Overview of Mont-Blanc Express
Mont-Blanc Express is the commercial name of two sister railway lines in the Mont-Blanc range, in the French-Swiss Alps :
- In France, the line from Saint-Gervais-les-Bains-le-Fayet to Vallorcine and to the Swiss border, via Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, the well known “world alpinism capital”. It is 36.906 km long.
- In Switzerland, the Martigny-Châtelard line, that connects Martigny in the Rhône valley to the French border via Salvan. It is 18.363 km long.
These two lines have remarkable technical characteristics:
- The track is metric gauge, i.e. both rails are exactly one meter apart. The track is thus narrower than “standard gauge” track of the main railway network, where rails are approximately 1.43 m apart.
- Traction is electric, in direct current 800 volts. On most of the route, trains are powered by an elevated rail placed next to the track, known as the “third rail” (a setup frequently used by subways, also found in Southern Britain). The rest of the route is powered by catenary.
- The lines climb into the mountain valleys via significant gradients: up to 9 ‰ (9 cm of elevation gained per meter) in France in an adhesion section, and 20 ‰ (20 cm of elevation gained per meter) in Switzerland in a rack section.
- The structures are numerous. In particular, the Sainte-Marie viaduct is 52 meters high; Les Montets tunnel is 1882 m long.
The Mont-Blanc Express lines were built between 1899 and 1908. They got electrified from the start, pioneering the technique. The French line was almost entirely overhauled in the 2010s. It now uses the Swiss Type-L signalling system, like its Swiss counterpart.
The French line is part of the national railway network (Réseau Ferré National - RFN), where it is numbered 896000. It is managed by a multifunctional division of SNCF called Établissement Mont-Blanc (EMB). In terms of safety, it is supervised by the Service technique des remontées mécaniques et des transports guidés (STRMTG). The Swiss line is owned and operated by Transports de Martigny et Régions (TMR SA), a private company with a majority public shareholding.
The passenger services are called Mont-Blanc Express on both sides of the border. In France, they are run under the auspices of TER Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes (regional express trains run by the administrative Région). Some trains cross the border without a break in service, but a change is most often necessary at Vallorcine. The whole route offers clock-face scheduling all year round on the whole route, with an hourly baseline frequency. On the French side, a half-hourly frequency is offered in high season on the Les Houches - Vallorcine section. The inhabitants of the Chamonix valley as well as tourists travel free of charge between Servoz and Vallorcine.