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98-year-old mountain train to get new track in south west France

The train de la Rhune welcomes around 350,000 visitors per year

After 98 years of service, the track is to be completely replaced Pic: Département des Pyrénées-Atlantiques

A little tourist train which takes passengers to the summit of La Rhune mountain in the Basque Country is to undergo a €27million renovation. 

The train de la Rhune first opened in 1924 and welcomes around 350,000 visitors per year, allowing tourists to admire the mountain views and the French and Spanish coastline. 

After 98 years of service, the track is to be completely replaced as localised repairs have proved insufficient. 

It is one of only four rack railways in France. Switzerland pioneered the technology, which is particularly adapted to steep mountain climbs. 

“There are very few trains of this type still in use in Europe,” said Jean-Pierre Mirande, vice-president of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department, which owns the railway.

Wild Basque ponies

 “The only company capable of producing a new track was in Switzerland.” The train takes 35 minutes to reach the 905m summit, travelling at 9km/h. On its way, it passes through pastureland where you can cross Pottok (an ancient breed of semi-feral ponies), pictured, and flocks of sheep. 

The department will cover most of the cost of the renovation, which will also receive funding at a regional level and from the national Avenir Montagnes programme, launched last year, which aims to develop sustainable mountain tourism. 

The first phase of renovations began last October, but was paused over the summer so the train could continue to welcome visitors. 

The line will be closed from September 5 as the track is replaced, and the department hopes to re-open by the end of May.

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