Europe’s highest train
Who, as a kid, playing with their electric train, has never dreamt of driving a real one one day? Arnaud Uthurriague did it. And not just any old one. A life-size, red and yellow toy-shaped train, with an ever-so tiny engine, but that climbs almost 2,000 metres up the mountainside.
It’s Europe’s highest train, if we forget the rack-railway train from Montenvers to Mont Blanc and the Jungfrau in Switzerland.
Arnaud Uthurriague has been operating the little train d’Artouste for seven years now and does three round trips per day in peak season, without ever growing weary. Up to end September, Arnaud will drive some 100,000 visitors before swopping for his winter ski instructor activity.
An office with a view
The first train leaves every morning at 9am but, before that, the driver makes a final check after the machinists have carried out their daily mechanical review.
The tasks to be done require great attention, such as speed, to start with, which varies based on the terrain. Braking in bends, accelerating on straight sections, but never exceeding eighteen kilometres an hour. And, it’s not even worth thinking of cheating: a digital tachograph* records the train’s speeds, just like in buses and trucks. Four times during the trip, Arnaud has to stop the train to shunt it, move the switch and let a train coming in the opposite direction pass.
The driver’s position in the mini engine is not very comfortable: seated perpendicularly to the rails in a tiny space, he has to keep an eye constantly on the tracks and the other on his passengers. But doesn’t he have the most beautiful office in the world? A few marmots scamper off as he passes by, herds are back in their summer pastures and breathe life into Soussouéou Plateau once again. When the cowbells ring out, the whole mountain chimes.
This year, Arnaud Uthurriague has moved on to track maintenance but that never stops him from taking over the helm when there’s a need for an extra driver. In peak season, ten trains can be rolling along the route at the same time.
- Device which records driving speed and time.
An unforgettable trip 2,000 metres high
The railway, created in 1924, for building the dam, has been used for tourist purposes since the 1930s. It will take you up from the summit of the Sagette (reached by cable car from the village of Fabrèges) and on to Lac d'Artouste and its dam.
The journey takes an hour and crosses through the green Soussouéou Valley then heads up the mountainside above impressive cliffs. At the arrival station, the vista over Soussouéou Valley is breathtaking with the summits of Cézy, Amoulat and over Arcizette.
An extraordinary 10-km journey through the high mountains: landscapes, flora, fauna… open your eyes wide!