Right bank of Rhone reopening (Photo Laurent Boutonnet) (4)

FRANCE: Passenger services have been revived on the 82 km line along the right bank of the River Rhône between Avignon and Pont-Saint-Esprit, which has been freight-only since 1973.

Reopened with a ceremony on August 28, the line is one of six which the Occitanie region hopes to reopen to passengers.

The Avignon – Pont-Saint-Esprit reopening project is being undertaken in two phases. The first took five years, and included reopening and upgrading Bagnols-sur-Cèze and Pont-Saint-Esprit stations and upgrading level crossings. The €12·8m cost has been fully funded by the region.

Right bank of Rhone reopening (Photo Laurent Boutonnet) (3)

There are five daily trains each way between Pont-Saint-Esprit and Avignon, offering an end-to-end journey time of 30 min. One service runs through to Nîmes in 1 h 20 min. With the line offering with faster journey times than are possible by car and supported by changes to the connecting bus network, the region predicts an annual ridership of 200 000 passengers/year.

A €1 promotional fare is being offered for the first month of operation and the region aims to support low fares in the longer term.

A second phase planned for completion by 2026 will add six stations to the route. Pont-Saint-Esprit station is to be remodelled to improve the service performance and enable an increase to eight trains each way per day running through between Nîmes, Avignon and Pont-Saint-Esprit. The €100m cost will again be fully funded by Occitanie.

Right bank of Rhone reopening (Photo Laurent Boutonnet) (1)

Meanwhile, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region has launched studies to restore passenger services on another section of the right bank route between Le Teil and Valence in 2028. This would be served by seven trains each way per day, which would run through to Romans-sur-Isère, calling at both Valence-Ville and Valence-TGV.