I'm the first BiBi Picard Compare this to the Picasso below A BB 75000 series freight loco One of the older BB 67400 series That's what I call a train set I was fascinated by the moving bus Sadly Poste 6 is no longer there A Picasso at Vignacourt
Click on the thumbnails for a larger picture A real Picasso arrives at Longueau There's more power in three shredded wheat You can imagine what reverse parking is like How times have changed Now when I was a kid... The history of railway uniforms A 1/5th scale 151R class steam locomotive


03 October 2010

Now here's probably a first: I was aware of a train meeting before Jon or Peter.

The town of Longueau is best described as a suburb to the east of Amiens and has always been connected to the railways.

I have often driven over the bridge on the way into Amiens and understood why the Germans were so ardent in their desire to take this huge rail junction in 1918. In fact it is much more than a hub connecting almost everything north-south and east-west, it is also a huge service yard that looks after the rolling stock.

For decades the presence of SNCF in the town provided the population with its work, buildings, culture, sporting facilities and clubs. Rather like a mining town, it was almost unnecessary to ask who somebody worked for because either you had worked for, did work for, or your parents worked for: The Rail.

Postcards and photos of a time gone by

Postcards and photos of a time gone by

Whilst these days the work has diminished, the Freight service yards have been closed and the old junction boxes have become computerised and centralised, the area has much to offer and the service yards for the regional trains is due to move into the town.

There are now only two rail centres in Picardie, here at Longueau in the Somme and at Tergnier in the Aisne.

With a view to encouraging the townspeople to take an interest in preserving their heritage the local associations organised their First Rail Festival in the old freight yard at Longueau. A little overgrown with weeds in places but a highly suitable place with the huge hangar and easy access for vehicles and trains alike.

We only had the four real trains to play with, two of them diesel locomotives, the first a BB 67400 in Multi-Service colours, and the second; a BB 75000 series in the Fret colours.

Two hundred and thirty two class BB 67400 were built for SNCF by Brissonneau and Lotz between 1969-1975 and they show their age by the fact that the cab is pretty cramped and I have no idea whether it was just No 567606 or standard but the seat present was little more than a flashy bar stool which wasn't even bolted to the floor. At least the Fret had a proper armchair.

The BB 75000 (you can see how I am really getting into all this stuff) is a replacement freight diesel released in 2007 and made by Alstom/Siemens. After thirty odd years the locomotive stock had become badly in need of fresh vehicles that were easier to maintain and were more eco friendly.

Plenty of space inside

Plenty of space inside the new Regional trains

The world's first hybrid diesel/electric train and known to us as a BiBi was there for us all to have a look around inside. Very comfortable with enormous amounts of headroom. I don't think that anything on Britain's rail system would allow passengers this amount of space on local voyages. The toilet looked big enough to have been able to accommodate a shower as well !

Built by the Canadian Company, Bombardier this particular AGC (Large Capacity Railcar) is apparently a BiBi because it is : Bi-mode (electric and diesel), Bi-voltage using 1500 or 25,000 volts. The one we looked around was the first one operating in Picardie and was received by the Region in June 2010.

The bi-modal motor means that these Regional trains can run anywhere on France's rail system, electric or not and so allowing the one train to connect routes that previously required a change of vehicle.

Our 16 BiBi in Picardie are going to cost 91,000,000 €.

Good grief; they've changed the size of lettering on the cables

Good grief; they've changed the size of lettering on the cables

We had to wait on the fourth train, because it was late arriving in from the Ardennes. A Picasso autorail from the Southern Ardennes Tourist Railway.

This is what we had before the BiBi, well not quite but they ran up until the end of the eighties.

As the French speaker amongst the three of us I managed to learn lots of things during our visit. Apparently the Italian firm Bugatti created a very similar style of train but with the driver's turret in the centre. This meant that the engine was also in the centre dividing the carriage into two.

The layout of the Picasso puts driver and engine at one end. Despite the size of the thing the diesel engine only puts out 300HP giving a top speed of about 120kph.

Just enough room for a crew of two

Just enough room for a crew of two in a Picasso

The cab is extremely cramped and the driver told me that it was much like driving a bus with a double de-clutch to change gears. The motor gives 8 speeds, four one way and four the other with no need for a reverse.

The view was very limited when going backwards as it were with the driver having to look out over the roof of the carriage and it was uncomfortable as well because he sits sideways to the direction of the train. I wonder if cricks in the neck were an occupational hazard for the crew.

The advantage to four of the passengers is that they can sit right at the front rather like being at the front on top of a double-decker bus.

The train that had come over has a certificate to run anywhere in France (The other three have to remain on the Associations own track.) and was well preserved and offered a chance to see how things used to be. Rather like looking at a vintage car, leather seats and wood panelled dash boards. Yesteryear, is fine but I think I prefer the open spaciousness of the BiBi.

Inside the old varnishing hall we had a model train layout - complete with a Picasso - set in the local area. I noticed that one of the country stations that had been created was Vignacourt, which is where Rolf Harris's uncle is buried in the CWGC Cemetery (He was killed in 1918).

The displays were very much explanatory, and there were few people there trying to sell us anything. To be honest we could have done with a book stall.

We watched a video of the demolition of the last of the old signals towers. Peter was sure that the British would have put a preservation order on at least one of them as an interesting building.

At the front like two kiddies

At the front like two kiddies

Lots of fabulous photographs from the days of steam and a collection of SNCF uniforms over the past few decades. Apparently looking like a sack of spuds tied together with a piece of string is not an option for their staff.

There was a vast array of photographs and postcards showing many of the old stations that have long since gone or at least stopped functioning.

A few more trains to look at would have been nice but for a first time effort it was pretty good and has put lots more ideas into Peter's head for his own modelling.

Jon is threatening to get me the SNCF train spotters' guide.


See also

Godefroi's Castle at Bouillon

Orval's brewery

Vytautas's visit

Jon's 60th Birthday

Quend Plage

Anthony's visit