Transport For Members

Could France's 'forgotten département' see the return of train services?

James Harrington
James Harrington - [email protected]
Could France's 'forgotten département' see the return of train services?
A TER train in rural France (Photo by GAIZKA IROZ / AFP)

No passenger trains have stopped in one département of south-east France since August 1973. But could rail services soon return?


In the south-eastern French département of Ardèche, only heritage steam trains – such as the Train de l’Ardèche between Tournon-sur-Rhône and Lamastre – pick up passengers.

The last services in the entire département - now home to over 325,000 people - were halted in August 1973. Since then it has claimed the title as the only French département without passenger rail services.

But that does not mean passenger trains to not run on Ardèche railway lines - they simply do not stop between the Gard and Drôme stations in Valence and Romans-sur-Isère. Since August 2022, TERs have served stations in Gard, which had been abandoned since 1973.

And there once were many secondary line routes, but these days they have been made into green routes for walkers and cyclists, unlikely to be ever reclaimed for their original use.

Why is Ardèche without a passenger train service?

It has to do with the motorway - in 1973, the final stage of the Autoroute du Sud was complete, allowing motorists to drive from Paris to the Mediterranean. Rail travel came to be regarded as “old fashioned”.

As such, French national rail services, SNCF, at the time chose to scrap many local lines in favour of developing freight transport, meaning the tracks in the département did not go completely silent.


However, freight numbers have been dwindling. 20 years ago, 150 freight trains travelled across the département, compared with only 40 today.

Residents are increasingly desperate for passenger trains to return to the lines that are left. They are seen now as a speedier alternative to car travel – journeys between Valence from Privas, currently take an hour on the bus. It would be a 20-minute trip on the train.

Travel to Lyon or Grenoble for non-drivers would be quicker as travellers would not need to make a coach trip to Montélimar or Valence.

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All they want is the trains to start up again after more than 50 years. But that’s easier said than done. 

Will trains return to Ardèche?

Passenger trains were supposed to call again in the Ardèche town of Le Tiel at the end of 2026, ending the decades-long hiatus.

Extending the passenger service into the département of Ardèche would have been the final stage of a €100 million rail line reopening scheme paid for by the neighbouring Occitanie region. 


The Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, of which Ardèche is part, had been looking at the possibility of extending the line further, to Romans-sur-Isère, Drôme, from 2028.

But, in December 2023, campaigners were dealt a blow when the Regional Council rejected two amendments tabled by the oppositions during the vote on the railway budget for 2035.

Left-wing and environmentalist councillors, had tabled an amendment stating that: "the Region confirms its commitment to the return of trains " and that "the investments necessary for the project " are guaranteed among the €2.7 billion that the region intends to devote to network infrastructure. Another amendment in support of trains in rural areas was tabled by the RN group. 

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Authorities had originally planned to reopen the station and resume services in 2025. But a €2.5 million refurbishment of the platforms was deemed “low priority” and pushed down the ladder.

Local authorities in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes have also said that there aren’t enough trains to run in the Ardèche without cutting services elsewhere.

What locals want to know is: if neighbouring Occitanie can do it, why can’t they?


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