A Match Made In Heaven

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A few months back, as I was listening to a local radio station, I heard an announcement about a demonstration of some old locomotives at Paris Gare de Lyon. As it happens, this man above is one of the few French Railways SNCF who decided to organise this gathering. There was no sign posting, the meeting was entirely organised by these people, who welcomed quite a few visitors within their drivers’ compartments. The one above is a 1950s electric locomotive, and it’s still doing the job between Paris and Clermont Ferrand on a regular basis. You can’t see anyone on the photo but the compartment was crammed.


From the same compartment, the locomotive in front was a superb 1930s job, with the great old SNCF art deco logo. Umpteen times nicer than the new one. What was striking about these drivers was their passion and dedication to their job. They weren’t trainspotters but train lovers they surely were and I was impressed with the amount of respect that they have for their passengers and the elders as well, the ones who knew everything about those machines and could repair them on the go.


I loved that 6549 machine above, squeaky clean and perfectly maintained.


An older locomotive from the 1930s too, with its horns on the rooftop. I thought this would be very apt for the “good match” challenge of today.

Yann Gourvennec
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  1. Isn’t it marvelous when people’s passion for preserving a particular aspect of history results in something like this event? What a privilege for everyone who attended to see these beautiful trains up close. And thank you for bringing this reader along for the ride from halfway across the world through your lovely photos and narrative.

    • Thanks Heather. I was very lucky to hear about this event. It wasn’t organised by SNCF or any other official body, only this fistful of passionate people. They also shared with us about their working conditions and we got to understand better how hard the job may be: those who drive our trains sometimes come from very far away and have to drive a long way to the station so that they can do they jobs (they can’t take a train because they have to arrive very early and they are the ones driving it! Some TGV drivers come from, say, Burgundy, and have to drive all the way to Paris then drive their trains and barely 1 1/2 hours later they can wave at their families from the train at 350 kmh). Chances are that trains will be driven by robots before the end of our own lives though.

      • You were indeed very lucky to hear about this event, Yann! It’s a perfect example of the many “hidden” cultural opportunities in Paris that are organized by passionate individuals, and which one hears about only through word of mouth. (That’s also how I got to tour some abandoned métro stations a few years ago.) But the insight into the difficulties of their jobs is especially rich: I guess I’d never considered how the conductors might get to work in the first place, if they’re the ones driving the trains! When one considers the sacrifices these people willingly make — and how much they clearly love their jobs — it’s a little bit sad to consider that soon enough robots will probably do these jobs, isn’t it. I suppose progress is inevitable, but for my part, I’ll miss hearing the conductor mumble something about an emergency stop because of goats on the tracks. 🙂

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