'The Alsace Lorraine Express'
Sunday June 1 2003

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The final day with steam in France dawned bright and sunny again. There was hardly a cloud in the sky. Breakfast in the hotel did not start until 7am so after a quick feed we made our way over to the station by 07:30 for the 07:45 departure of 'The Alsace Lorraine Express' bound for Paris. The early start was to ensure passengers travelling back to London that night on the 20:13 Eurostar had half a chance of catching it. Personally I wouldn't have even considered risking it ! All looked well with the loco but we wouldn't know for sure if we would get to Paris this day until we got going and saw how things went.

The initial running out of Mulhouse was sedate but we gradually got going and started to run very nicely. The countryside the line runs through is very nice with small villages every so often that looked all the nicer in the sun. Our first servicing stop of the day was at Vesoul, 110km (68 miles) from Mulhouse. On the way there we had passed through Belfort home of the Alstom works that produces TGVs. On the Mulhouse side of the station is the site of the steam depot which remarkably looked as if it was just waiting to go back in to use. It had not been demolished, rather it looks as if after the last loco left the depot was also just left.

The timings were not tough and it didn't require a huge effort from the loco to be on time. Arrival at Vesoul for water was in fact rather early. However we were due to take water with the help of the fire brigade who did not arrive until our booked arrival time of 09:30. Despite the hour and the fact it was Sunday a good few locals had turned out to see the train.

231G558 shortly after arrival at Vesoul on the last day of 'The Alsace Lorraine Express'. Plenty of spare coal is stored on the back of the tender whilst in the coal space there are a good number of briquettes. June 1 2003

231G558 shortly after arrival at Vesoul on the last day of 'The Alsace Lorraine Express'. Plenty of spare coal is stored on the back of the tender whilst in the coal space there are a good number of briquettes. June 1 2003

Looking in to the sun at Vesoul as 231G558 takes water. June 1 2003

Looking in to the sun at Vesoul as 231G558 takes water. June 1 2003

A good view of the front end detail of 231G558 showing the valvegear arrangement, the cross compound air pump, mechanical lubricator and part of the ACFI feedwater heating system. The drum on this side recieves the exhaust steam, cold water and mixes them. Also note the bogie brakes. June 1 2003

A good view of the front end detail of 231G558 showing the valvegear arrangement, the cross compound air pump, mechanical lubricator and part of the ACFI feedwater heating system. The drum on this side receives the exhaust steam, cold water and mixes them. Also note the bogie brakes. June 1 2003

Running on from Vesoul, for once not under the wires, we ran well over the 73km (45miles) to Culmont-Chalindrey where we were first held outside the town before getting the road in to the station only to be stopped. We were booked to run through non-stop. Culmont-Chalindrey is a junction for several lines and it seemed as if a service from one of these routes was running late. A little after we arrived a diesel hauled train appeared, stopped and after setting down and picking up passengers continued on its way, delaying us in the process.

Once we finally got the road the loco made a nice climb out of the town to the summit of the 1 in 167 bank that we had climbed for the last 25km (15miles) before running down grade to a stop at Langres. Now a somewhat late the stop at Langres was to let off passengers who wanted to take up the option of the first photobus. This had been described as suiting video more than still. The road and railway run alongside each other for some way and parallel running was planned. In the tour guide it was stated the train would run at 60 to 70km/h (38 to 45mph) on this section.

Well that was the plan ! What followed was a classic cock up that was very funny for those of us who opted to ride on the train but a little less amusing for those on the bus. Someone had omitted to ask the loco crew to take it easy. The guard held the train for about 5 minutes before giving the right away. Once the crew had this they were off like a shot. In one of the best sections of running of the whole tour 231G558 rapidly got the train up to her maximum permitted speed on 100km/h (62.5mph) and kept this up most of the way through to Chaumont. Running alongside the road we passed tractors and caravans but there was no sign of a bus of any sort !

The late start from Langres was converted in to a rather early arrival at Chaumont. Here half the town seemed to have appeared to greet the train, the first steam hauled train to Chaumont in at least 20 years. It was some time until the photobus party caught us up. After a few comments about how superb it had been the truth came out ! The best they saw was the exhaust from the 231G off in the distance. They had missed it totally. Amazingly people didn't seem too upset, but perhaps the frustration had come out on the bus.

Chaumont was heaving under what seemed to be half the population. Very shortly after arrival 231G558 is surrounded. June 1 2003

Chaumont was heaving under what seemed to be half the population. Very shortly after arrival 231G558 is surrounded. June 1 2003

Head on at Chaumont. 231G558 and support van came off the train here and went in to the yard for water, fire cleaning and coal. June 1 2003
Head on at Chaumont. 231G558 and support van came off the train here and went in to the yard for water, fire cleaning and coal. June 1 2003

Whilst the loco was performing well the oil leak on the lefthand outside cylinder had not been stopped. June 1 2003

Whilst the loco was performing well the oil leak on the lefthand outside cylinder had not been stopped. June 1 2003

The approach to Chaumont is through this lined cutting. Shame we couldn't get of a shot of the 231G coming through it. June 1 2003

The approach to Chaumont is through this lined cutting. Shame we couldn't get of a shot of the 231G coming through it. June 1 2003

The break in Chaumont coincided with lunchtime and also just about the hottest period of the day. A thermometer on the station, positioned in the shade, read 26°c. Out in the sun taking photographs was very hot indeed. In these conditions the support crew serviced the loco, taking water and coal and cleaning the fire. Rather them than me !

SNCF allowed passengers and locals in to the yard alongside the station to watch the servicing of 231G558 accompanied by her support vehicle. June 1 2003

SNCF allowed passengers and locals in to the yard alongside the station to watch the servicing of 231G558 accompanied by her support vehicle. June 1 2003

People everywhere and the vast majority were locals. This was the first steam locomotive to Chaumont in over 20 years. June 1 2003

People everywhere and the vast majority were locals. This was the first steam locomotive to Chaumont in over 20 years. June 1 2003

Chaumont was also the departure point for the second section of the photobus. This was more aimed at the still photographer. With a little concern that we might not get to see the train we went on this as it promised to allow a shot of the magnificent three tier viaduct just the Paris side of Chaumont station. Due to the original position for the photo being a non-starter because of the light we were lucky to have been directed to an alternative vantage point by local photographers.

To allow extra time to get to this location the bus left about half an hour in front of the train. In the event we needn't have bothered. Servicing over ran and we were looking at the possibility of getting very out of path having to follow the next Paris bound express. This would have delayed departure by almost an hour and a half. This would certainly have ruined any chance the passengers booked on the last couple of Eurostar's to London that night actually catching them. However we must have had our bad luck for the tour on the first day. A little over twenty minutes down 231G558 was ready to go. As you can see below the wait in the baking hot sun was worth it. The viaduct is a spectacular setting for a photograph or two.

231G558 crosses the massive three tier Chaumont Viaduct with the Paris bound 'Alsace Lorraine Express'. June 1 2003

231G558 crosses the massive three tier Chaumont Viaduct with the Paris bound 'Alsace Lorraine Express'. June 1 2003

231G558 slowly crosses the 50 arch Chaumont Viaduct with the Paris bound 'Alsace Lorraine Express'. June 1 2003

231G558 slowly crosses the 50 arch Chaumont Viaduct with the Paris bound 'Alsace Lorraine Express'. June 1 2003

From here it was a short walk back to the bus. We now had to catch the train and reboard at Bar-sur-Aube. The bus took us through the picturesque Champagne region countryside to Bar where we found the train waiting for us. We were hurried on to the train as it was now rather late and naturally the authorities didn't want it to get any later.

To the next stop at Troyes we had just 54km (33miles) to run. With this completed it was clear the additional coal taken on at Chaumont was OK ! Troyes was to be a water stop for the loco and gave the following Paris express a chance to overtake.

231G558 at Troyes station which retains a nice overall roof. June 1 2003

231G558 at Troyes station which retains a nice overall roof. June 1 2003

231G558 at Troyes. The overall roof now lacks glass in the ends, I would suspect for structural reasons. June 1 2003

At Troyes the Paris bound express that we almost had to wait for at Chaumont overtook. June 1 2003

At Troyes the Paris bound express that we almost had to wait for at Chaumont overtook. June 1 2003

231G558 is normally watered with the aid of hoses and the special attachment seen here modified so as not to damage the tender paint work. On the left is a member of the crew with characteristic black face. French coal, and the briquettes, produe a lot of dust covering the crew. No wonder they all wear goggles ! June 1 2003

231G558 is normally watered with the aid of hoses and the special attachment seen here modified so as not to damage the tender paint work. On the left is a member of the crew with characteristic black face. French coal, and the briquettes, produce a lot of dust covering the crew. No wonder they all wear goggles ! June 1 2003

On leaving Troyes I believe we left someone behind, who I assume had been investigating the diesel activity at the station. This person had to catch the next service train to Paris and was there before us !

Originally Troyes, 166km (103miles) from Paris was to be the final water stop. However it had been decided to add an additional stop to be sure of having enough water. This was just 38km (23miles) further on at Romilly-sur-Seine. To access the water hydrant the loco crossed over from the Paris bound line, over the Mulhouse bound line and in to the station on a loop. Watering here over ran as initially there seemed to be some problem with the hydrant but eventually this was sorted out by using a different hydrant just around the corner !

231G558 in nice light at Romilly-sur-Seine. June 1 2003

231G558 in nice light at Romilly-sur-Seine. June 1 2003

Looking like this 231G558 could not be anything other than a French loco. The smokebox door gives it away as much as the brass SNCF roundel. Romilly-sur-Seine. June 1 2003
Looking like this 231G558 could not be anything other than a French loco. The smokebox door gives it away as much as the brass SNCF roundel. Romilly-sur-Seine. June 1 2003

Running late, but not disastrously, we ran well as far as Longueville. Again we were looped to allow a Paris bound express to pass us at high speed. Longueville is home to another active mainline group in France l'Ajecta. Longueville, at 88km (54miles) from Paris Est is as far as the commuter services run.

Looped to allow an express past 231G558 sits at Longueville. June 1 2003

Looped to allow an express past 231G558 sits at Longueville. June 1 2003

Hardly any passengers got out at Longueville to photograph 231G558 in the lovely evening sun. June 1 2003

Hardly any passengers got out at Longueville to photograph 231G558 in the lovely evening sun. June 1 2003

Longueville is the end of the line for suburban services from Paris. It also has a large yard behind which is the depot of l'Ajecta, another mainline steam group in France. June 1 2003

Longueville is the end of the line for suburban services from Paris. It also has a large yard behind which is the depot of l'Ajecta, another mainline steam group in France. June 1 2003

The locomotive accelerated well away up the bank from Longueville but was booked one more looping before getting a run in to Paris. This happened in the yard at Verneuil-l'Étang, 52km (32miles) out.

It was looking as if the arrival at Paris Est would be in the region of 20 to 25 minutes down at this point. Those on the 20:13 Eurostar back to London looked to be in for a very brisk walk to Gare du Nord. When we got the road, however, the loco rapidly accelerated up to her maximum speed, and with a clear road, kept this up. Rushing in through the outer suburbs of east Paris it started to look as if, with a clear road, a right time arrival at Paris Est wouldn't be impossible. This was running of the first order from the 231G.

Passing through one station at 19:00 I noted that the following electric suburban was booked at 19:03. Someone in control had clearly given us a run and was hoping we kept going. This we did until all of a sudden the brakes came in hard and we stopped. The signals were against us in the Boullerereaux-Champigny area, 27km (16miles) from Paris Est. We were stopped for a fair while. There was also a pair of electric locos running light just in front of us to get out of the way too. (Perhaps the same person as on the first day was desperate to get hold of some electrics again ?)

Once underway again we got a good run, unchecked, arriving a few minutes down but considering the late running earlier in the run this was a superb performance. 231G558 had done us proud over the route from Mulhouse and had more than made up for the problems on the run out to Strasbourg.

Journey's end. 231G558 back at Paris after an excellent performance over the 490km (304miles) from Mulhouse. June 1 2003

Journey's end. 231G558 back at Paris Est after an excellent performance over the 490km (304miles) from Mulhouse. June 1 2003

One final shot of 231G558 (for now !) A SNCF Western region pacific at Paris Est - not a normal event at any time and certainly not in the twenty first century. June 1 2003

One final shot of 231G558 (for now !) A SNCF Western region pacific at Paris Est - not a normal event at any time and certainly not in the twenty first century. June 1 2003

Having bid fair well to the 231G588 we made our way the short distance back up to the Mercure Gare de l'Est, where this time we had room 116. This had much the same view as room 110 ! Essentially the trip was now over. After a meal we got sorted out for the trip back to the UK on Eurostar.

Click here to go on to the last day of the trip.

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