported was bauxite from the mines in the Brignoles area to the aluminium works in Gardanne.

For more than a century, until the mining activities entirely ceased in 1990, the railway provided this important service.

The bauxite rock is white, red or gray - characterized by its high content of alumina and iron oxide - is the main ore for aluminium production. It was discovered by the chemist Pierre Berthier in 1821 near the village of Les Baux-de-Provence in the Alpilles while looking for iron ore. Its industrial exploitation began in 1871 with an open pit.

The bauxite mining in the Brignoles area began in the mid 1880-ies. The Gardanne - Carnoules railway soon became an important tool for transport of bauxite.

Mining soon went underground to exploit the layers of bauxite, which required digging of tunnels and laying of various kinds of railways for transport in these tunnels. Later followed modern machinery with road ramps, tunnels and galleries with large dimensions. Unfortunately they plunge quickly into flooding. 

During a period prior to WWI, the Brignoles area had the world's most important bauxite mines.

Map at the museum in Tourves
Bauxite mining was of importance for the Germans during WW2, something manifested by discharge/charge installations at and near Brignoles station.

The German Organization Todt also during WW2 built a narrow-gauge railway between Brignoles and the bauxite mines northeast of Brignoles, in Vins, Cabasse and Thoronet. The concrete installation ca 500 m north of Brignoles station for discharge/charge to standard gauge wagons still remains as a reminder of this period.

Western end of "Todt's Wall" in Brignoles
Passenger traffic on the Gardanne - Carnoules line ceased in 1939, but transport of bauxite only ceased 50 years later, with the closure of the mining in 1990.

The Red Faces Museum in Tourves (Musée des Gueules Rouges)

The Museum also has an exposition of "underground" galleries giving an idea of the life of bauxite mining in the underground galleries and tunnels.

The Red Faces Museum

 Musée des Gueules Rouges

See also post The era of red faces

Virtual visit to the real underground galleries

The photographer Sébastien Berrut has been able to visit and take photos of underground bauxite mining galleries, with some rail tracks and equipment still remaining. These galleries are now closed to visitors, but his excellent photos give us a good impression of these underground environments. A few of the photos are on display at the museum in Tourves.

*Mine de bauxite BA1 - PACA
*Mine de bauxite BA2 - PACA

Mining Vehicle Heritage