When down in the south of France, I also made a tour on what is named “Le Train Jaune” (The Yellow Train) in the Pyrenees area. This spectacular line raises from 427m (1400 ft) at Villfranche-de-Conflent to 1492 m (4895 ft) at Bolquère-Eyne (the highest French railway station), before going slightly downhill to (almost) reach the Spanish border at Latour-de Carol. The line opened in 1909-10, already then electrified (by a third rail). Some of the original units are still in operation. The gauge is different from the “standard”. The total length of the line is 63 km (39 miles). There are some 19 tunnels and a large number of spectacular bridges, including the Viaduc Séjourné and the suspension bridge Pont Gisclard.
Today the roads in the area are quite good and the train is rather a tourist attraction. I joined it (back and forth) only for the more spectacular part from Villefranche to Odeillo-Font Romeu, a well-known ski resort, close to the highest point. The trip (one-way), some 38 km (24 miles), takes about 1 hour 50 minutes = some 25 km/hour (15 miles/hour). It’s slow, but that’s good – you have the time to watch.
Sitting in the train, it’s hardly possible to take any good photos of the spectacular bridges, so I “stole” two from Wikipedia.
The starting point is thus Villefranche-de-Conflent, a Unesco World Heritage site, completely circled by walls from the 17th century (Vauban), when the area became French.
Climbing the valleys and mountains…
… you reach the top (Bolquère-Eyne) and a broad high valley, the little village Odeillo and the close-by Font-Romeu, which was developed to a major resort in the 1920’s. Today it’s especially popular for skiing and is also a place where sport teams – athletics, soccer, rugby… - make altitude training.
The little village Odeillo is especially known for its solar furnace from 1970 – the world’s largest (?). The temperature at the central point can reach 3,500 °C (6,330 °F). It’s generating one megawatt. (The largest nuclear power stations produce 5 or 6,000 times more.)
The flora is different when you reach a little altitude.