As Timothy and I have a yearly tradition of having a grand rail adventure together, this year we were supposed to make a trip covering parts of France, Andorra, Monaco, Italy and Switzerland. Unfortunately due to circumstances Timothy was unable to travel and I was off for my first trip alone ever. The first day of travel would bring me from my Homebase in Antwerp towards the southern French city of Toulouse, with the obligatory cross-Paris transfer.
Antwerpen Centraal 10:33 to Paris Gare du Nord 12:35
Travel time 2 hours and 2 minutes
Thalys PBA 4538
Delivered in 1995-1996, originally one of the SNCF (French Railways) owned sets before being transferred to THI Factory
The first part was a not so exotic Thalys train ride from Antwerp Central Station towards Paris Gare du Nord, this train was run with one of their “older” PBA (Paris – Brussels – Amsterdam) sets, not capable of running on their German branch. We left Antwerp over the line 25 (which was the first railway line on the European Continent, opened in 1835) via Mechelen after which we joined the new 25N line in the median of the E19/A1 motorway before joining the infamous Brussels North-South connection at Brussels North. After a Brief stop at Brussels South to pick up some more passengers the train then started it’s true highspeed run after leaving line 96N in Halle to accelerate up to 300 km/h over the Line 1 towards the French Border and following the LGV Nord all the way across northern France towards Paris North station. During our ride from Brussels to Paris I was served a savoury snack as part of the service in Premium.
After the Thalys dropped us of at the most remote platform of Paris North station, I then used Metro Line 5 to cross Paris towards Paris-Austerlitz from where my next train would leave. Line 5 is operated by some modern Air-conditioned rolling stock, with visual and audio announcements. The Metro station in Austerlitz is located in the main station building, but you still have to exit towards the street and enter the building again at the “Grandes Lignes” entrance for mainline train services. The station consists of 2 main parts, the old train shed which was currently under a complete renovation and some newer semi-underground platforms. Despite the work the station was undergoing there were still plenty of shops available as well as a few nicely appointed waiting areas. As this is a station with relatively few departures it was nice and quiet to wait at, quite a difference compared to other Paris terminus stations.
Paris Austerlitz 14:35 to Toulouse-Matabiau 21:20
Travel time 6 hours and 45 minutes
Electric locomotive “Sybic” pulling “Corail” coaches
The train left from one of the “old” tracks in the historic train shed and after making our way through the construction area at the head end of the platform we could see our train all lined up and ready to board. As I was lucky to be seated in coach number 5 I did not have to walk far along the platform to my coach, people seated in coach 18 in the front of the train had quite a trek ahead however.
The coaches of this train where of the “Corail” type, first introduced by SNCF in the 1970’s they were the first passenger coaches fully equipped with air-conditioning in both first and second class and where such a revolutionary design that many modern European coaches are still based on this design (Like the Belgian I11 coaches) . As from the 1980’s onwards France started to introduce the TGV seta as their new pride and glory the Corail coaches where pushed away from the prestigious mainline services they were originally built for and often used in local services as well as the remaining few classic long-distance rail services across France. As this Paris to Toulouse trip is one the last few real long distance services they are still used on they received a thorough refurbishment in the early 2000’s and where equipped with a completely new interior design in the so called “Teoz” style. I found the redesign very pleasing and the seats to be more comfortable for a long ride then in some TGV sets…
Our route would be following the tracks of the historic “Le Capitole” train, the First train in France to run at 200 kph in commercial service. We left the centre of Paris along the mainline towards the Southwest, during the first few kilometres we were clearly running in the suburbs of Paris with local all station stopping services handled by the RER-C line. Once we cleared the urban sprawl we sped towards Orleans, passing by Bretigny (the spot of the rail accident), the landscape here being quite flat and boring. A bit before reaching the Orleans area we could spot the remains of the former Aerotrain test tracks, still being intact over most it’s length.
After our stop at Les Aubrais (For Orleans) we continued our route towards Limoges, running at 200 kph for some stretches. The landscape towards Limoges got a bit more interesting as it was getting hillier. Up to now the train had been filled quite nicely, with barely any open seats left. However only after leaving the imposing station of Limoges Benedictins did the ride become really scenic, twisting and turning through the hills of central France and stopping at some very remote stations.
In the meantime it also became much quieter in the train, giving all passengers some space to breathe and stretch out. Unfortunately it got dark for the last stretch so for the last hour of the trip there wasn’t much left to see and I was very much pleased to be arriving in Toulouse and head for my hotel for the Night, The Crowne Plaza Toulouse.