Le Tramway du Mont Blanc
Articles, Blog

Le Tramway du Mont Blanc

October 12, 2019

Some entrepreneurs of the last century dreamed about reaching the top of Mont Blanc on board a tram and they built the TMB line. Even though the first World War put an end to this adventure by limiting the line to the Saint-Gervais le Fayet – Le Nid d’Aigle section, it is still operated nowadays and Savoyard model makers reproduced it using the 0 scale. Welcome to Aiguillages! The Mont Blanc Tramway climbs the famous mountain from Saint Gervais Le Fayet in Haute-Savoie, near the SNCF station. It reaches almost 2,000 meters in altitude in a bit more than 12 kilometers. It’s the highest railway of France. It is powered by electricity and its metric line has a rack and pinion as ramps reach up to 24% in some sections. Of course, this spectacular line inspired model makers who wanted to represent it. Members of the Amicale du Petit Train d’Anemasse-Sixt, in Viuz en Sallaz, about 40 kilometers from there, created a layout to represent it. As they wanted to recreate the differences in height, this layout starts from the floor and reaches the ceiling, which is rather unique among all the existing railway models. Of course, some concessions had to be made and dimensions had to be reduced so that the layout could fit in exhibition halls and in the club’s premises, but most of it was represented the way it is in real life using the 1:43 scale. Choosing the 0 scale affected the size of the layout and makes spectators feel like they’re in front of an incredible landscape, or even better, like they’re walking along the tracks and they’re part of the landscape like a tourist on a hiking trail. Strangely, this project did not start from the idea of reproducing this emblematic line but from building models of 3 trains operating on this line. We started from original frames made of resin and we assembled them then we painted them and we thought it would be nice to make a layout, so after a year of trials we found materials and we started working to make this beautiful layout. This project started from the model trains, if we hadn’t gotten these 3 original frames, we wouldn’t have made this layout. It took us 3 years to assemble the layout including the sceneries, the trains, etc., but setting up the rack and pinion took us a whole year of work. On the layout you can see, this rack and pinion system works both on the rails and on the trains and it was the only way it could work as if there wasn’t the rack and pinion, it wouldn’t be possible to climb, some ramps are up to 53% in a very short distance like in real life on the TMB so it was the only way to climb. The layout is made of 9 modules of 1.5 meters, every junction of every module had to match the rack and pinion that is on the trains. These trains are the ones that were used starting the end of the 50s after the line was electrified and that are still carrying passengers nowadays. They each have a feminine name. Anne is blue and yellow, you can’t see it on the layout, Jeanne is burgundy, it just arrived, Marie is painted like in the 60s with cream and red, now Marie is blue, Anne is green and Jeanne that you can see on the layout is burgundy like in real life. These names come from the engineer who invented these trains: he had 3 daughters called Anne, Jeanne and Marie, which is why he chose these names for the trains when they were first operated in the 60s. Now the same 3 trains are operating with a small diesel train for works. Many engineers and businessmen dreamed about reaching the Mont-Blanc on board a vehicle at the end of the 19th century. Several projects were considered. A funicular would have operated in a trench under the glaciers, or a railway would have served an elevator leading to the summit. They also thought about building railways from Chamonix, Houches or Saint-Gervais. In the end, they chose the idea of Henri Duportal, retired from the Corps of Bridges. He wanted to operate an electricity powered tram from Le Fayet via Saint-Gervais, the Voza col and the Goûter needle. He wanted the route to face the south as snow melts faster on this side of the moutain. They called it ‘tramway’ and applied for a concession as it was supposed to use a departmental road and a rural road between Le Fayet and Saint-Gervais. The works started in 1905. Until the line was electrified, 2 steam engines carried materials. The first section leading to the Voza col opened to the public is 1909. Works were very expensive and even though many tourists came, the company got caught in a tough financial situation. The electrification of the line was postponed. On August 1st, 1913, the line got a new terminus at Nid d’Aigle. But a year later in 1914, on August 2nd, mobilization was decreed. This event marks the end of the tourist operations in the Mont Blanc. There were other priorities. Between the 2 wars, operations started again little by little. As cable cars appeared as potential competitors, the directors considered the modernization and thus the electrification of the line. But as the financial situation of the company was still very difficult, these projects did not get completed. They were only achieved in the 50s. Pierre Nourry, a manufacturer from Lille bought the Volza col hotel and invested in the company operating the Mont-Blanc Tramway to fill it up. He even took over most of its shares. Thanks to this capital increase, works started to electrify the line and 3 electricity powered trains were ordered. They were called Anne, Marie and Jeanne. They still operate nowadays and their route is reproduced on the Club Des Amis du Chemin de Fer d’Anemasse-Sixt layout. This layout works like in reality: each train driver has radio communication, we have an electronic system which means that trains at Nid d’Aigle when driving down always wait at the Volza col for trains coming from Saint-Gervais to climb, this way they can meet and avoid collisions, it works the same way. The line was built starting 1892, it was operated by steam engines until 1952 and then a bit until the 60s and it was a big challenge as at first they wanted to connect Saint-Gervais to the Mont-Blanc summit which would have been a fantastic achievement, I think they could have succeded but unfortunately the war in 1914 put an end to works These works could start again soon, not to reach the Mont-Blanc but to make operations easier. The company has been thinking about this project for a while: reaching a flat area to build a new terminus. This would add 300 meters of track and could lead the creators of this layout to get back to work. We’re thinking about it, we already have 9 modules of 1.5 m with the Nid d’Aigle at the one end and now the Mont-Blanc company decided to add 300 m of track to reach a flat area. We’re patiently waiting for these works to be done, it’s a matter of budget and finances but I think that once it’s done we’ll add a module to our layout to get a flat area and I think our job will be completed, we’ll share that with the public. Soon the Mont-Blanc Tramway will get an extra 300 meters of tracks to get closer to the summit even though it won’t reach it, of course. Next week in Aiguillages I’ll take you to Mini-World Lyon once more, works have progressed well on the 4th world called ‘Mini-Lyon’, it represents the main districts of the city of lights and their most emblematic buildings that will be reproduced precisely but on a smaller scale. Thanks to all of you who made this new season of Aiguillages possible, you can also support Aiguillages by becoming a VIP Aiguillonaute: for whatever price you like, you’ll get an add-free version of all episodes of Aiguillages and you’ll be able to download them easily in high definition.


  • Reply achille vanderveken December 7, 2017 at 10:25 pm

    je suis monté en 1982 depuis les Houches jusqu'au nid d'aigle en longant la voie de cette ligne mytique, maquette superbe et bien réalisé, mais il faudrait qu'il circule moins vite, se seraot plus realiste, mais felicitation superbe realisation

  • Reply Thierry LAPLANCHE December 8, 2017 at 9:49 am

    Magnifique maquette !! Un travail titanesque !

  • Reply Alain Bachy December 8, 2017 at 10:22 am

    Bonjour à tous, merci pour vos compliments ; je prends note de votre remarque sur la vitesse des motrices je suis aussi de votre avis et je vais y remédier , —– pour voir nos autres réalisations consultez notre forum http://amispetittrain.lebonforum.com/
    un très grand merci à Thierry PUPIER
    Alain.B du club des amis du petit train de VIUZ en SALLAZ.

  • Reply jmb2bal1 December 11, 2017 at 8:39 pm

    Super souvenir de mon enfance et maquette maginifique. Une petite erreur à la 7ème minute, le TMB ne monte pas à l'aiguille du Goûter… (3863m…) mais du col de Voz jusqu'au Nid d'Aigle.

  • Reply Michel Hugonnot October 29, 2018 at 4:48 pm

    belle maquette que j'apprecie car j'ai souvent emprunte cette ligne. Deux commentaires. Si les pantographes etaient releves, ce ne serait pas plus mal, meme en ne touchant pas la catenaire et je trouve que les motrices circulent beaucoup trop vite.

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