Le Train Jaune runs from Villefranche – Vernet-les-Bains station to Latour de Carol, near the Spanish town of Puigcerda. The most spectacular part of the route is the section from the start at Villefranche, up as far as the small town and ski-resort area of Odeillo – Font-Romeu. Clinging the sides of the deep valley of the Tet, the line winds up between forests, chasms and streams. From the start up as far Mont Louis, near the summit, passengers are treated to spectacular views of the rocky mountainous scenery, including villages, two historic fortresses, and a precariously perched old hermitage. The line, which was begun in 1903, is a spectacular feat of civil engineering, and apart from the dozens of mostly short tunnels. It includes many bridges and small viaducts, plus two remarkable viaducts spanning wider valleys. These include the remarkable Pont Gisclard, or Pont de Cassagne, which is the only railway suspension bridge in France. After Mont Louis, the line continues to rise for a kilometre or so, before reaching a broad high valley, which it skirts along for seven kilometres as far as the station at Font-Romeu– Odeillo. From here, it then descends some 300 metres down to a high valley on the Spanish border, and the frontier town of Bourg Madame. The station at Bourg Madame is just a few hundred metres from the Spanish border, and it is easy to walk to the old Spanish town of Puigcerda. The line terminates a few kilometres further on, at the small town of Latour de Carol, where it connects with the French railway line from Toulouse, and the RENFE Spanish line from Barcelona.
The line is run by SNCF although there is rumour that whilst SNCF will continue to maintain it and the rolling stock, volunteers will run the trains in future. Hydro-electric power is generated from the River Tet, and transmitted to the electric multiple units (EMUs) at 840 volts DC via a third rail. Amazingly some original EMUs are still in service.
We travelled to Villefrache by rail. At present the fare from Perpignan some 50 km away is a promotional one Euro per person. We chose to travel the whole way to Latour de Carol by Train Jaune and return, which takes over three hours each way to cover 63 km. Our return fare for two seniors was 66.40 Euros. Note that payment at Villefranche must be by card; cash is not accepted. The open carriage/s on the train are filled quickly. We chose closed ones. The views were spectacular at the start of the journey and impressive throughout. We had a snack lunch at the family operated Bistrot de la Gare at Latour de Carol (see separate review to follow) and then returned. To start with the carriages were almost empty but rapidly filled as we collected extra passengers from the many stations down the line. An interesting finish to the journey was a 55 km/h dash on a near level section of the narrow gauge track into Villefranche.
Our trip was in September and we had no difficulty in buying tickets and boarding the train of our choice. However le Train Jaune is very popular in high season. There are many tales of people being unable to board the train of their choice and advice to buy tickets in advance.