An unusual find in France

Posted by Chris Graham on 20th September 2021

Railway enthusiast Martin Clarke discovers an unusual find in France, while on holiday in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, near Lake Annecy

An unusual find in France

An unusual find in France: The Fireless Fives-Lille loco No. 3826, constructed in 1911. (Pic: Martin Clarke)

A short holiday in the Alps beside Lake Annecy, a very pretty location in the Haute-Savoie department in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of France, was taken recently by French-based reader, Martin Clarke. He commented that he’d never seen a lake quite like it before, with water the colour of turquoise and so clear.

An unusual find in France

The station setting includes a water crane. (Pic: Martin Clarke)

However, running along the length of the lake, Martin discovered that there is now a cycle-way on the foundation of what was once a railway branch line that ran between Annecy and Albertville. Alongside the former station at Bredannaz, he came across a ‘Fireless’ loco, plinthed on a short length of track. He was able to glean some details about the loco from a display board adjacent to the station. Information about a website in French was provided at:, and this includes some images of the railway in operation very many years ago.

This horizontally-mounted winch is below and to the rear of the loco’s front buffer beam. But what was its use? (Pic: Martin Clarke)

Originally opened in 1857, the line was built by the Compagnie Chemin de Fer de Victor Emmanuel, being transferred to the PLM (Paris-Lyon-Marseille) in 1882. Passenger traffic ceased in 1938 but, apparently, some sections of the line were still in use for industrial purposes as late as 1999. The ‘non-compatible’ Fireless loco was built in 1911 by Fives-Lille in the suburb of Lille named Fives – Works No. 3826 – and, perhaps not surprisingly since it was an industrial loco, it didn’t run on the branch line at all, but worked at the munitions factory at Amberieu (between Annecy and Lyon) during WW1 and WW2.

The display board indicated, somewhat incorrectly, that the loco ran on a mixture of hot water and compressed air. It would actually have been filled with hot water and high pressure steam, the latter of which would have been fed to the cylinders via a reducing valve. How long it operated at the munitions works after WW2 isn’t known, but it was bought by the ‘Friends of Bredannaz’ in 2005 and set up as a static exhibit beside the old station building.

The old station at Bredannaz. Note the railway mural on the right hand side wall. (Pic: Martin Clarke)

Something of a curiosity which was observed under the front axle of the loco was a horizontally-mounted winch. It wasn’t obvious how this was powered, but such a fitment is undoubtedly unusual on a railway locomotive. Perhaps it was used to enable wagons to be pulled out of buildings without the loco having to enter them, or to haul the bomb-carrying wagons around the site at a safe distance?

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