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The Decauville Railway System

Martin Lovell

MARTIN LOVELL tells us about this French Narrow Gauge manufacturer of track and stock.

Decauville Track

The Decauville manufacturing company was formed by Paul Decauville, a French pioneer of industrial railways. The company was in existence from 1875 up until the 1950s, producing a portable track system, originally 400mm (15 inch) gauge, which was later refined to 500mm (19 inch), And then 600mm (1ft 11 5/8 inch). The company also produced locomotives and rolling stock.

The French military became interested in the system as early as 1888, and adopted the 600mm gauge to supply their strongholds (such as the Maginot Line) and then to transport arms and ammunition during its campaigns.

The track, light steel rail on steel sleepers, was designed to be portable, quickly laid and quickly replaced in the case of damage. This made it ideal for military use. During WW1 thousands of miles of trench railway was laid using this system, with standard gauge locomotives and stock being used to ferry equipment and men to a railhead, where the narrow gauge system took over.

Decauville Locomotive

A similar system was used by the German forces, also using a 600mm gauge system known as a Feldbahn, or field railway.

At the cessation of hostilities, the miles of track and a huge quantity of locomotives and stock became surplus to requirements, and industrial companies snapped up the available stock for use in quarries, farms, cane fields, mines etc, many of which were still thriving until the 1960s, when road vehicles gradually took over. However all was not lost, as the preservationists moved in, and many Narrow Gauge concerns sprang up - thereby saving the locomotives and stock from untimely end.

Decauville Locomotive Amberley

Your author driving the Decauville Locomotive 'Barbouiller' at the Amberley Museum.

Many Decauville locomotives survive to this day, for example on the Puffing Billy Railway in Australia, Pithiviers-Loire in France, and at Amberley Museum in Sussex, as well as many other sites. Plus the track system is still in use, especially in tunnelling and mining concerns where a temporary system is required.

Modelling Decauvilles

Minitrains Decauville

Quite a few examples of the various Decauville locomotives and stock can be found in model form, and in all scales from HOe right up to 7 inch gauge.

In my own and my son's collection I have examples of the Jouef Decauville 0-4-0 locomotive, plus toast rack coaches and tipper trucks, no longer produced but available second hand, and incidentally, the first Narrow gauge models I obtained! There is a body kit by Meridian Models of the 0-4-0 Progres type, the same as the Amberley locomotive. The 0-6-0 Progres locomotive is newly available from Minitrains.

So there we are, a small company in France with a major role in Narrow gauge railways.

Happy Modelling


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