The line and the site of the association

Like the whole alsatian railroad network, the area of Neuf-Brisach and the multiple branch lines had a very changeful history.

To understand who were owners and operators, one should refers back to the website from Etienne Biellemann which gives a short but precise presentation of the different actors / builders / operators dealing with the lines from and to Neuf-Brisach/Volgelsheim.

The main actors of the line Volgelsheim-Marckolsheim

The harbour of Colmar is owner of different real estate; its website shows in a detailed way its activities. A part of the line going from Volgelsheim Railstation belongs to him, the other part until the company Jungbunzlauer (located on the district of the city of Marckolsheim at the end of the line) belongs to the Port Autonome de Strasbourg, i.e. the harbour of Strasbourg. The line No.14 between Volgelsheim and Colmar (where the touristic trains never operates) is property of the state railwas SNCF since 2020. 

The licensee ot the port ist the EPIC ("Etablissement Public à Caractère Industriel et Commercial"), a kind of public enterprise which consists of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) from Colmar and the center region of Alsace, the Département of the Haut-Rhin, the City of Colmar, the municipalities association of the Land of Brisach and the public enterprise "Port Autonome de Strasbourg" i.e. the harbour of Strasbourg. The administrator of the harbour is the CCI.

Total lenght of the branchline is 20km. Our steam train operates only on a part (12km) of it: these are 2km between the railway station of Volgelsheim and our workshop and 10km between the workshop and the landing stage of "Sans-Soucis" in the north where our french visitors step in the ship of the BFS. Of course it is of big advantage for our association not to have to bear the costs of maintaining the track even if some tasks like clearing or monitoring it.

A former manager of our association has described the track in the No.7-8 of July/August 1992 of the well-known "Revue Générale des Chemins de Fer" which is to be found here:

"This track with a total length of 21km originates at the very beginning of the railway station of Volgelsheim. It has been established in the years 1959-60 to connect the area of the harbour of NNeuf-Brisach and the industral park of Marckolsheim in the Département of Bas-Rhin, the ulterior motive of the scheduler was to extend the line gradually following the setllement of new industries until the harbour of Strasbourg which is owner of a part of the line. The line has no railway stations that's to say no community is made accessible. Only the plant of Rhénalu (aluminium mill), the cardboard packaging Beghin-Say (Kaysersberg group) at the very beginning and, since 1983 the logicistic center GEFCO at the current end of the line. The line follows quite exactly the Rhine River through a quite typical rhenisch landscape, the so-called "Ried"".

Since this text was written, some things have changed in fact but not so much! The end of ligne is still the industrial harbour area of Marckolsheim, located at 4km of the city center. The expected business development didn't take place and consequently the line has not been extended to the harbour of Strasbourg even if there would have been some good reasons for it: the mainline between Strsbourg, Colmar and Mulhouse is one of the most used lines in France but only because of passenger traffic. The freigt traffic could have been redirected through it. Because of the gradual deindustrialization of France since the 2000's, the harbour of Strasbourg is dismantling its railway network since 2010. Who can seriously think that the freight will be transfered from road to the train?

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The line not far from the landing place of Sans-Soucis. (Picture: Sébastien Kieffer 1997)
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Shematic view of the branch line (Source: La Vie du Rail n°2612)
The company Kaysersberg S.A. is a part of the DS Smith group.

The industrial use of the line

The line is used on the totality of its length (20km). Everyday trafic is between 2 and 4 trains. During the week-end, there are no commercial movements and our association can use it the way it wants, even until Marckolsheim.

To exactly know the service of the harbour just have a look at its website.

Here are some figures about its logistical activity:

In 1996, the grand total of transported freight was 1,45 Million of metric tonnes, 15 years later in 2011, the traffic had decreased to 1,366 Million. The 2 next years were more succesful especially because of the importance of the container traffic from 7900 to 12900 units.  Total fraffic in 2013 was 1,61Million tonnes.

Because of the contraction of the global economy in 2018, the figures were not quite satisfactory:

- 485817 t of aluminium

- 291000 t of cereal products

- 410000 t of gravel & fertilizer

- 55987 t of cellulose/paper

- 7772 t of wood

- 12386 t of manufactured big package (machine parts)

- 27341 vehicles (Passenger cars and light commercial vehicles)

To keep the trust of its customers, the habour had to continuously invest. Because it is an intermodal platform with railroad, trucks and squill, it owns a 800m long embankment on the rhine, some cranes, the newest one has a lifting capacity of 85tonnes, 20 vehicles with 3 to 48t lifting capacity for the transshipping of containers, and weighing resources. As a logistic center, 50000m2 of stockroom are at disposal.

Because of very loyal customers with high level of continuous traffic, the harbour has its own railrod fleet consisting in 3 locomotives (1 two-axles Decauville switcher with 300 hp and 2 road-switchers of the well-known type "63000" which are equipped with the very tough V12-MGO 600hp engine without turbo) and 30 wagons. No leasing here: the machines are all repaired and maintained in its own workshop equipped with a pit and a transporter bridge (Capacity of  5 tonnes). The workshop is nested in a separate building.

Following companies are connected to the branchline (from North to South)

- Jungbunzlauer in Marckolsheim (global player in biotech & agriculture)

- Syral with production, R&D and headquarters (approx. 400 employés), subsidiary of the group Tereos-Syral

- GEFCO, former logistic part of Peugeot SA (Passenger cars and light commercial vehicles) in Marckolsheim too, which is now independant and is a partner of the whole automotive industry with the most german customer (BMW, Daimler-Benz, Porsche)

- DS-Smith former Kaysersberg in Kunheim which produces packagin solutions

- Constellium, 1400 employees and 780.000 m2 of surface, former Rhénalu

- the logistic specialist for cereal products Gustave Muller directly connected to the harbour.

Last but not least, the harbour is part of a initiative of the european commission, the "upper Rhine Ports, a connected corridor" with a goal: to network the rhine harbours from Ludwigshafen, Mannheim, Karlsruhe, Kehl, Strasbourg, Colmar/Neuf Brisach, and the Rheinport Basel-Mulhouse-Weil for there continuous update: the freight traffic is globally speaking expected to increase and some flux should be transfered to the rail and the ships.

But there are some reasons to be sceptical: the intention is to reduce the dependancy of the freight transport on fossil fuels but if it is really the case, why dismantling the tracks in the harbour of Strasbourg...

The railway station of Volgelsheim & the workshop of the CFTR.

Two locations are important for our association: the railway station of Volgelsheim and the workshop which is located 2km in the north, next to the harbour.

The railway station of Volgelsheim is one of the very few stations in Alsace which has been kept in original state: despite its changing story, all its attendant facilities are still there: reception building, goods sheds, lampisterie (storage of all lamps) and toilets. It has been build by austrian and is located on the city of Volgelsheim. It was available for the public on january the 5th of 1878 and was build following the directives of well-known chancellor Bismarck who wanted to better connect Alsace to the very joung german 2nd empire. It didn't last long until the operations were unprofitable. Already in 1890 the operating account were in difficulty. Nevertheless, not less than 10 daily circulations connected Colmar to Freiburg in 1914! It seems that the EL was not really concerned by earning money as the taxpayer were there to finance the playground.

The idea to connect Colmar to Freiburg (which was realized at the time when Prussia ruled in Alsace) is regularly discussed and regularly instantly forgotten because of the huge costs of it. On the german side, this connection wouldn't be problematic at all: the track has been renewed and it's possible to run 80km/h (which is quite performant for who knows what is the topography there). But on the french side, the whole line from Colmar to Neuf-Brisach should be refreshed. The costs are so horrific that visitors and borderers going to work in Germany will wait for the next decades.

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View of 1925 of the railstation of Volgelsheim. (Picture Lehmstedt, collection Kauffman)

In the 50's, the traffic from Colmar to Volgelsheim was very low: a maximum of 2 round trips of passenger train every day + freight trains and military trains. In 1969 the french state railways SNCF stopped the traveller servicings and from this year the only trains the station will see will be freight train for the industrial area of the harbour of Neuf-Brisach. The last station officer left in 1987 and the station was then rent to private people who didn't care about it. Its state quickly became severe.

The city of Volgelsheim had other plans: the idea was to create here a tourist hub, by seeing that the operation of the association was  flourishing. If the station, one of the last of the Elass-Lothringen Architecture (prussian style), could be restored and combined with the steam train conducted by the last EL locomotives, this would be a consistent offer. The station was also known as it had been used in several historical movies like the very well-known (at least in France) movie from Jean Renoir "La Grande Illusion" with Jean Gabin and Erich Von Strohheim. It appeared also in the television film "Un été alsacien" which came out in 1990.

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Aerial Image of the station.

Decision to buy the building and the attendant facilities to the SNCF was made in 1993. However, this was the only beginning for the municipality: a lot of work had to be done to preserve and make it attractive, both inside as well as outside. Finally total costs were 3 Millions of Francs. Bill was paid by the municipality, the SIVOM (an association of municipalities) of Hardt-Nord, the Department Council (Conseil Général), the CCI and the EPIC of the harbour. This decision was definitely the right one as the success of the association shows that it was absolutely necessary to receive the tourists in a historical building anchored in the traditions and history of the region. Anecdotally the french state railways hade named the station "Neuf-Brisach gare" but the plate seen today on the building restores historical truth by wearing the correct name ot its owner: the municipality of Volgelsheim. The christening of the station rebirth was held on may the 13th of 1993.

During the summer time when the train operates, different rooms of the station show exhibitions for the visitors. Topic of all of them is the history and heritage of the railroad in Alsace. For example in 2000, an exhibition called "Memories of  locomotives" narrates the story of both steam locomotives from the EL preserved by the association: Berthold and Theodor. Other rooms are dedicated to the jobs that could be found in and around a station around the 1900's.

The workshop is the central place where the volunteers meet, repare, restore and maintain the locomotives and waggons. In the hall are the showpieces from the association, i.e. all the steam locomotives and some of the diesel. Of course the complete hall is monitored by our cameras and by the security from the neighbor Wrigley.

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Southside of the workshop before its extension. (Picture Sébastien Kieffer, 2007)

In our hall a lot of tools that the restoration and operation require. Worshop has different lathes, milling machines, welding machine, plasma cutting, etc. to manufacture parts which can't be found on the market. There are also a dining room, a kitchen, a shower and a dressing room. The association has also a very usefull pit.
At the end of january of 1983, the structure was finished by an external company and in february the tracks inside the building were installed. Some of words should be said about the pit.

The necessity for pit was unquestionable for the works on the 6130 but the quotations from some businesses were by far too expensive. That's why the board decided to realize it by hand. Total length should be 8m. After an "assessment" realized by the few technicians, picketing was done and an excavator removed already 14m3 of ground.

But after a certain effort to finish with a pickax, it was clear that the original project for a intermediate pit was not reasonable, the quality of the ground was by far too bad: it was only sand mixed with pebble! It was then necessary to dig at least 35cm to realize a correct basement. The concrete reinforcement had to be realized very quickly than because of the composition of the ground which was dug vertically the danger of collape was permanent. And after 4 m3 of concrete what a disaster! The floor which was destabilized by water collapsed and a cubic meter of ground earth fell in the concrete! There was other no choice then to slip in boots and to evacuate ths earth to avoid inhomogenity. Very nice but... this work cost half an hour and solidified! The boots were lost! But to come out of the pit, 3 steps were necessary. Fortunately the volunteers hadn't washed their feet since... few days! So, the first step cast and the boot were lost, the second step meant you lose your stockings and at the 3d step it was the turn of the dirt on the feet (or the skin!)! Shuttering of the pit is done in 2 days and that's the end, folks! After 40 years, the pit is still in use and didn't show any wear: even with the big steam locomotive 141TB424 or our DRS 6-4-660 can run in our depot without any problem!

Since 2014 the depot has been enlarged but these works require a lot of time and even in 2020 they are not finished.

Concerning the tracks, they were all realized by the volunteers without help from any external service. The below-mentioned diagram shows the layout plan of the tracks before the extension which took place in 2014
. A new switch (numbered #4) and 2 service tracks have been added and a hall has been erected to protect them.

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Diagramme of the service tracks before extension

The works began with the recuperation of railroad ties and rails at the branchline of Cernay where the association had parked its locomotives before a new track was found. After that, a new plot of land had to be found (at the very beginning it was a meadow!) and the first layer had to be removed. Fortunately after 30 cm the ground consisted of alluvial deposit, sand and pebble which could support a track without having to ballast it.

After that the parts of switch 1 had to be acquired and the track works could begin. Biggest issue is to fishplate the rails because they have very different dimensions: the principal track constists of rail of type "U36", the switch No.2 "U33", the 3 "U36" and the attached rails are of type 11a! The differences from one rail to the other can reach 20mm! Switch 1 will be delivered by a company named SOLOTRAFER as the 2 other switches which came from the Water retaining / barrage from Michelbach.

In fact the CFTVD, before the conflict of 1982, was in charge during 20 monthes of the removal of 1.5 Million of tonnes of material during the construction of the water retaining of Michelbach. For more info, the number 32 of the well-known french railway magazine "Voies Ferrées" reported this huge heroic deed of the locomotives COFERNA DE5 and DE6!

Wagons et fourgons  Le CFTR dans la presse