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HISTORY OF FRANCH RAILWAYS

France became one of the first countries in the world to study the adoption of steam power as a prime mover for industrial fuels when, in 1818, M. de Gallois, a government surveyor of mines, visited Great Britain to witness the successful operation of steam locomotives at the Middleton Colliery in Leeds. Upon his return to France, he prepared a report which led to the eventual building of the first French railway, an 18 kilometer line from Saint-Etienne to Andrezieux, which began construction in 1823 and was opened in 1827. However, for the first twenty years horses were used as motive power and it was not until much later that actual steam powered locomotives were introduced into service.

By 1835, many railway lines were beginning to be constructed however, there was no systematic organization until M. Legrand was charged with the responsibility of organizing the country's railway system. He conceived and brought into existence the "star formed" railway net with its center in Paris. Piece by piece, his plan was realized; first with a line from Paris to Lille and Valenciennes in 1846; to Le Havre in 1847; to Boulogne, Dunkerque with connections to England and Belgium in 1848; to Forbach with connections to Germany in 1852; to Bagneres de Luchon in 1873. In the early days, both private and public ownership of the railways had their proponents but after the coup d'Etat, by Napoleon III in 1851, the government grouped the railways into six large financially strong private companies; NORD, EST, OUEST, PARIS-LYON-MEDITERANEES, MIDI, and the PARIS-ORLEANS. Later the MIDI was merged with the PARIS-ORLEANS company. These five rail-ways, which were independently managed and used their own uniformed liveries on their trains as shown in the table, opened the famous Ceinture", (Loop), lines in Paris from 1852 to 1856. The French government operated the ETAT line.

The war between France and Prussia, from 1870 to 1871, resulted in the Alsace-Lorraine line being taken over by Germany but after the end of WW I, the Alsace-Lorraine region was returned to France and the AL railways were operated by the French government.
During the WW 1 years 1917/1918, US and Canadian 2-8-0 CONSOLIDATION Class locomotives were supplied to France and became their most widely used locomotives.

Because of financial problems, the government decided to nationalize the private companies in 1937 and formed the Societe Nationale des Chemin de fer Francois, (SNCF). In 1939, there were 550,000 French railwaymen essentially creating a separate society within a society. They lived by their own strict rules of conduct, which were much more stringent than those of society in general, and made great strides in improving the efficiency and safety of their railways.

During WW , the rail network in France was almost totally destroyed; only 6000 locomotives survived out of a total of 16400 which had existed at the war's beginning. The Marshall Plan included the importation of many 2-8-2 MIKADO type locomotives, known as SNCF 141R, into France from both the US and Canada for use in mixed traffic. These locomotives helped to rebuild the French nation back to its glory from the ashes of WW.

During the early part of the 19th Century, there was much theoretical work being done in France in regards both thermodynamics and strength of materials which proved to be of great importance to locomotive designers. In particular, the work of N.L.S. Carnot and B. de St.Venant should be cited as providing a theoretical basis for improvements in the configuration of cylinders and boilers; Carnot for formulating, in 1824, what was to eventually become known as the Second Law of Thermodynamics and St.Venant for his methods of structural analysis which led to safer and more efficient boiler and running gear design. Much earlier, French engineer Denis Papin had con figured the internal fired boiler and developed the safety valve. The steam injector was invented by Henri Giffard in 1858 while a successful steam brake was developed by Le Chatelier in 1876. The development of a powerful, reliable braking system was of particular importance to the railways as it permitted train speeds to be significantly increased. The pioneers of locomotive compounding were also French; Anatole Mallet first put his theoretical studies to the test on a small compound tank locomotive in 1875 and after he successfully demonstrated the increased efficiency, the compound articulated locomotives which were eventually developed were known as MALLETS. Alfred de Glehn, developed the four cylinder compound in 1886. After the significant improvements in the reduction of fuel consumption were realized from his system, the de Glehn compound configuration became the main stay of new French locomotive design since France did not have large coal reserves. This was in marked contrast to the situation in both Great Britain and America where coal and oil reserves were large. The
great thermodynamic engineer Andre Chapelon developed the compound locomotive concept to its highest level. His research, modifications and documentation of results of improvements to compound steam locomotives had great influence on the world of steam locomotive design since this was the first time that extensive theoretical studies were backed up by extensive experiments and shown to be correct. His compound locomotives are considered to be the best which have ever been produced by any nation in the sense that they delivered the maximum power for the minimum amount of fuel.

His SNCF 240P Class were the equal, in efficiency, to any diesel locomotives of the time.

Thus, France led the world in steam locomotive development and was the last country which continued to develop and operate compound locomotives.

Today, the French railways are among the most modern in the world. In 1960, they consisted of about 40000 kilometers of rail of which 20 percent was electrified. This has increased considerably since that time.

Paris still remains the center of the French railway system and is the primary connection point for the five regions which now make up the system each of which is numbered as shown on the map. Each locomotive carries the number of the region on which it operates at the right edge of its buffer beam and the names given to the trains testify to their importance such as the MISTRAL, running through the Rhone Valley to Paris, the BLUE TRAIN and the ORIENT EXPRESS running from Paris to Strassbourg to Budapest. However, operations are not limited to famous trains operating between large cities since scheduled service is available to the most remote parts of the country.

The French nation is justifiably proud of their national railway system and today operate the fastest passenger trains in the world. Known as the TGV, (Tres Grande Vitesse), these trains reach speeds of 300km per hour during normal operations and are testimonials to the genius of French industry.

map-france

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