The train of the Mont-Blanc valleys
History and engineering of Mont-Blanc Express

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 :

With Mont-Blanc in the background, train 18903 to Argentière, operated by a Z 800 EMU, arrives in La Joux on 22 June 2016, 8:08.
With Mont-Blanc in the background, train 18903 to Argentière, operated by a Z 800 EMU, arrives in La Joux on 22 June 2016, 8:08.
In Montroc, the track crosses the Arve river on a stone viaduct.
In Montroc, the track crosses the Arve river on a stone viaduct.

These two lines have remarkable technical characteristics:

Les Égratz bridge crosses the Arve river upstream of Chedde.
Les Égratz bridge crosses the Arve river upstream of Chedde.
Viaduc des Torrents (“Creeks Viaduct”), near Finhaut, is built in a steep ramp of 70 mm/m. The main arch measures 35 meters.
Viaduc des Torrents (“Creeks Viaduct”), near Finhaut, is built in a steep ramp of 70 mm/m. The main arch measures 35 meters.
Viaduc Sainte-Marie is the most impressive structure of the railway.
Viaduc Sainte-Marie is the most impressive structure of the railway.

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.

Above Argentière, a train is about to enter an avalanche gallery that enables year-round operation of the line.
Above Argentière, a train is about to enter an avalanche gallery that enables year-round operation of the line.

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 track dominates the village of Le Trétien.
The track dominates the village of Le Trétien.
Argentière, at 1250 m above sea level, is dominated by Aiguille du Chardonnet.
Argentière, at 1250 m above sea level, is dominated by Aiguille du Chardonnet.

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.

Between Les Bossons and Les Praz, the railway serves the most densely populated areas of Chamonix valley.
Between Les Bossons and Les Praz, the railway serves the most densely populated areas of Chamonix valley.
Pastoral setting in Vallorcine valley.
Pastoral setting in Vallorcine valley.

The passenger rolling stock is mostly comprised of relatively new Electric Multiple Units (EMUs): 5 Z 800 EMUs (3 SNCF, 2 TMR) from 1996-1997, 6 Z 850 (SNCF) from 2005-2007 and 2 Z 870 (TMR) from 2011. TMR also use three BDeh 4/4 EMUs from 1964 and 1979 as back-up. The replacement of the Z 800 trainsets is scheduled for 2024 (7 Z 890 trainsets that SNCF and TMR plan to order jointly).

The Z 800 class panoramic electric multiple units (EMUs) were introduced in 1996. As they are not accessible, they will be replaced by future rolling stock dubbed “Z 890”.
The Z 800 class panoramic electric multiple units (EMUs) were introduced in 1996. As they are not accessible, they will be replaced by future rolling stock dubbed “Z 890”.
In Les Praz, a Z 850 EMU is passing a level crossing with Mont-Blanc in the background.
In Les Praz, a Z 850 EMU is passing a level crossing with Mont-Blanc in the background.
Last update: 12 February 2022. © Christophe Jacquet, 2000-2022. Legal and terms of use. Contact. Site map.
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