(All images by Boreally.org; the abandoned Aérotrain test tracks at Gometz-le-Châtel)
Near the small commune of Gometz-le-Châtel in the department of Essonne, south of Versailles, stands the silent form of a retro transportation dream that never quite had its day. The reinforced concrete structure was built in February 1966 as a test track for an experimental Aérotrain project. But its high cost and the death of lead engineer Jean Bertin led to the hovertrain’s eventual cancellation in 1977.
France quickly adopted the TGV as the country’s high-speed transport offering, and Bertin’s Aérotrain test tracks were abandoned. Decades later these ghost tracks may be off most people’s radars, but sections of the distinctive “inverted ‘T’ shape” monorails have become a source of local interest.
Development of the Aérotrain began in 1965. Vehicles would be suspended on a cushion of air above the concrete track, allowing them to travel at high speed by eliminating the friction encountered by traditional railway locomotives. This innovative solution was similar to magnetic levitation, though cheaper and less technologically complex.
The abandoned infrastructure near Gometz-le-Châtel was the first test track to be constructed. (The vehicles that ran on it, Aérotrain prototypes 01 and 02, have appeared on this blog before in all their retro-futuristic glory.) The four mile-long monorail was built on the route of the abandoned Paris to Chartres railway line. As these photographs from the Boreally Urban Exploration website reveal, long stretches of the ghost track remain intact, an eerie reminder of Jean Bertin’s unfinished work.
Boreally (via Google Translate) writes: “Equipped with a turbojet engine and an auxiliary rocket, the aerostat 01 reached 345 km/h in 1967. The same year, L’aérotrain 02 will be built with a Pratt & Whitney engine and will reach 2 years after the speed of 422 km/h. Building on these records, the construction of the track between Saran to the north of Orléans and Ruan to the north of Artenay in the Loiret department will allow to test the equipment over a distance of 18km.”
“This aerial line carried by pillars was to be the first route of a future Paris-Orléans line. The more straight line than the Gometz-La-Ville line allows higher speeds over longer distances. This line is equipped with two platforms at each end allowing the turning of the trains and of a central platform in Chevilly allowing the exit of the trains of the line, the maintenance and the arrangement of the trains. This platform has a portion of the central rail that is retractable to remove the trains from the removable line and plate to allow trains to be lowered or mounted on the platform.”
By 1977, two years after Bertin’s death and reportedly after some pressure from the SNCF, France’s state-owned railway operator, the innovative hovertrain project came to a standstill. Fast-forward 40 years and various sections of the abandoned Aérotrain test tracks endure, defunct monorail skeletons watching over the surrounding landscape.
Over the decades, sections of the first test track at Gometz-le-Châtel have been demolished to make way for road construction and urban expansion, yet the oft-overgrown stretches pictured here have survived as a monument to Jean Bertin’s high-speed transport vision, though frequented more by climbers than rail passengers.
(All images by Boreally.org)