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Saturday, 13 March 2010 16:35

Corsica - Chemins de Fer de Corse

Written by Mike
Renault ABH8 Autorail no X204 forming the 10.00 Calvi to Ile Rousse 'Tramways de la Balagne' service at St Ambroggio, Corsica, 10 July 1983. Renault ABH8 Autorail no X204 forming the 10.00 Calvi to Ile Rousse 'Tramways de la Balagne' service at St Ambroggio, Corsica, 10 July 1983.

The Chemin de Fer de la Corse (CFC) is a fascinating metre gauge rail network serving the French island of Corsica.

At the time of my visits in the 1980s it was a delightful combination of beautiful scenery and quaint rolling stock.

Chemins de Fer de Corse System

Map of CFC Railway System in CorsicaThe CFC has its headquarters at Bastia in the north east of the island.

The system’s main line runs from Bastia to the island’s other major city Ajaccio via Ponte Leccia and Corte – a distance of 158km (98 miles).

The main engineering works are now at Casamozza, just south of Bastia.

There is a junction station on the main line at Ponte Leccia where a branch runs 74km (46 miles) to Calvi on the north west coast of the island.

There used to be a line running down the island’s east coast.  It branched off the main line at Casamozza and ran 130km (81 miles) to Porto Vecchio.

The east coast line’s bridges were bombed during World War II.  The damage was so extensive the line was never reopened in its entirety, although the section as far south as Folleli remained open until 1953.

The section of the branch from Ponte Leccia to Calvi runs alongside the sea from Ile Rousse.  During the summer months there is an intensive “Tramways de la Balagne” service between Calvi and Ile Rousse to serve the many beaches.

The island's geography and topography has forced the construction of some notable features including 32 tunnels and 51 bridges and viaducts.

The longest tunnel at 3.9 kilometres (2.4 miles) is near Vizzavona. This tunnel at 906 metres (2,970 ft) high is also the highest on the network.

The viaduct at Vecchio - 140 metres (459 ft) long and 94 metres (308 ft 5 in) high - was designed by Gustave Eiffel.

The ‘Boucle de Vivario’ is a series of reverse curves that take the train many miles to climb the steep mountainside.  From a point above Vivario Station, the train can be seen for some considerable time looping back and forth as it makes the climb.

The CFC is the only metre gauge line in France carrying freight. One train a day operates over the Ajaccio-Bastia line.

In winter, the Vizzavona pass is often blocked, and closed to road traffic. Most of the remaining freight wagons are used for track maintenance purposes.

Chemins de Fer de Corse History

In 1877 it was decided to build a metre gauge railway in Corsica, despite the very difficult terrain it would have to cross.

Legislation was passed on 4 August 1879 for the construction of the railway.

The first lines opened on 1 August 1888 between Bastia and Corte and also between Ajaccio and Bocognano. The network was gradually opened in sections until 1894.

A line to Porto-Vecchio opened in stages, the final section opening in 1935, but this was to be short lived owing to the war.

There were proposals to build lines from Ajaccio to Propriano and also from Porto Vecchio to Bonifacio, but these lines were not built.

In 1955, there was a proposal to close the Calvi - Ponte-Lecchia line; and in 1959 another proposal to close the whole network.  The railway workers and the citizens of Corsica successfully opposed both. In 1972, another proposal for closure was fought off.

The Chemins de Fer de Corse was operated by a succession of private companies until 1983 when decentralisation laws enabled Corsica to run its own regional transport systems and the SNCF took over the management of the network.

In September 2001, the Corsican authorities gave SNCF the responsibility of operating the railway as a public service. Working together, the State, the Corsican authorities and SNCF have jointly produced a modernisation plan aimed at ensuring the rail service's future.

Over 110 million euros were committed towards improvements, incluing new railcars and renovation of existing rolling stock.

Pictures of Chemins de Fer de Corse

See my pictures of the Chemins de Fer de Corse in Corsica.

Disclaimer

I've taken every care to ensure the information above is as accurate as possible. All facts have been verified from at least two sources in the original French. Sources include contemporaneous issues of Magazine des Tramways a Vapeur et des Secondaires, Voie Etroite and La Vie du Rail.

Mike

Mike

Mike McCormac has been a photographer since about ten years old.  He's a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, and splits his time between living in Olney in the United Kingdom and a village in the hills near Paphos in Cyprus.

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