Saturday, December 31, 2016

Montpellier, Narbonne, Portbou, Figueres

Starting off my day in Avignon Centre. Today I will reach Barcelona by the end of the day.
 Gare D'Avignon Centre
 There are several ways to reach Barcelona from southern France. The classic route (which I will take) is through border town of Portbou, where it is possible to change between French and Spanish trains, this route takes totally 7h31min (3h50min by French TER, 1h7min waiting in Portbou and 2h34min by Media Distancia in Spain). There are however, a much faster way since 2014, and it is Renfe-SNCF high speed train service. From Avignon TGV to Barcelona there is a daily service that takes 3h53min. For Interrail travellers that can be a costly story, seat reservation is from 30EUR, and there is no easy way to book that reservation in advance.
 I'm going to take TER line 5
 From Avignon I'm going to travel across the Languedoc Roussillon region.
 This train is locomotive hauled with Corail coaches
 Since it is the first train this morning, the locomotive is being attached just before the departure
 BB 7200 from 1977

 Coaches are from the 80's
 The train has only 2nd class coaches
 Here I'm passing over Rhone river near Tarascon
 I'm taking an early train in order to see places along my way, so today I will see both sunrise and sunset from a train window.

 Early commuter are filling this train along its way to Montpellier - the capital of Herault region and the 8th largest town in France. Stations along the way are: Tarascon, Nimes, Vergeze-Codognan, Lunel and Baillargues.

 One of the coaches are of the compartment type
 Each compartment has 8 seats
 I'm getting off in Montpellier. I have to take advantage of my Interrail card and visit places along the way.
 The station is called Montpellier Saint-Roch and it is the central station in town

 The station is also serving TGV trains. Here is one with #Destinationpoudlard advertisement for new Harry Potter book. This TGV is of type Dasye (2nd generation with asynchronous motor).
 From 2018 the new high speed line to Montpellier will open together with new TGV station - Montpellier Sud-de-France, outside the city centre. It is expected that the time travelling from Paris will be reduced from today's 3h30min to 3h. But due to new station's location, the total travel time will probably be the same.
 There are TGV services for many French towns like Paris, Lyon, Dijon, Lille and as well international destinations like Barcelona, Brussels and Luxembourg.
 This TGV is for Perpignan
 Rue Frédéric Bazille

 The new modernised station is just above the platforms
 Montpellier has 4 tram lines operating since 2000
 Tram are of type Alstom Citadis 401 and 402

 Rue de Maguelone

 Place de la Comedie and the Three Grace fountain
 Opera Comedie

 I'm back at the train station

 Militaries are present at most large stations in France

TGV 9896 for Luxembourg (via Lyon and Strasbourg) which is a new service introduced 3rd of July 2016 at the same time as new LGV Est high speed railway (second phase) opened. The train is of type TGV 2N2 3UA (tricurrent Germany), numbered 4722.
TGV 6208 for Paris, operated with TGV 2N2 3UF (number 814).
 My next train is an Intercités to Narbonne.
 The train is a classic locomotive hauled coach train, here with BB 7200 locomotive
 Since 2012 Intercités is the common brand for earlier Teoz, Corail and Lunea.
 Intercités are requiring seat reservation just like TGV, and it is easy to book through SNCF webpage.
 Intercités has both 2nd and 1st class coaches
 Passing by harbour town of Sète

 1st class coach
 2nd class coach
I have arrived to Narbonne, another Intercité in opposite direction is on the other side
This BB 7200 has the most typical livery for this locomotive "Concrete" with orange line.

This BB 7200 (7282) is manufactured in 1980 by Francorail-MTE (in 1987 it became part of Alsthom).

Z 27500 (ZGC), EMU version of Bombardier AGC. This one is from 2009.
My train continues to Bordeaux
The other Intercités train continues Marseille. There are totally 7 daily train for this services with 2 of them continuing to Nice.
BB 7200 for freight service
While BB 7200 is supporting only 1,5kV DC electric system, this locomotive BB 26000 from 1991 is supporting both 1,5kV DC and 25kV 50Hz. France has two power systems for its railways due to historical reasons, with this part of France mainly having 1,5kV DC. BB 26000 is also manufactured by Alston and MTE.
Z 27500 is also supporting 1,5kV DC and 25Hz 50Hz.

While I'm waiting for my next train I can spot a TGV arriving.
It is a TGV 2N2 3UF with "Carmellon" livery (number 813) and made for services in France and Luxembourg.
It has been coupled with TGV 2N2 3UH (number 810) in Perpignan. The second TGV arrived from Barcelona (3UH where "H" is for hispanise). They are also equipped with Spanish train protection system ASFA (Anuncio de Señales y Frenado Automático).

Z 7500 from 1982 is an EMU manufactured by Francorail-ANF (Alstom)
Gare De Narbonne from 1856

Z 7300 and it is the first of the Z2 series. It is used here for Narbonne-Carcassonne line.
My last French train is arriving. It is the 2nd Avignon-Portbou service today out of totally 5 per day.
This time it is not a locomotive hauled train, but the EMU Z 27500, two trains coupled (Z 27607/608 and Z 27881/882 from 2006 and 2009).
X 76500 XGC is a diesel version of Bombardier AGC. Seems to belong to TER Provence-Alpes-Cote D'Azur so it's unclear what it's doing here.
I have now left Bordeaux-Sete railway and I'm on track on Narbonne-Portbou railway. The line to Spain was completed 1878
The railway from Narbonne to Port-la-Nouvelle is streching through Pond of Bages-Sigean and Ayrolle, a large lagoon near Mediterranean sea. The water is now on both sides of the train.

Cap Leucate
Pink flamingo

Porta dels Països Catalans - The Gate of the Catalan Countries, a work of the sculptor Emili Armengol from 2003. A9 autoroute "Le Catalan" is passing nearby, it is part of E15 from Inverness, Scotland to Algeciras, Spain.
Château de Salses
The fortress is from 15th century and represents the old border between France and Spain.
Aeroport Perpignan-Rivesaltes. Check out the Pyrenees mountain far away.

La Têt river
This train has the Intercités interior, and it seems that there was a idea to have 1st class in this part of the train with 2+1 seating, but there is no indication that it is 1st class, and there are no 1st class tickets to buy. 4 coaches of this train is equivalent to 2 Corail B11 coaches.
The train is similar both to Bombardier Talent (German version) and Regina (Swedish version).

There are totally 211 units of Z 27500 in France, TER Languedoc-Roussillon has 37.

Pic du Canigou, 2785m above sea level. The peak can be seen all the way from Marseille twice a year due to reflection of light.

The railway to Arles-sur-Tech, 34km long

Another TER in the opposite direction
 Tunnel of the Croix-de-Force, 560m.


Last stop in France is Cerbère. The line from Cerbère to Spanish Port-Bou has both standard gauge and Iberian gauge tracks.
Until December 2016 Cerbère was the end station for night train service to/from Paris.
Cerbère station has facilities for changing the axles for freight trains.
Final stop is in Spain - Portbou.
Església de Santa Maria
French trains are using two tracks on one side of the train station, while on the other side there are 12 tracks with Iberian gauge.
The station is huge. Once it was an important international station with customs, ticket counters, restaurants etc. Today, there is nothing left.
Renfe Class 253 or Bombardier Traxx F140 DC made for Iberian gauge, 3rd generation and built years 2008-2010. They are used for freight trains.
The train is leaving Spain after some minutes.

Portbou is a small town with only 1307 inhabitants (similar size as Cerbère).
Standard gauge track (to the right) and Iberian gauge tracks (to the left), the view is towards Cerbère.
Since the opening of the high speed standard gauge railway between Spain and France in 2013, the use of this station has decreased.
Time is not standing still here, but the feeling is definitely that it has.

The line to Barcelona is numbered R11 operated by Rodalies de Catalunya together with Renfe.
Renfe Class 447 is a regional train manufactured 1993-2001 by CAF, Alstom, Siemens, and AdTranz.
Another Traxx
Another type of train operating to Barcelona is Class 449 (Media Distancia), former Catalunya Exprés.
Class 447 takes 2h36min to Barcelona, while Class 449 is taking 2h12min. This is due to the difference is maximum speed 120km/h vs 160km/h and 26 stops vs 11 stops.
TEMD (Tren Eléctrico de Media Distancia) train is manufactured by CAF years 2008-2011.

It looks like there was a police office here once.

I'm now taking R11 line to Figueres.
Inside Class 447 train.
Platja de Garbet

Figueres - this is where I get off. The reason for that is that I will switch to the other station in Figueres - Vilafant, to take the high speed train to Barcelona.
Figueres station has only Iberian gauge tracks, and it services only R11 line. On the other hand it is located in the centre of the town, while the new high speed station is outside, about 2km - which I'm going to walk to in this nice weather.

It is convenient with direction plates for "AVE Figueres-Vilafant" station.
Plaça Doctor Ernest Vila
Església de Sant Pere
The town is the birthplace of Salvador Dalí, and houses the Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dalí

Parc del Bosc
After walking through suburbs of Figueres, I can finally spot the new station.
Nearby suburbs
The station opened in 2010, but the through service from France to Spain started 2013.
I'm well in advance before my departure, but for security reason it is not allowed to enter the platforms in Spain (high speed rail) earlier than 20min before departure. You need also a valid ticket. So, until my departure, I can spot my train from the parking.
High speed line from Figueres is built with standard gauge (as all high speed lines in Spain), so the stations are sometimes located outside the city (similar to France TGV stations).

The station is much smaller than Portbou, but has much more facilities, like ticket counter, bar etc.
I'm first to get on the platform.
Figueres-Vilafant is the end station for AVE train to Madrid (about 7 per day) plus 5 services to/from France, AVE trains Lyon-Barcelona, Toulouse-Barcelona, Marseille-Madrid, and two daily TGV trains from Paris to Barcelona. For those buying tickets, same train is sold as both AVE and Avant with the latter one having cheaper tickets, but in fact it is same train.
The platform is divided in two parts, the other part is closed.
Trains terminating at Figueres-Vilafant are of Class 103, Siemens Velaro E. Trains from France are of Class 100 (similar to TGV Atlantique) and TGV Duplex 2N2 3UH.
Avant tickets are sold for Turista (2nd) class only, while AVE tickets can be purchased for Turista+ and Preferente (1st) classes.
The tunnel in the direction towards France and the starting point for high speed line Figueres-Perpignan, a 44,4km line built operated by private company TP Ferro until last year, when it was overtaken by Spanish ADIF and Frence SNCF Réseau. TP Ferro became unfortunately bankrupt due to much less railway traffic than originally expected on this route.

Inside Turista+ coach. All seats are in forward facing direction.
Barcelona-Figueres line is 131km long. The line is used both by passenger and freight trains.

The line is designed for 350km/h, but the speed for my train was 200km/h

The trip takes about 1h and there is only 1 stop along the route - Girona. The station is in a 4km long tunnel.
Now I can see the sunset
Arriving to Barcelona
The train is quite empty until Barcelona, here it is much more passengers entering.
Renfe (Red Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Españoles) - the national railway company of Spain was founded 1941 was celebrating its 75 anniversary during 2016.

Now I'm taking Barcelona Metro, less comfortable than AVE train but much cheaper :-)