Portet-Saint-Simon - Puigcerdá Railway “Le Transpyrénéen Oriental” How about a stretch of railroad that is absolutely unparalleled when it comes to history, engineering, surrounding landscape and even atmosphere? One that takes you from almost sea-level plains to the heights of the Pyrenees, in only 160 kilometres? A railroad that offers such a variety like nothing else ever has, from big cities to small mountain villages, from wide-open lowlands to narrow mountain passes 1500+ metres above sea level. A single track, an electrified railroad with a variety of traffic running daily between the two termini, starting at an elevation of only 146 meters, ending at 1232 metres 163 kilometres later with even higher elevations en route. The railroad I would like to suggest is the Porter-Saint-Simon - Puigcerdá Railway, well, a (major) part of it, from the city of Toulouse to the town of Latour de Carol, in the Pyrenees mountains, at the Spanish border. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portet-Saint-Simon–Puigcerdà_railway Let me take you through this incredible railroad in a nutshell by overviewing the points of interest en route, as if we were travelling end-to-end on an express train, briefly discussing the sights we get to see along the route. A great cab ride video can be viewed all the way from Toulouse to Latour de Carol, on Youtube. The SNCF “Intercités de Nuit” train number 3971, formerly branded as “Lunéa” service (night train) from Paris-Austerlitz arrives around 6 in the morning at the busy Matabiau railway station of Toulouse, the capital of the French department of Haute Garonne, with a metro population of over a million. Toulouse-Matabiau station was opened in 1905 and currently has 13 platforms. It is a major hub in the south of France with regional (TER) and national (TGV and Corail) services to virtually every corner of the country, including Paris, Lyon, Marseille and even Barcelona in Spain. A travel superhub in every aspect, and a fantastic city full of history. The time is 6:20 in the morning, the sun has just risen above the horizon, it is now time to depart. We are spending the first 15-20 minutes of the journey running through the city and its widespread suburbs. The line is double-track at this point, but shortly the tracks diverge off towards Bayonne while we are continuing on the single track section. The surrounding landscape is still flat as a pancake, but nonetheless stunning with a bright Mediterranean charm to it. Our first stop is at Auterive, a small town with a population of less than 10,000, some 33 kilometres from Toulouse, at an elevation of 190 metres. It is awesome that SNCF provides a direct connection to small communities like this from the capital. Night trains are such an ecological form of transportation, resting and travelling at the same time, with minimum impact on the environment. Trains anytime over aeroplanes! Saverdun is our next stop, around 7 in the morning. We have so far travelled 48 kilometres from Toulouse. Saverdun has less than 5,000 inhabitants and as an interesting fact, it gave its name to the former city of Verdun, Quebec, Canada, now a borough of Montreal, which was founded in 1671 by Zacharie Dupuy, a native of Saverdun. Leaving Saverdun, the foothills of the mighty Pyrenees come into view, and these small lumps grow bigger and bigger as we are heading south. Arriving at Pamiers station, it is now obvious we are about to commence heavy-duty mountain railroading even though the elevation is still only 298 metres. The distance from Toulouse is 65 kilometres. The station is interesting due to being covered which is quite common in France. Even minor, almost rural stations often get covered, and so is the case with Pamiers. The station opened in 1861 and was the terminus of the line until the extension to Foix in 1862. The town is famous for its three bell towers. It has a population of over 15,000 and is the birthplace of the famous French musician and composer, Gabriel Fauré. Pamiers is located on the Ariége River. However, before long, we are on our way further into mountain territory. Foix station is located 82 kilometres from Toulouse and it more or less marks the halfway point in our journey, close to the border with Spain and Andorra. Foix station is at an elevation of 380 metres and is one of the most beautiful towns along the line. Shortly after departure from here, our train will run through “downtown” Foix, next to the Ariége River, an incredible sight with the houses pretty much built “into” the river. It is my personal favourite of all the stations and cities en route. Foix has a population of just under 10,000 and is famous for its two weekly markets, one that is a food-only market and a larger, food, crafts and products. Departing Foix, we are unmistakably running in a mountain district, as far as eyes can see there are mighty peaks and stunning vistas, gorgeous landscape surrounds us. Tunnels start to appear and viaducts as means of engineering to overcome the obstacles. We are running through lovely villages that didn’t make it to a scheduled stop for this direct service from Paris, but are nevertheless worth learning about. Next stop Tarascon-Sur-Ariége, 97 kilometres from Toulouse, at an elevation of 472 metres. Mountain peaks reaching the skies, the town is situated in an incredibly picturesque location. The population is only around 3,000 inhabitants. Tarascon itself is a major centre in the Pyrenees for research speleologists (mainly engaged in the study of the Neolithic period) and it is also very popular with amateur enthusiasts interested in unravelling local mysteries. The rocky slopes are dotted with fifty or so natural grottoes, twelve of which are decorated, such as the famous Niaux cave. The limestone cliffs cut out by the river lend the city an attractive setting, further enhanced by thick forests, ideal for hiking. Les Cabannes next, a charming mountain town in the department of Ariége, in the Midi-Pyrénées region. The railway station is at an elevation of 535 metres above sea level. We are now 108 kilometres from Toulouse. Only a few minutes later, around ten past eight in the morning, we reach Luzenac-Garanou station, 115 kilometres from Toulouse, 587 metres above sea level. The station also features a small freight yard for the Rio Tinto minerals Luzenac Group facility, where talc is extracted. Our next stop is at the town of Ax-Les-Thermes, in the Pyrenees, only 35 kilometres from Andorra, and 75 kilometres from Perpignan. Our distance from Toulouse is 123 kilometres and we are already at an elevation of over 700 metres (and counting…) above sea level. Ax is well known for its sulphurous hot springs. The waters were already used by the Romans and are believed to cure a range of skin diseases, rheumatism and other maladies. From the 19th century, the spa tourism industry developed. From Ax-Les-Thermes, the landscape takes an even more spectacular shape, we are running in narrow valleys, tunnels, viaducts, surrounded by mountains from all sides, this section is one of the most beautiful stretches of lines I have ever seen. Soon we arrive at Mérens-Les-Vals, at the confluence of three valleys: Ariége, Nabre and Morgouillou. This is the first station for our train at an elevation of over 1000 metres, 133 kilometres from Toulouse. We won’t stop dropping our jaws as we proceed onwards in the valley towards our next stop, Andorre-L’Hospitalet station. What an incredible, international route, even the microstate of Andorra is featured! Well, technically, we are still in France but the “border” with Andorra is just over a kilometre away. Andorra is the sixth smallest nation of Europe with a population of around 77,000. The railway station Andorre-L’Hospitalet lies at an elevation of 1429 metres and is the second-highest station we are calling at on this particular journey. As an interesting fact, in 2013, Andorra had the highest life expectancy in the world. Worth visiting, I guess, from Toulouse it’s only 144 kilometres. Porté-Puymorens is our second last stop, and this is the station with the highest elevation we are calling at, 1562 metres above sea level. One would expect cogwheels to get to this altitude but engineers managed to find a route so that conventional trains can reach this remote part of the world. With 900 vertical metres of slopes, one of the largest in the Pyrenees, the village resort of Porte-Puymorens has a distinctly sporty character, situated on the edge of the Ariége region and the principality of Andorra. Its deep, carved relief makes it a lot like the Alps. We have travelled 150 kilometres from Toulouse. And here we go, the end of our journey at Latour de Carol-Enveitg, after two hours and thirty minutes of a breathtaking train ride, at the French-Spanish border. A truly incredible station, with three (!) different railway gauges meeting here: the line from Toulouse is 1,435 mm standard gauge, the line to Barcelona is 1,688 mm Iberian gauge and the station is also the terminus of the Cerdagne line to Villefranche-de-Conflent, which is 1,000 mm metre gauge. The three lines also have three different voltage supply. 1500 V DC (overhead France), 3000 V DC (overhead Spain), and 850 V DC (3rd Rail, Ligne de Cerdagne), respectively. http://www.bueker.net/trainspotting/stations_latour-de-carol.php?print=print/ Latour de Carol station also has more interesting facts. Its “Platform 1” also features the longest covered platform in France. Services from Latour-de-Carol are to Toulouse, Barcelona and Villefranche-de-Conflent where one can change for services to Perpignan. An international route at its best that is scratching the surface of Andorra and Spain yet not even leaving the territory of France, with an extraordinary variety when it comes to landscape and operations. Speed limits vary from 140 km/h down to as slow as 50 km/h towards the end of the line, due to the tight curves in the valleys. Services include TER regional trains, using Alstom’s Régiolis EMU units. These are the most common sights on the route, running between Toulouse and Latour de Carol. The night service from Paris Gare D’Austerlitz is a locomotive-hauled train with Corail cars pulled by a BB7200 locomotive. It is the DC version of the “NEZ Cassé” family of locomotives and is a popular sight on SNCF tracks. Freight trains usually take different routes but occasionally do use the line across the Pyrenees and local freight exists too. This means all sorts of trains can be realistically run on the line, including regional EMU services, express as well as freight trains, scenario creators will find the sky's the limit. I would love to see the BB7200 locomotive to ship with the route, with its Corail coaches as seen on the night train that comes from the French capital. Although a “night train” in every aspect, it already runs in daylight from Toulouse to Latour de Carol most days of the year, only in the winter is it still dark at that time of the day. In the opposite direction, the train leaves Latour de Carol after 7 in the evening, again, still daylight with the exception of winter so you will have plenty of opportunities to enjoy the countless gorgeous sights on the way. Later, as a future DLC, the Alstom Régiolis EMU package could follow, allowing stopping services too, as there are many small stations we did not discuss above. The route, being only 163 kilometres long (much shorter than Dovetail Games’ Hannover-Hamburg, Lyon-Avignon, Marias Pass and other routes, just to name a few) should nicely fit into the route length envelope of the developers, not being too long for them to take into consideration, but also, being long enough to satisfy those who prefer more than just an hour worth of journey. The region features four distinct seasons, with heavy snowfall in the mountains in winter. I would love to see new features coming with this route, with gradually increasing snow cover in winter as elevation increases. The areas with the highest elevation could perhaps have a little bit of snow cover even as early as autumn and as late as springtime. As Dovetail Games already developed the necessary scripts for the French conventional signalling and in-cab systems (KVB) it would be one less task for the developers to worry about. Among all the signalling systems I personally learned about, through Train Simulator and personal research, I find the French the most elegant and precise, where even the “Stop” aspect (Carré) has different forms to make it perfectly clear and concise what to do and when. For us users, this would be the first conventional (non-TGV) French route in Train Simulator and possibly one of the most beautiful ever created for the game as the location is just pure awesomeness. It should appeal to anyone and the fact that it takes us to the Spanish border, from where already RENFE services run to Barcelona, makes it even more interesting, one might as well call it international too, knocking on the doors of both Andorra and Spain. I can only hope that Dovetail Games finds this worthy of consideration and if the devs come to the decision of making the route in its full length, they will do their very best getting it right. Dovetail Games' route building artists, in their better moments, are surely able to create the most beautiful routes - no surprise, as they are the “fathers’ of the game and if they manage to get this one right, it will write a digital railroading history. Bon Voyage!