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Menton to Sospel Tramway

2621 Views 5 Replies 4 Participants Last post by  Roger Farnworth
I have to confess that as an inveterate modeller of the UK railway scene, I have tended to disregard the the Continent as a source of inspiration. I know that everyone is entitled to their own opinion and we must not criticise anothers layout, it is after all their own 'thing' and the important factor is that they have built it as an expression of their own particular special interest. If I had seen more foreign steam as a youth things may have been different.

One sort of layout that has consistently failed to turn on my interest is the narrow gauge layout that climbs mountain sides with sharply curving tracks leaving tunnels and spanning chasms before popping back into the mountain side, only to reappear yet again at another level and carry out a further improbable contortion. Little trains disappear into tunnels and the trick is to guess where they will appear next. Well I thought it never was like that. You would need a lot more space to build a realistic model. If somewhere I could find a prototype where a little narrow gauge train came directly out of a tunnel on a mountain side, onto a really tightly curving high viaduct, which looped back onto itself and disappeared back into the mountain, I might have believed it. Perhaps I should have looked a bit harder, because now I have found one.

Driving up the steep road from Menton to Sospel in the south of France last week I was amazed to see an intact viaduct doing just that. There were vestiges of an old railway still visible as you drive up the valley, and at the summit the northbound carriageway has been diverted through an old single bore railway tunnel 800 metres long, with a new single lane bore next to it. What was the economic case for a railway, I wondered, that could have demanded such huge expenditure on engineering miracles? In a country like ours such out-pourings of wealth on local schemes could never have been justified. Linking Menton and Sospel must have been justified somehow. But what did they run on it....trams. Trams! Four passenger trams a day each way and some goods, no surely not?

Well they did, and if you don't believe me here is the proof:

That viaduct was built in 1913 and the tramway closed in 1932. So well was it built that it is still standing and the tunnel is in constant use by road traffic. If you are ever in the area, take the D2566 north out of Menton.

I shall have to try to be a bit more imaginative in future.

Louis Heath
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I have done some more research on the Sospel Area and I find that there was a series of Maginot Line Forts built along the French/Italian Border. Clearly better transportation for bringing in fresh troops and ammunition would have been a good reason for central government to fund a new railway into the area. At that time the Nice to Cuneo railway had not been built and so their transport options into that mountainous area would have been very limited.

It seems that some of the Maginot forts are intact and accessible, complete with weaponry in some cases, and one is officially open to the public.

Louis Heath
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