© Geoff’s Rail Diaries 2012
We’d booked a holiday in France - nothing too
energetic, a comfortable 80 miles south of Calais, in a
gite roughly half-way between Abbeville and Saint-
Valery-sur-Somme. The latter is noteworthy for being
William the Conqueror’s departure point for Hastings in
1066 - and home of the largely metre-gauge Chemin de
Fer de la Baie de Somme - the Somme Bay Railway, in
Given that we were less than 5 miles from the railway, which
runs every day, we were able to see at least some activity most
days - in addition to the two days on which we took a ride.
The CFBS is the oldest part, and surviving part, of the Réseau
des Bains de Mer. It extends from Le Crotoy, on the north side of
the bay, via Noyelles-sur-Mer (which isn’t...), to St Valery. Here,
the line continues from St Valery Ville to Cayeux-sur-Mer, whilst
a short branch extends to St Valery Quay (or “Port”) - the
terminus of most trains from Le Crotoy.
The expression “largely metre-gauge” may have puzzled some
readers. Metre-gauge trains can run the whole length of the line
- but the line is mixed gauge from Noyelles to St Valery
Quay, and the railway possesses a small amount of
standard gauge stock. In 2009, the Kent and East Sussex
Railway’s P class 0-6-0T no. 753 visited - and ran between
St Valery and Noyelles.
This line probably has more termini that any other
preserved railway! The obvious limits of the line are Le
Crotoy and Cayeux-su-Mer - but the station at Noyelles,
junction with SNCF. forms the stem of a “Y” - all trains must
stop and reverse here! St Valery Quay is also a terminus.
Our first sight of the railway came on the Saturday - we had
driven to St Valery for some essential provisions, but would
check out the railway too, to get our bearings for the following
day’s outing. Our first encounter was the modern bridge across
the canalised Somme - my wife takes pride in the fact the she
was the first to spot the train - there it was, on the quay, ready
to depart behind ex-Reseau Breton 4-6-0T no. E332. Duly
recorded, we made our way to St Valery Ville - just in time to
see 2-6-0T no. 15 depart with a train to Cayeux. An excellent
start to our holiday...
Sunday - a ride to Cayeux
The whole network is in use throughout July and August - but
outside that peak period, the line from St Valery Ville to
Cayeux-sur-Mer sees more limited use - a diesel-hauled train
on Sundays being the standard model, though there are days
when steam operates (the previous day being one such...).
We also intended to visit the Froissy - Cappy - Dompierre
railway - “Le P’tit Train de la Haute Somme” - which only
operates on Sundays at this time of year. It’s going to be a
We arrived at the station in plenty of time
- to see a short train arrive from Cayeux
(couldn’t see it on the timetable
leaflet...) - two four-wheeled coaches
hauled by a diminutive German-built 4-
wheeled diesel, no 2. Would this form our
train? Apparently not - a rather quaint-
looking 0-6-0 diesel, no 351, clanked across the bridge hauling a
van and three rather nice wooden coaches. With wooden seats...
Built in 1951, the locomotive is only slightly older than no 2
(1953), and saw service on the pre-preservation Baie de Somme
The ride to Cayeux is pleasant (what a lot
of level crossings!) - the train climbs
gently from St Valery, before descending
gradually through open farm land to the
intermediate station of Lanchères - Pendé.
We now traverse low-lying land, with
numerous drainage ditches and water
birds, before arriving at our destination -
“sur-Mer”, though we can’t see the sea from the station, and
there isn’t time to go looking for it...
The run-round is completed efficiently, and we’re away again
behind the growling and rumbling diesel, back to St Valery in
plenty of time for lunch and the drive out to the Haute
The off-peak weekday timetable consists of two out-and-back
trips from Le Crotoy to St Valery. With lazy mornings planned,
I was able to take a look at the the train before lunch, with
activities elsewhere for the remainder of the day. On Monday,
a shopping trip to St Valery provided an opportunity to look
at operations on the quay (”St Valery Port” in the timetable),
where a modern electrically-operated turntable enables
locomotives to turn and run round their trains.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, a visit to Noyelles would fit the bill.
There’s a turntable here, too - an old manual job
- but the crews didn’t seem inclined to use it. On
arriving at Noyelles on Tuesday - while I was
parking the car - a lengthy freight (stone
empties?) hurried through on the main line -
hauled by EWS 66033. Not quite what I was
expecting to see! I did manage a shot of a passing
passenger - loco-hauled, I’m guessing a Boulogne
- Paris train.
On Wednesday, we’d driven beside the line on our way to
Noyelles from St Valery - there might be a reasonable photo with
a pool in the foreground. Yes, there might, but the train got
there more quickly than I’d expected - so instead of the pool,
there’s a flock of sheep...
Lunch in Le Crotoy
The morning train from St Valery arrives at Le Crotoy at
1.00pm. Everything then stops until 3.30pm - the afternoon
trip. That would leave us with 2½ hours - just right for a
leisurely lunch (which was inexpensive and excellent).
The weekday service had been in the hands of a little red 2-6-0T,
no 1 “Aisne”. Presumably it would haul our train today? Tickets
in hand, we made our way from St
Valery Ville to the quayside to
await our train. “Is that it?” A
train made its way cautiously over
the bridge - “looks like no E332 -
the one we saw on Saturday”. It
was, hauling a short rake of
wooden-bodied coaches. not the
stock we’d been seeing all week.
To the consternation of (some)
passengers waiting on the quay, it pulled into the Cayeux side of
Ville station, and ran round. What’s going on? We didn’t need to
worry for long. Shortly, “Aisne” appeared with the familar rake
of coaches, trundled through the north side of Ville station and
pulled up on the quayside.
We took our seats in a relatively modern bogie coach, ex-
Switzerland, and had a pleasant run to Noyelles. There was time
to get out here for a photo or two, to see “Aisne” turned on that
little turntable - and to see E332 entering the station with its
special train. Definitely special - the tables in the coach which
stopped opposite ours were laid with glasses of champagne.
We were soon on our way to Le
Crotoy. I’ve no idea what the
special did after that. Lunch
eaten, we made our way back to
Le Crotoy station, where it was
evident that the train would soon
be full - we jumped on
immediately behind the
locomotive, in a little 4-wheeled
saloon - to be treated to a driver’s eye view of the run back to
Noyelles (our deafness from the frequent use of the whistle -
lots of level crossings again - proved to be temporary)
The railway’s works and running shed are located across the tracks from the former
station at St Valery Canal. Once or twice during the week, I’d noticed clouds of smoke
and steam rising through the trees, and wondered what was going on. Today’s trip had
taken us through the site - I’d better go and have a look.
I found an assortment of railway personnel at the old station, and began to ask, in
shamefully-poor French, if I could visit the works and depot to take a photo or two.
Long before I’d managed to get the words out, I was interrupted with the question
“Anglais?” “Oui” “No problème”. Merci beaucoup. No ‘elf and safety excuses here...
Not that I’ve any immediate plans to return - but who knows? This is definitely a railway that
would be worth another visit, perhaps when some of those other interesting locos are in action.
It’s Friday - our last look at “Aisne”, beside that roadside pool, a view that sums up so much
about the atmosphere of this superb little line.
Link: CF Baie de Somme official website