Light railcars for normal, low-traffic lanes

Light railcars for normal, low-traffic lanes

By M. ZENS, Director of the Cie des Chemins de Fer départementaux published in the Industrie des Voies Ferrées et Transports Automobiles - September 1947

"The issue of rural transport is one of the most important problems for our country as a whole, so it seems necessary that the operators of railways serving rural communities should improve the means of passenger transport on these lines. »

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A solution for integrating rural areas into city centres

In a country like France, the population distribution is in dangerous imbalance and the main reason for the desertion of the countryside is its isolation; the conurbations in France are too large for the country's population density. It is therefore important that public authorities seek to reduce the distances that isolate rural dwellers from centres of commercial and cultural activity even if it were to cost them, in the same spirit that Municipalities light the streets of their cities to maintain the activity of city dwellers.

We therefore believe that public authorities, whether State or Local Governments, while being concerned to balance the expenditure on public transport passenger services with revenues, should seek to keep fares on the short lines as low as possible, while increasing the facilities given.

The most appreciated facility is certainly the frequency. Consequently, they should seek first, if necessary by way of authority, to eliminate duplication , because if they increase frequency, they are still competing with each other under conditions that are costly to the community.

Before the war, this competition came from "independent" public services and the effective remedy was coordination. But we believe that the strongest competition in the future will be private competition from private cars.

Public versus private transport

There should be no question of bullying their users by artificially raising the price of private transport . It would be a grave mistake to believe that a car owner died for the railways, because one can own a kitchen stove and go to a restaurant.

The owner of a motor vehicle will always use his car when there is no public service, or when it does not have certain advantages. However, we believe that the public transit service can retain sufficient advantages such as: price, speed, no worries, comfort, safety, convenience.

We believe that it is in the national interest that motorists use their vehicles as little as possible, and especially for pleasure, because pleasure, we believe, is also in the national interest.

If the car owner is required to travel a certain distance to catch a train to a main line, it is very likely that he or she will prefer to remain in the car until the destination point. The answer to this is that instead of the "small train", a "coordinated" coach will be made available to take him to the main line. We believe that this coach inspires relative confidence in this most difficult category of customers, both in terms of its regularity, comfort and the possibility of carrying luggage. It makes it necessary to carry out a difficult transfer at the departure station.

Resumption and continuity of proposals made in the past

Seventy years ago, France made a greater financial effort than other nations to equip the countryside with a railway network. This railway network, as a whole, in good condition of maintenance, is used for the service of goods; why not use it also for the service of passengers?

To date, the Senior Administration has suggested that a coach is much less expensive than passenger rail operations. It has therefore very often put forward particularly low figures for buses and particularly high figures for steam trains or railcars.

The reason why she did not mention the fact that it was possible to operate with economical railcars was that the conditions under which the coordination took place made it necessary for her to make sacrifices.

Unable to find sufficient support from the Government to be removed by authority from its road competitors, it was obliged to "sacrifice" these short lines, which it gave up as compensation to its competitors by giving them exclusive rights to carry passengers.

Buses vs. Railcars

This is certainly why the major networks have always concealed from the public the remedies for the financial situation of the smaller lines by estimating a pre-war price of train-km, steam between 10 and 20 francs, additional track maintenance of 7 to 10,000 francs per kilometre and by claiming that a bus only cost 2 to 3 francs per kilometre. The representatives of the populations were discouraged as they were not sufficiently "technical" to respond with a solid argument.

We are convinced that a bus will cost less than a railcar to carry out the same journey with a certain number of passengers. The engineers know perfectly well that the rolling coefficient of the railcar is 3 to 5 times less than that of the bus. The rail being traced like an autostrade (curves with large radii, very low ramps) allows, with the same power, to transport, at the same speed, the triple of load.

They also know that rail is less tiring on equipment than roads, and this is especially true for local roads.

11 as a result, a railcar with twice the practical capacity of a bus costs per kilometre only 3/5 of that bus.

It is easy to conclude that, for the same expenditure, it is possible to replace the 3 daily return trips of a bus line by 5 higher-capacity railcars with a commercial speed higher than that of the bus Since these 5 trips give a higher revenue, it seems possible, without additional deficit, to do even more, since the additional railcar kilometres made have a lower cost price than the basic ones, all the overheads having already been incurred.

The construction of prototype light railcars

In order to carry out this programme and to make normal secondary tracks available to operations, the Departmental Railway Company had prototypes of light railcars built in 1945, with an extremely low cost price per kilometre.

A first remark must be made: although these railcars are light, about 8 tons, it should not be inferred that they are fragile, as all the components have been specially designed for use on the railway, the low total weight being achieved above all by extreme simplicity.

Their dimensions have been determined by the constant concern to surpass those given by buses, which makes it possible to respond in advance to any criticisms that might be made. Buses used on local routes generally have no more than 30 seats, so the railcar was given a capacity of 30 to 35 seats.

Because these seats are larger, with greater clearances, the interior height of the vehicle allows room for fairly large items of luggage.

The small railcar will therefore be much more popular than the bus it replaces. In addition, platforms allow about 30 short-haul passengers to find a relatively comfortable seat, doubling the load capacity of the vehicle compared to the bus, and safety remains constant. As on buses, a luggage rack allows for the placement of bulky packages, including bicycles that cannot be conveniently placed in a luggage compartment, where they become entangled.

The decision to abolish the accompaniment agent in the off-peak services

Moreover, it appeared to the Departmental Railways that in order to achieve the goal sought with this equipment, it was necessary to be able to eliminate the accompanying agent in the hollow services. It would indeed be abnormal, whereas the truckers, for the great majority of their services, have only one agent who ensures the driving and the collection of the receipts, that on the railway, where the driving is infinitely less tiring, it would not be the same.

At a time when, quite rightly, the aim is to give railway agents as much purchasing power as possible, it would seem counterproductive to make it compulsory to use two agents, one of whom would only be responsible for opening and closing the doors of the railcar in the stations.

In the C.F.D. model, 4 flap doors are operated by compressed air at the wattman's discretion from the driver's seat.

These small railcars being intended for short lines will be obliged to make shuttles, and very often to make them quickly to pick up passengers' transits.

It is therefore important that each end be provided with an operator's station, and that the visibility from each of the operator's stations be as great as possible.


Indeed, the only criticism that can be made of the intensive use of secondary railways is the extra cost of guarding . It is therefore important that the driver of the vehicle can, as in a tramway, drive through unguarded level crossings on sight and monitor the layout of the switches and crossings himself in the station entrances.

On the other hand, any idea of towing should, in principle, be excluded. The towing service, which requires long and tiring manoeuvres at each change of direction, makes this service lose its character of great flexibility and simplicity.

Double and even triple towing, on the other hand, are extremely easy, and properly placed optical signals ensure that each wattmen has the right response.

Numerous tests in this respect have shown that, in practice, the safety of three cars attached together is of the same nature as that of a single vehicle and that it is easy and quick to decouple them, thus making it possible to adapt frequency and capacity with little equipment and staff whose performance will allow for adequate remuneration.

Towing is also a cause of fatigue for the engine components, and is of such a nature as to require an expensive and cumbersome reserve of power which destroys the economy of the operation, since it is only used from time to time.

If towing were frequent, this would prove that the line is not low-traffic and deserves a higher category of railcar equipment.

Description of the light railcars

The departmental railways' normal gauge light rail coach (Figs. 1 to 4) has an extremely strong steel girder body which provides maximum protection for passengers in the event of an accident; it allows the most considerable overloads, and experience has shown that girder bodies of the same type are in perfect condition after 15 years of service.

In order to give the central corridor a large width, only four seats are provided at the front, which makes these seats significantly larger than those of coaches or even normal gauge railcars with five seats at the front.

General plan
General plan

Very large all-metal luggage racks allow travellers to put on very large suitcases in very large numbers without having to part with them.

The entrance for passengers is provided on the wattman's side, sometimes on the right and sometimes on the left, depending on the station layout. The wattman is positioned in such a way that he can easily dispense tickets if, as indicated for low-traffic routes, he is instructed to do so, as on buses by means of a ticket machine.

Passengers exit through one of the two rear doors operated by the wattman using compressed air.

There is no provision for a toilet. There are none on trams or buses. There are none in the metro, nor on the trains, nor even in the stations, practice shows that on short lines, it is a waste of space, an unnecessary weight and ... smelly.

The engine block is located at the end of the vehicle
The engine block is located at the end of the vehicle

These vehicles have two axles, highly flexible suspension, 850 mm. monobloc wheels, which can easily be replaced by elastic wheels of the same diameter.

Brakes: compressed air railway type, 4 cast iron shoes.

A transmission is mechanical.

One axle is driven and has a spiral bevel gear. The gearbox is extremely robust and has five graduations, four of which are synchronised, and a power shuttle.

The engine block is a Panhard Diesel 4 H L, running at 2000 rpm, 4 cylinders 110 x 150, giving 80 HP; it is placed across the railcar, so as to reduce the lost space as much as possible.

Located at the end of the vehicle, it can be "lowered" and replaced by an overhauled engine in an extremely short time.

Generally speaking, the entire mechanical assembly is easy to replace, reducing the immobilisation of the bodies as much as possible.

The simplicity of this equipment, which uses similar or identical components to those of coaches, means that its low fatigue on the track and its higher commercial speed make it suitable for intensive use.

The result of this intensive use is a very low price per kilometre , which is why in May 1946 the Departmental Railways accepted a fixed price per kilometre amounting to only 2/3 of the price per kilometre of a similar coach at the same time.

Only in the present state of affairs is the construction price significantly higher, but this is only due to the small amount of machinery that has been produced to date. It can be argued that a "series", justified by the importance of the secondary low-traffic network which deserves to be equipped with them, could be built at prices equivalent to a similar series of coaches.

Interior view
Interior view

source : Excerpt from the Railway and Motor Transport Industry ? September 1947

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