Châtellerault-Châteauneuf layout
Layout set-up photos Actually line gallery Layout gallery
Rail86 is a model railway club based in Châtellerault, situated about 80 miles inland from the Bay of Biscay, halfway between Paris and Bordeaux on the river Vienne, a tributary of the river La Loire.  The club has built several layouts in 'N' and 'HO',  is planning  to embark on further projects in 'HO' and 7mm scale  narrow gauge, and has most recently built the transportable exhibition layout of Châtellerault-Châteauneuf in "HO", after deciding to model a real station.  The main railway line from Paris to Bordeaux passes through the town on its journey to the South-West, where the station (referred to historically as Châtellerault-PO and opened in the 1850s) was part of an important junction for two cross country lines.  One of these was the line to Châtellerault-Châteauneuf and Loudun in the West (built in the 1880's) and the other to Le Blanc and Tournon in the East.  Thus, it was a natural choice to  recreate an artistic impression of the station of Châtellerault-Châteauneuf, notwithstanding the challenge of the limited space on a transportable layout. 

Trains ceased running there many decades ago, hence the interpretation of the station and its surroundings are "what might have been in the 1970s" if the line had survived. The layout includes accurate models of station buildings, railway structures, plus other major buildings and features such as hotels, houses, cafés, businesses and garages, etc., which were measured on site and photographed before being modeled by various club members.  The bridges used to hide the transition of the track to the fiddle-yard are based on structures from the line itself, although the immediate context is inevitably fictitious.  The 1931 plans were adapted to the available space: in the goods yard one track was deleted and another displaced, whilst one of the through lines was omitted and the large network of sidings serving the old factories on the main line station side (long since abandoned, demolished or rebuilt) had to be truncated.  At the same time a fictitious engine shed was added on the Loudun approaches of the station to add both operating interest and balance to the overall vista, although all such facilities were at the main line station about two kilometers away.  The line between the main line station and Châtellerault-Châteauneuf crosses the river Vienne on a steel truss bridge to the North of the town centre, this is included on the model along with a traditional low draught river sailboat from previous centuries, this is quite legitimate as a preserved sample is kept securely moored to the Henri IV 16-17c stone bridge, in the middle of the river.  Above all, the quality and authenticity of the buildings and structures was paramount.   As the emphasises is on the scenery and buildings, ready to run locomotives and rolling stock are used.


The layout is specifically designed and built for ease of assembly at exhibitions and consists of either five or eight transportable and stackable modules with identical dimensions (1,2 m x 0,6 m) plus short corner modules where the track turns and runs into an equal number of  "fiddle yard" modules at the rear.   The track alignment at the joints is such that two specific modules can be omitted where space is limited.   The legs fold up into the bases of the modules and are fitted with height adjusting screws to allow for uneven floors.  The backdrop is made from 8mm plywood in two sections fitted with vertical slides so that the upper section and lighting pelmet can be raised to operating height.  A front panel is hinged to form a plinth that hangs down to hide the legs; when both this and the legs are folded up, the lighting pelmet lowered, a strong box is created which has additional fixings so that it can be securely stacked to another for safe transport and storage.

The actual baseboard is covered with a layer of cork to reduce noise, the track is Peco streamline100 secured with track pins, plus electrofrog points fitted with Lemaco slow-motion point motors.  The sleeper web is cut and the sleepers respaced to the equivalent of 18 per 12m in the sidings, as was the norm for the French State railways in the late 1800's.  The sides of the rails are painted with Humbrol 73 to create the rust colour and the ends of the check rails picked out in white.  Moistened industrial sand is used for the ballast, laid onto wood glue and then left to dry for several days.

Generally, 3mm foamboard was used to make the walls of the buildings with wooden corner reinforcements. Doors and windows were built individually according to the size needed, use being made of pre-printed sheets where possible and appropriate, roofs are overlaid strips of drawing paper, painted fine sandpaper was used to create Crepi finished and concrete block walls and plastic strips for metal strip cladding.


In 1879, Charles de Freycinet, Minister of Public Works, pushed through a project that involved the construction of 150 railway lines designed to serve all the sub-prefectures.   It is this plan that created the link between Tournon, on the main line from Paris to Limoges further East, passing through Châtellerault and then onwards to Lencloitre and Loudun on the old Tours to Les Sables d'Olonne line.  Châtellerault-Châteauneuf was the first station after the line left Châtellerault on its way to Loudun.

The line was declared a public utility by the Act of February 21, 1880.  After some inevitable turf battles between communes, the final route was decided and work commenced in September 1881. Contractors recruited local and regional labour plus some Italian workers.  After several accidents, incidents and other weather damage, the construction was mostly completed in 1885, except for some ancillary works.

The line was  single track, 51 km long and served 12 stations: Châtellerault-PO; Châtellerault-Chateauneuf; Scorbé Clairvaux; St Genest Ambière; Lencloître; Cernay Doussay; Savigny s / o Faye; Berthegon; Mountains s / Guesnes; Le Bouchet; The Bourdigalière and Loudun.

From Loudun to Savigny s / o Faye, the route followed the the crest of the watershed with gradients better than 1/100.  It then followed the course of a small river to Lencloitre beyond which it climbed back up to Scorbé Clairvaux to avoid its meandering course and then descended again to pick up the course of the river Envigne to Châteauneuf.  After crossing the river Vienne, the line joined the main line into the station at Châtellerault.  On the far side of Châtellerault main line station, a separate line continued the link to Le Blanc and Tournon as originally envisaged in the 1879 plan.

There were 55 structures along the route: a metal truss bridge across the river Vienne,  two bridges over the Envigne and several  road bridges,  plus many culverts to streams or ditches.  The Poitevin company, Caillaud-Degenne, was awarded the contract for the construction of eight intermediate stations and fifty crossing gatekeeper's  houses that were needed.  Monts s / Guesnes,  Châteauneuf  and Lencloitre stations had fourth class buildings (4 front windows and goods shed of 10,00m x 21,50m), the others were fifth class (3 front windows).  They all had a lamp room, offices, platform shelter, goods shed with high platform and access ramp, baggage scales, loading gauge ... Chateauneuf and Loudun also had a Hachette (French newspaper vendor, similar to WH Smith's).  The station at Savigny, located midway between Châtellerault and Loudun, was equiped with a water tower and water cranes.  Construction was between 1884 to 1887

The minor wayside stations and crossing houses (PN) were all built on the same rectangular footprint of 5,45m4 x 8,00m; a ground floor with a main room and fireplace, a bedroom and ta staircase that provided access to the first floor, which was divided into a bedroom and a small attic.  A store / utility room backed onto the house, each had its own well and the house's kitchen window often served as the ticket office.  Some had a cellar which was accessible from outside,

The line was inaugurated on Sunday September 19 1886 by the Secretary of the Navy and local officials and councilors.  The State dignitaries took the inaugural train from Tours, whilst the others boarded at their local stations along the line's route from Loudun to Châtellerault.  The inaugural train was invariably met at each station by the cheering populace, often with much ceremony.  At Châtellerault a large parade and banquet were held, followed by a firework display on the quayside of the river Vienne.  Commercial operation began the following day with three passenger trains each way and two freight trains.  Journey times ranged from 1:30 to 3:00 hours for passenger trains and 3:26 to 4:05 for the goods trains according to the number of stops and degree of shunting operations.

The trains rapidly began to transport local produce, offering fast connections to major towns for perishables.  On fête days additional trains would also run.  The demand was such that new halts were subsequently created at the level crossings at Cernay-Doussay and The Bourdigalière.


The line had its moment of fleeting glory in September 1912. That year the French Army held 10 days of manouvers involving several thousand men, under the command of Marshal Joffre, on an area from Saumur in the North to Châtellerault (a distance of some 100 miles). Several foreign delegations were invited including Russia, which was represented by the Tsar's uncle the Grand Duke Nicolas.  His special train was parked at the station in Berthegon on a track specially prepared for the occasion.


Between the two wars, advances in agriculture resulted in the construction of grain silos in the freight stations and the birth of further traffic: fertilizer, grain, agricultural machinery ...  Where these silos are still in use they are now served by road traffic, except for the Bouchet to Loudun section where the track is still in place.

The SNCF was created on the 1st January 1938 following the nationalization of the old companies, which previously held the right to operate the railway lines.  The following "rationalization" proved fatal to the line and passenger services were withdrawn on the 15th May 1939.

In 1944 after the Allied landings in France, military action seriously affected the line: an allied bombing raid (NZAF Mosquitos) successfully attacked a fuel dump in the local forest and the Châtellerault-Châteauneuf station facilities, six tank wagons of fuel were destroyed in the station itself.  Subsequently, explosive charges were placed under local bridges by the retreating invaders, but many were sabotaged by the local resistance.  Both the historic Henri IV Bridge and the first 19th century reinforced concrete bridge built in France were thus saved; both main and local railway bridges across the river Vienne were destroyed on the night of August 30th to 31st.  Road bridges to the North of the town were destroyed by the Luftwaffe.

Bridge across the river Vienne

Passenger services had been temporarily resumed from May 22nd 1944, but had to be limited to railcars from Loudun to Châteauneuf-Châtellerault because of the destruction of the bridge over the river. Final closure to passenger traffic was during the summer 1946.  The bridge was not rebuilt until 1955.  It is this modern metal bridge that is modeled on the layout.

Goods services started to be closed on the 26th September 1980, the first being those being Lencloitre to Châteauneuf.  Those of Lencloitre to Bouchet were not finally closed until 1st June 1987.

Monts s/Guesnes Lencloitre

There was also a tramway/spur to the Manu, being the armaments factory dating back several centuries, the tracks are still visible at the factory and one can trace the route of the spur by the curvature of the boundaries where the track bed has not been built over, and a remaining derelict railway crossing gate.  This spur is not modeled on the layout.

The Official Journal of 26th September 1992 records the order to decommission the line. The track was removed within months.  At Châtellerault, the rails still cross the bridge today, but do not reach the station at Chateauneuf and no trains pass over the bridge anymore even though the track-circuit equipment appears to be intact.  The track has been lifted or covered in tarmac in the industrial estate between the bridge and Châteauneuf-Châtellerault station, although many of the numerous old industrial sidings remain, albeit, not intact.   Nevertheless, the importance of the industrial estates to the line is perfectly clear.

To the East the trackbed to Le Blanc and Tournon has all but disappeared except for a few road bridges and the occasional scar of an old embankment or cutting

The fate of the Châtellerault - Châteauneuf to Le Bouchet railway was thus sealed.  Fortunately, the General Council of the Vienne and town councils decided to use it to construct a cycle way running some 40km from Châteauneuf to Bouchet. So the line still survives for public use, albeit by ramblers and cyclists (mountain bike tyres are advised).  Most buildings (stations, goods sheds, and level crossing houses) have been purchased and renovated by individuals with varying degrees of taste. To the East the track bed to Le Blanc and Tournon has all but disappeared, except for a few road bridges and the occasional scar of an old embankment or cutting.
Also, a departmental steam tramway which ran from Châtellerault for nearly 70km through the valley of the Vienne to Chauvigny in the South and onwards to Bouresse was built in the early 1900s.  It is recorded that on the tramway, the male passengers were regularly required to help push the train up the gradients - and on one occasion some left the train altogether, ran past it up a hill and enjoyed a glass of wine in a café before climbing back on board when the train finally reached the summit.  Few traces of the line remain, but the bridge over the river Vienne at Cenon has survived and is now used by road traffic.
Today, the TGVs with some 24000hp available cover the 300 km journey from Châtellerault to Paris in 80 odd minutes...