Corsica is probably best known for its liberation front and its wild boar pate, but the large Mediterranean island can also boast the finest and most spectacular narrow gauge railway system anywhere in Europe – at least since the sad closure a few years ago of Portugal’s Douro Valley routes from Tua to Mirandela and Regua to Villa Real.
The 144-mile long metre-gauge system comprises a main Bastia-Ajaccio axis, from which a branch line diverges at a junction station called Ponte-Leccia, just north of the university town of Corte. This 46-mile long branch reaches the island’s north coast at L’Île-Rousse and from here westwards to the terminus at Calvi a seasonal shuttle service known as the Tramway de la Balagne supplements the limited longer distance services, and serves the many beaches and resorts along this delightful coastline.
For well over half a century a mainstay of passenger services on the Chemins de Fer de la Corse (CFC) were the powerful Renault ABH8-series railcars, with a fleet of eight (201-208) having been delivered to the island between 1949 and 1950. By summer 2007 a surviving trio (201/4/6) had just one year left of working the tramway service, before their displacement following delivery and delayed commissioning of a new fleet of 12 two-car units, known as AMG 800.
In late July 2007 that summer’s nine return journeys a day on the tramway were in the hands of the oldest Renault unit in the fleet, 201 (in a maroon livery) paired with a 1938-vintage trailer (113) and 206 in a bright red and cream livery, paired with an unnumbered vintage trailer vehicle. Renault 204 (also in a red and cream livery) stood out of use at Calvi.