Compare this picture with the scene on July 9th, the first day of the traditional Autorail service to Lamastre market, and it is obvious that things have changed! In fact, on the second Tuesday we waited and waited for the train to show up, together with a young couple from the campsite, who told us they would have given up if they had been the only hopefuls at Arlebosc station. Eventually, to our immense surprise, this is what hove into view!
It transpired that when the staff came to open the station at Tournon, there were already 220 people ready to board the train and emergency measures had to be deployed. Le chef instantly decided that there was only one solution and hitched the new panoramic cars to the BB404 diesel locomotive and set up off the valley. By the time they reached Arlebosc they had 250 passengers on board.
The following week we were 350 and for the last two Tuesdays the train has been at full capacity with over 500 passengers in eight cars. Within a week a new platform and temporary toilets had been built at Lamastre station to cope with the unexpected influx of visitors and overhanging branches along the line had been trimmed back to protect the passengers in the open sided carriages from nasty scratches or worse. Lamastre hardly knows what has hit it as the crowd streams over the bridge into the market and, just before twelve o’clock streams back again to the station, carrying bags of melons, baskets of saucisson, local cheeses and peaches, along with inflatable boats and fishing nets for the children to play with in the river once they get home. We have made new friends on these Tuesday excursions and frequently meet old friends who have come up the valley from Tournon, or even from further afield. There is no doubt that everyone is thrilled to have trains back on the line again.
Have a look at the great little film that Markus took of the journey from Arlebosc to Lamastre to get an idea of this fabulous experience. (Markus is concerned that you won’t click on the red text, so if you didn’t: CLICK ON THIS! )
PS. Assiduous readers of this blog will remember our initial encounter with le chef and his dalmation at the start of our adventure with the sleepers for our garden project. We have now got a measure of the gigantic engineering undertaking which he has been supervising for the past eighteen months and our admiration for him knows no bounds. He seems to be everywhere at once: driving the train, answering questions from interested passengers, topping up and turning the locomotive or giving a saucepan of water to the geraniums outside the station in Lamastre. And we are delighted to discover that his faithful (though somewhat smutty) companion is always at his side.