Last is­sue we de­tailed re­mark­able per­for­mances be­tween Paris and Rouen – but how do the French lo­co­mo­tives fare when the to­pog­ra­phy isn’t so ac­com­mo­dat­ing?

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In SR477 I gave de­tails of SNCF ‘Pacific’ per­for­mance on the mainly level Paris to Rouen route as a com­par­i­son with Tor­nado’s run be­tween Durham and York. My cor­re­spon­dent John For­man has sug­gested it would be of in­ter­est to see how the ‘Pacifics’ per­formed on the hillier sec­tion be­tween Rouen and Le Havre and I am happy to oblige. The line climbs to the Nor­mandy plateau and fi­nally de­scends steeply to the coast. As can be seen from the gra­di­ent pro­file on pages 94-95 of SR477, there is a steady as­cent all the way to Mot­teville, apart from a brief re­mis­sion of the gra­di­ent down to Bar­entin Viaduct. As I men­tioned in SR477, the en­gi­neer of the Paris-Le Havre line was English­man Joseph Locke (1805-60) who ap­pointed Thomas Brassey and Wil­liam Macken­zie as joint con­trac­tors. Brassey suf­fered a ma­jor em­bar­rass­ment in Jan­uary 1846 when the Bar­entin Viaduct over the River Aus­tre­berthe, the prin­ci­pal struc­ture on the line, col­lapsed af­ter a pe­riod of pro­longed rain, for­tu­nately with­out any loss of life. This disas­ter was as­cribed to sub­stan­dard lo­cal ma­te­ri­als be­ing used in its con­struc­tion. Brassey re­built the viaduct at his own ex­pense with his own choice of ma­te­ri­als. That viaduct still stands today, an im­pos­ing curved struc­ture of 27 arches, 600 yards long and 100 feet high. Be­yond Yvetôt the line is mainly down­hill, cul­mi­nat­ing in a de­scent of al­most 7 miles at 1-in-125 from Étain­husSt Ro­main to the out­skirts of Le Havre, a steep chal­lenge for heavy Paris-bound trains. Ta­ble 3 fea­tures two runs with 231D ‘Pacifics’. Th­ese were the ba­sic État Pacific re­builds of 1933-47 which ul­ti­mately num­bered 134 ex­am­ples. They had Lentz-Dabeg os­cil­lat­ing cam-pop­pet valves only on the in­side (low pres­sure cylin­ders) but re­tained pis­ton valves on the high pres­sure cylin­ders. Work­ing pres­sure was 16 bars (228lb/sq in). In col­umn 1, 231.D.702 was work­ing the morn­ing First Class-only ‘Rapide’ from

the jour­ney was only 6 mins longer than that of the petrol-driven Bu­gatti rail­cars of the mid-1930s

Paris, Train 101, with a 130kph (80.8mph) speed limit and a load com­fort­ably in­side the 400 tonnes max­i­mum for the tim­ing. I had trav­elled through from Paris on the foot­plate and noted that the Fla­man speed recorder was, un­usu­ally, read­ing slow by around 4kph. The Le Havre crew of Mé­cani­cien Wust and Chauf­feur Char­lot were joined by Chef de Con­duite Qui­en­nec. Leav­ing Rouen on time, a brisk start was made up the gen­tle ini­tial gra­di­ents, achiev­ing 63mph at Malau­nay and fall­ing to 58mph up the suc­ceed­ing stretch at 1-in-200. The dip over Bar­entin Viaduct caused speed to rise to 67mph be­fore brakes were ap­plied in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a 30mph tsr be­yond Pav­illy, which marred the climb to Mot­teville. Speed re­cov­ered to 55½mph be­fore the sum­mit of the 1-in-181. This was achieved us­ing cut-offs of 35% HP/65% LP and a steam chest pres­sure of 214lb/sq in. The edbhp in­volved was around 1,400, ac­cord­ing to my col­league David Paw­son. Af­ter a max­i­mum of 83mph at Yvetôt (re­mem­ber this par­tic­u­lar lo­co­mo­tive’s Fla­man recorder was read­ing slow) the high speed con­tin­ued and the ar­rival at Le Havre was 4 mins early, in a net time of 51½ mins from Rouen. Added to 231.D.702’s net run­ning time of 73½ mins for the 86.70 miles from Paris, the over­all net time for the

jour­ney of 141.65 miles from Paris was 125 min­utes, an av­er­age of 68mph. With a the­o­ret­i­cal 1-min stop at Rouen, the jour­ney was only 6 mins longer than that of the petrol-driven Bu­gatti rail­cars of the mid-1930s. They were per­mit­ted to travel at 140kph (87mph) but had a pas­sen­ger ca­pac­ity of only 48.


Sadly 231.D.702 and a dif­fer­ent crew were in­volved in a fa­tal ac­ci­dent at Achères on Novem­ber 4 1964 – only a few months af­ter my own run. One wagon of a diesel-hauled freight train on the Grande-Cein­ture line that di­verges at Achères be­came de­railed, foul­ing the Down main line just as 231.D.538 was ap­proach­ing with Train 103, the 08.45 Paris-Le Havre ex­press, which it­self de­railed with its ten­der ob­struct­ing the Up line on which 231.D.702 was trav­el­ling at speed on Train 102, the 06.55 Le Havre-Paris Rapide. In the en­su­ing crash, 231.D.702 up­rooted a se­ries of newly in­stalled cate­nary masts and ended up on its side. There were four fa­tal­i­ties. In the cir­cum­stances of im­pend­ing elec­tri­fi­ca­tion, both 231Ds were deemed be­yond eco­nomic re­pair and scrapped. Col­umn 2 fea­tures a foot­plate run only nine days be­fore steam ended, on the last of the batch of 40 North Bri­tish-built lo­co­mo­tives, 231.D.689, on a Satur­days-only ser­vice, the 13.18 from St Lazare, load­ing to 13 ve­hi­cles of 515 tons gross. The Le Havre crew were Mé­cani­cien Le Meur and Chauf­feur Plouguerné with Chef de Con­duite Ser­gent pre­sid­ing. With its heav­ier train 231.D.689’s driver used 50% cut-off in the HP cylin­ders and 70% in the LP on the climb through the tun­nels to Maromme and, by Malau­nay, where speed was 56mph, he had re­duced this to 45%/70%. Max­i­mum edbhp on this climb was in the or­der of 1,700. The top of the bank at Mot­teville was crested at 48½mph us­ing cut-offs of 45%HP/70%BP with boiler pres­sure at 217lb, but only 175lb in the steam chest: very easy run­ning. Af­ter the Yvetôt stop, the ‘Pacific’ got away smartly down the favourable gra­di­ent to Al­lou­ville, and by Bol­bec had cov­ered the 12.10 miles from Yvetôt in un­der 13 mins, achiev­ing 74½mph soon af­ter. Two re­lay­ing slacks were in force, which ru­ined any prospect of pick­ing up fur­ther time hav­ing left Rouen 6 mins late, but rapid ac­cel­er­a­tion down the bank from St Lau­rent pro­duced an un­usual max­i­mum of 78½mph at Harfleur, swiftly checked us­ing the brake.


Ta­ble 4 con­tains my last foot­plate run on the Le Havre line be­fore steam fin­ished, with 231.D.765 on a light­weight ‘Rapide’ and two runs with heavy trains just in­side the 600-tonne limit, one with a 231G and the other with a 231D. The 231.D.765 run in col­umn 1 was on the same day as my Down run with 231.D.689 in Ta­ble 3

and, there­fore, the same Chef de Trac­tion, M. Ser­gent, of­fi­ci­ated. The Le Havre crew on 231.D.765, Mé­cani­cien Henry and Chauf­feur Bois­set, made a spir­ited run that was some­what spoiled by two se­vere tem­po­rary speed re­stric­tions, one near the top of the 1-in-125 to Étain­hus and the other near Bréauté. Col­umn 2 fea­tures Mé­cani­cien Henry two years ear­lier, this time on 231.G.588, the most pow­er­ful vari­ant of État Pacific, with Lentz-Dabeg cam-pop­pet valves on all four cylin­ders and dou­ble Kylchap ex­haust. The chauf­feur was M. Bar­bey with Chef de Trac­tion Qui­en­nec of­fi­ci­at­ing. The sched­ule was im­proved upon, de­spite a speed as low as 25½mph on Étain­hus bank. Af­ter a rea­son­able start, in which around 1,200edbhp was achieved at Harfleur, by St Lau­rent cut-offs of 55% HP and 65% LP were em­ployed from this point to the sum­mit, with full reg­u­la­tor pro­duc­ing a neg­li­gi­ble re­duc­tion in the HP steam chest from the steady 214lb boiler pres­sure on the climb, and giv­ing 35lb in the LP steam chest. This level of per­for­mance on Étain­hus bank was typ­i­cal on heavy trains and suf­fi­cient to keep time, but in col­umn 3 there is a re­mark­able per­for­mance four years ear­lier by 231.D.565 on a boat train out of the docks, con­nect­ing with the Southamp­ton-Le Havre overnight ferry, where a su­perb re­cov­ery was made from a sig­nal stop af­ter Grav­ille. Start­ing from rest, the 231D had al­most equalled 231.G.588’s speed at St Lau­rent and con­tin­ued to ac­cel­er­ate all the way up the bank to pass the sum­mit in bril­liant style at 36mph. I can only think that re­in­forced com­pound (that is ad­mit­ting live steam direct to the LP cylin­ders) was em­ployed to pro­duce such an ex­tra­or­di­nary per­for­mance. This prac­tice was sel­dom em­ployed with th­ese en­gines ex­cept, uni­ver­sally, upon start­ing. David Paw­son cal­cu­lates the edbhp on this climb as only 1,350, though there is some doubt as to the va­lid­ity of French lo­co­mo­tive and coach re­sis­tance val­ues, which could af­fect all the power out­puts quoted. On an av­er­age unchecked run on one of the ‘Rapi­des’, speed up Étain­hus bank would be main­tained in the mid-40s. It only re­mains to com­ment that the rid­ing of th­ese lo­co­mo­tives was su­perb, and to lament the fact that no 231D sur­vives, the only État Pacific still ex­tant be­ing 231.G.558, which is main­tained by the Pacific Vapeur Club at Sot­teville, out­side Rouen.


SNCF ‘Pacific’ No. 231.D.695 en­ters Paris St Lazare sta­tion with an ex­press from Le Havre on May 25 1959. No. 231.D.516 waits to the left.


‘Pacific’ No. 231.D.765 passes La Garenne-Be­zons sta­tion in the Paris sub­urbs with the 7.35pm Paris St Lazare-Le Havre ex­press on Au­gust 16 1966.

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