Heritage railways provide a fascinating insight into the past, combined with the adventure of travel that brings history to life. From the steam-hauled North Yorkshire Moors Railway, which helped supply vital resources during the Industrial Revolution, to the Children's Railway of Budapest, these magical sites keep history chugging away for generations to enjoy. Yet whilst many vintage railway lines originate from the 19th century or earlier, some have more modern associations. The heritage railways of Europe were often used for hauling goods, troops and cargo in war efforts, and now serve as a reminder of none-too-distant conflicts that took place in Britain and on the Continent. In France, some of the best heritage railways preserve the memory of World War I, passing through beautiful countryside that once served as bloody battlefields. Some of the most delightful scenic and heritage railways of Europe can be found in France, winding through the landscape at a steady and relaxing pace, so for the first in our series on the heritage railways of Europe, we've chosen to focus on two French favourites: the Froissy Dompierre Light Railway in Somme and the Chemin de Fer Touristique du Rhin in Volgelsheim.
The last survivor of the trench railways from the battlefields of World War I, the Froissy Dompierre Light Railway runs on narrow-gauge tracks from Froissy to Dompierre-Becquincourt in the Somme department. Built by the French and British armies in 1915, the railway carried around 1,500 tonnes of material to the Allied front line between 1916 and 1918. Also known as the P'tit Train de la Haute Somme, the Froissy Dompierre Light Railway was used after to the war to transport food and reconstruction materials to nearby villages affected by the conflict.
Today the preserved railway travels through the exquisite scenery of the Somme Valley, past the fields, woods, rivers and ponds that dot the landscape, on a short but sweet four-mile journey. On Great Rail Journeys' tour of Arras & the Somme Battlefields, this pleasant trip provides a charming outlook on an otherwise infamous battleground, and is followed by an intriguing visit to the Wellington Caves, where Allied soldiers lived during the war.
Literally meaning "Tourist Railway of the Rhine", the Chemin de Fer Touristique is a scenic rail route that travels through some of the most enchanting countryside in the Alsatian region of France. Using steam-hauled engines from the 19th century, the journey begins at the Volgelsheim station, which was originally built in 1880, and takes passengers through the picturesque Alsatian Ried. On Great Rail Journeys' tour of Alsace and the Route des Vins, the journey then continues by boat, sailing past the beautiful Black Forest and providing excellent views of the 13th century castle at Breisach, before the return journey on the steam train.