Over hundreds of meters, these tagged relics are ranged on sidings overgrown with weeds, a sort of informal museum that is a little melancholy.
“In 2018, there were 550 locomotives in Sotteville. Today, there are about sixty left», Notes Alain Maucourt, responsible for the dismantling of written off equipment.
“This is no longer a locomotive graveyard as it has been called for years, but it is a material sorting site“, he insists.
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We will not go to see the locomotives that survived this agglomeration which was a bit too reminiscent of the rail freight debacle. The hike would be too long, the site is huge. It prevents the ex-train 13 of the TGV, the TER from Rhône-Alpes or Lower Normandy, the Z6400 Ile-de-France (a series that disappeared last November), a gaggle of Corail cars …
“Currently we have nearly 400 items“(cars, wagons, motor coaches, locomotives …), calculates Jérémie Pigeaud, the director of the Rouen Quatre-Mares technicenter on which this rather special car park depends.
“It lives every day“with arrivals and departures, he explains with a smile. To the delight of enthusiasts who can say goodbye, from the bridge over the yard, to all this material withdrawn from circulation after forty years. Others have less qualms, who regularly visit the oars to steal metals.
Some cars will be recovered by the SNCF to be removed and reused, such as Corail abandoned by the regions.
But Sotteville is for the most part the last stage before leaving for the scrapyard.
“Of course, before sending our trainsets to be dismantled, we collect all the components that can be reused on other trainsets.», Observes the director of equipment Xavier Ouin.
– Expensive asbestos removal –
“We can recover electronic parts, interior fittings, air conditioning components …”
The rest goes to specialized companies, often with a prerequisite: the removal of asbestos from wrecks.
“There was a lot of asbestos in trains until the late 1990s“, usually in floors, ceilings and walls, explains Mr. Ouin.”Now it is forbidden.”
“As long as you don’t touch it, it’s absolutely not a problem“, he reassures.”But if we want to recover the scrap, there is stripping to be done and it is done in specialized facilities.”
It is then possible to recover 92 to 95% of the material sent for dismantling, and up to 98% on the locomotives, explains Alain Maucourt. Scrap metal, of course, but also copper, plastics, glass …
“If we dismantle 1,000 boxes per year, which is the case today, that represents about 60,000 tons of steel“, he notes. Enough to overhaul around 1,000 km of rails.
The product of recovered materials does not cover the cost of asbestos removal, recognizes Xavier Ouin.
“As we own the materials, we are responsible for the disposal of waste until the end.“, he indicates.
A European regulation prohibiting the sale, donation, rent or loan of asbestos railway equipment, the SNCF is condemned to use its trains or to “dismantling them properly“. With an advantage in passing: they cannot be reused by potential competitors.
To empty its yards, which came as in Sotteville from railway cemeteries, the public group embarked on the major recycling of its old trains in 2014.
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If the first experiences were not very happy, a whole industry has now set to work and “prices have been halved or tripled since 2015“. The objective is to free the sidings”in about five years“, underlines the material director.