Vintage Lourdes pilgrimage trains

Czesziafan

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When I was at school in the 70's they took part in an annual pilgrimage to Lourdes which was by train and ferry. I never went as I'm not interested in religion although the train journey would have been interesting.

Those who did go told me the route was via the Dover - Calais ferry and a train of SNCF couchettes from Calais to Lourdes, leaving at about 01.00. They all said the journey through France was extraordinarily long: 19 hours from Calais to Lourdes. One person who travelled in 1978 also insisted that the French train went from Dunkerque and not Calais.

Does anyone have any memories of such pilgrimage train journeys at that time, and why were they so lengthy, when according to the BR international timetable the Calais - Lourdes portion could theoretically be done in about 12 hours not including connection times from Paris Nord - Austerlitz?

What route and motive power would have been used. Is it possible / likely that a pilgrim special for UK passengers would have started from Dunkerque?
 
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St Rollox

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Don't know about Lourdes but there was something similar in the 1960s when UK-German youth friendship was a big gig in the generation after WW2.
Believe the French did something similar and i've heard since of the same in Eastern Europe with East Germany.
We went overnight on the sleeper to London then London to Calais in the evening.
Reached Ostende at some point at night then Southern Germany via Munich by the following afternoon.
I'd guess 15 hours to Germany from Ostende.
Guessing there was some sort of packed lunch on the train.
It was couchettes all the from Ostende to Bavaria.
 
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There is a brief account of a pilgrim special from Boulogne to Lourdes, taking 16 hours, in this blog:-

http://www.shrewsburypilgrimage.co.uk/PILGRIMAGE-HISTORY
On Tuesday September 4th 1951 a train left Birkenhead Woodside at 12 40 p.m. with 360 pilgrims, stopping at Chester General and Crewe before arriving in Folkestone at 8 42 that evening. Tea and Dinner were served en route. The boat left Folkestone at 10 30 arriving in Boulogne at Midnight. The pilgrimage train left at 01 55 a.m. arriving in Lourdes at 6 00 p.m. with breakfast and lunch being served and making it a journey in total of some 30 hours.
In 1951 it was still steam between Boulogne and Paris so 19 hours does seem excessive - perhaps in 1978 it was just a few couchettes added to service trains?

Dunkerque is entirely possible - it was one of the overnight routes, the Night Ferry' having through 1st class sleeping cars London to Paris/Brussels, seated 2nd class passengers having to walk on and off the ship. My 1980 Thomas Cook timetable, last year of operation of the 'Night Ferry', also shows a connecting Dunkerque - Milano service via Basel. Route to Lourdes would probably have been via Hazebrouck, Paris, Limoges,Toulouse. I 'yellow-penned' the Toulouse to Bayonne line about 5 years ago - I was astonished at the siding accomodation still available in Lourdes for specials - a few still run from Italy.
 

Czesziafan

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Interesting. In the 70's it was diesel (probably 2xBB67000) from Calais to Amiens, then electric to Paris and from there South. Of course the Nord Region had 25kv ac and the Sud Ouest 1500v dc so if a complete through train was run at some point there would have had to be another loco change. I don't know whether the Ceinture line around Paris was electrified but if not presumably a diesel was used from the Nord onto the SO on that section. If it was electrified perhaps one of the SNCF dual voltage types might have worked through from Amiens to Lourdes.

If service trains were used it would have been possible to attach some couchettes to the "Ferry" from Dunkerque to Paris Nord and then shunt them round the Paris Ceinture to Austerlitz and attach them there to a southbound express. In the opposite direction the couchettes could have been added to an overnight Lourdes - Paris sleeper and a morning boat train to Calais. This was certainly the practice with through coaches between the Channel Ports and the South of France via Paris Nord and Lyons: there is a good description by George Behrend in "Grand European Expresses" of this being done in the case of the Blue Train.
 

Czesziafan

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Don't know about Lourdes but there was something similar in the 1960s when UK-German youth friendship was a big gig in the generation after WW2.
Believe the French did something similar and i've heard since of the same in Eastern Europe with East Germany.
We went overnight on the sleeper to London then London to Calais in the evening.
Reached Ostende at some point at night then Southern Germany via Munich by the following afternoon.
I'd guess 15 hours to Germany from Ostende.
Guessing there was some sort of packed lunch on the train.
It was couchettes all the from Ostende to Bavaria.
This has just reminded me that in the 70's and early 80's the Polish travel agency "Polorbis" advertised a cheap weekly special between London and Warsaw. In reality this consisted of several PKP couchettes being attached to the regular "Ost-West Express" from Ostend SO with the return FO. Passengers used the ordinary SR emu boat train between Victoria and Dover.
 

richpthomas

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A little less vintagely, I was part of a Lourdes pilgrimage in the early 2000s, which involved a chartered TGV from Calais-Ville direct to Lourdes. We'd arrive by coach (usually via Eurostar, but a couple of times from the ferry) in the early morning and load up the TGV ready for a 6am or 6:30am departure.

The train would usually be an eight-car train, so either a Sud-Est or Réseau, but at least once was a ten-car Atlantique (which was unexpected, so we had a bit extra space to spread out into). The journey would take nine hours, bypassing Paris I believe, and going through Bordeaux to approach Lourdes via Dax and Pau. At Bordeaux the train would dwell in Bordeaux-Saint-Jeanfor a few minutes, presumably for a crew change (which would often involve releasing all the carriage doors, with the attendant risk of unwitting pilgrims thinking we'd arrived and getting out...).
 

D6700

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I 'yellow-penned' the Toulouse to Bayonne line about 5 years ago - I was astonished at the siding accomodation still available in Lourdes for specials - a few still run from Italy.
By coincidence, I saw one such special, heading back to Italy, in Toulouse on Monday afternoon, formed of 14 Trenitalia coaches, mostly couchettes.
 

dutchflyer

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Yes, many years ago this was big business for SNCF. Note that the time to transit Paris by metro is considerably much shorter as a through train would need to go around on either the grand ceinture (big belt) or even further away. Normally these specail ''trains de pelerinages''=pilgrims trains) were self contained and also had ambulance cars and a big staff of medical people and volunteers of the religion, due to the general nature of most of the pilgrims. They would not be cars attached to normal trains (@cseszia) and SNCF had at least a dozen of them or so-also for trips to other neighbouring countries. From NL there would also be several a year and even more from Belgium and Germany.
Another reason for extended times could be limited capacity at Lourdes to handle such trains (which would need an hour or 2 to get completely emptied from all passengers) so they also might have to wait their turn for the special tracks.
 

MarcVD

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And also limited capacity on the line leading to Lourdes, with scarce power supply, mechanical signalling, long distances between blocks, phone-operated block system, tracks not allowing heavy locomotives, old catenary requiring lovomotives with special pantographs, and steep inclines needing banking of the heaviest trains.
 

Bigchris

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Out of interest, I was over in Germany in May this year for a couple of weeks travelling round and I saw a Munchen-Lourdes pilgrimage special at Karlsruhe. It was a good mixture of coaching stock hauled by OBB 1116265 and it would be fair to say alot of the passengers seemed to be having quite a party on board, although quite a few coaches did appear to be full of German Army which might explain the incredibly loud singing!
 

Czesziafan

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Looks like these were complex workings requiring much planning and must have been a nightmare for the SNCF. Referring back to the post re the 1951 journey description I see this also mentions meals being served on the train so presumably it also had a WL diner adding to the weight. Also found out from Julian Morel's book "Pullman" (David & Charles 1983) that in the 50's / 60's many of these trains were organized by Thos Cook & Son, and the travel agency side of Wagons Lits (who then owned Cooks), in France. WL were very close with SNCF which probably helped produce an efficient operation.
 

Czesziafan

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Out of interest, I was over in Germany in May this year for a couple of weeks travelling round and I saw a Munchen-Lourdes pilgrimage special at Karlsruhe. It was a good mixture of coaching stock hauled by OBB 1116265 and it would be fair to say alot of the passengers seemed to be having quite a party on board, although quite a few coaches did appear to be full of German Army which might explain the incredibly loud singing!
Perhaps the German Army was reminiscing about their last mass excursion to France -in 1940!
 

Czesziafan

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Out of interest, I was over in Germany in May this year for a couple of weeks travelling round and I saw a Munchen-Lourdes pilgrimage special at Karlsruhe. It was a good mixture of coaching stock hauled by OBB 1116265 and it would be fair to say alot of the passengers seemed to be having quite a party on board, although quite a few coaches did appear to be full of German Army which might explain the incredibly loud singing!
More seriously how does an OBB loco come to he hauling a train from Munich to Lourdes? Back in 1982 I travelled to Regensburg on a DB overnighter from Cologne and was amazed to find an OBB loco working from Frankfurt M - but I think the train had through coaches to Vienna.
 

eastwestdivide

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More seriously how does an OBB loco come to he hauling a train from Munich to Lourdes?
Probably some hire arrangement - last year I saw ÖBB locos on the Stuttgart-Zürich services, which don't touch Austria at all. (ÖBB locos on the German section, changing direction and loco to a Swiss one at Singen).
 

MarcVD

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Since a very long time, there is an arrangment between OeBB and DB to equalize as much as possible the km made by DB locos in Austria and those made by OeBB locos in Germany. When there is a significant unbalance, they arrabe it that way...
 

30907

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OT: equalisation is common across Europe.
MAV locos on OeBB stock from Vienna to Gmuend/Ceske Velenice is/was a rather random example.
 

OneOffDave

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I went to Lourdes with the HCPT in 76 or 77. We had to meet up at Victoria Station, train to the ferry, off the train onto the ferry, off the ferry and onto a sleeper service in France. Took from late afternoon in London to early evening the next day in Lourdes. When I did it in the 80s a couple of times we went by coach via Southampton - Le Havre and was a longer crossing but a shorter time on the coach. The overall journey time was about 2 hours shorter
 

richpthomas

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It was a good mixture of coaching stock hauled by OBB 1116265 and it would be fair to say alot of the passengers seemed to be having quite a party on board, although quite a few coaches did appear to be full of German Army which might explain the incredibly loud singing!
Some of the older/more traditional pilgrimages have remarkably formal uniforms (whereas most pilgrimages just make do with a uniform T-shirt), so you might've seen one of them. And a lot of pilgrimages will indeed have quite the party, both at Lourdes and in transit. The Order of Malta was always [in]famous for that, I seem to recall.
 

MarcVD

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OT: equalisation is common across Europe.
MAV locos on OeBB stock from Vienna to Gmuend/Ceske Velenice is/was a rather random example.
Yes I know that but I think that only OeBB and DB will compensate by hauling trains that run entirely in the 'other' country.

Also most of the time, foreign locs would only venture on lines not too far from the border. OeBB locs going as far as Koeln is an exception, although for that point of view, belgian SNCB HLE16 locs going as far as Spiez, Switzerland, must be the absolute record.
 
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Perhaps the German Army was reminiscing about their last mass excursion to France -in 1940!
:lol: I can picture the scene already..! The 1116 rolling into Ulm with a train full of pissed up Bundeswehr chanting along to this in die partywagen with the Spaten flowing! -"IM Erika!" :D

 

Czesziafan

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I went to Lourdes with the HCPT in 76 or 77. We had to meet up at Victoria Station, train to the ferry, off the train onto the ferry, off the ferry and onto a sleeper service in France. Took from late afternoon in London to early evening the next day in Lourdes. When I did it in the 80s a couple of times we went by coach via Southampton - Le Havre and was a longer crossing but a shorter time on the coach. The overall journey time was about 2 hours shorter
Was the Victoria - Dover train emu or hauled stock?
 

eastwestdivide

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Was the Victoria - Dover train emu or hauled stock?
In 1976-77, the only hauled boat train would have been the Night Ferry I think.
The rest of the Victoria-Dover/Folkestone boat trains were EMUs, typically MLV-4CEP-4BEP-4CEP, or MLV-4CEP-CEP-4CEP, with the MLV at the London end.
 

Calthrop

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Some of the older/more traditional pilgrimages have remarkably formal uniforms (whereas most pilgrimages just make do with a uniform T-shirt), so you might've seen one of them. And a lot of pilgrimages will indeed have quite the party, both at Lourdes and in transit. The Order of Malta was always [in]famous for that, I seem to recall.
(My bolding) -- I seem to remember reading that centuries ago, when the Order of Malta was garrisoning Malta against those of the area's rival religion, plus tending the sick: it was renowned for extremes of asceticism and pitilessly harsh discipline of its members, even by monastic standards of those times. Seems that it may have undergone a considerable come-down since then...
 

Czesziafan

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(My bolding) -- I seem to remember reading that centuries ago, when the Order of Malta was garrisoning Malta against those of the area's rival religion, plus tending the sick: it was renowned for extremes of asceticism and pitilessly harsh discipline of its members, even by monastic standards of those times. Seems that it may have undergone a considerable come-down since then...
I think on balance I would rather go with the Bundeswehr. Just out of interest if you ever visit Malta I can recommend the Grand Master's palace in Valetta which has a fine collection of the Knights' weaponry. During the siege in the 16th century the knights apparently fired the severed heads of captured Turkish soldiers at the enemy in order to intimidate them.
 

Calthrop

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Wonder whether it worked? -- Johnny Turk is reputedly not a very imaginative soul :s ... Malta would for me, to be sure, have a certain amount of interest; but to be honest it's not high on my list of places to visit. Given a time machine, to access the island's delectable railway (the British public narrow-gauge line of one's dreams, only metre gauge), abandoned 1931; feelings might be different !
 
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Czesziafan

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Probably left Johnny Turk with quite a headache!! The invaders were driven out and the island remained independent until the Napoleonic wars.
 

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