A CFTVA volunteer in the middle of a restorationA CFTVA volunteer in the middle of a restoration
©A CFTVA volunteer in the middle of a restoration|Tourisme en Pays de Saint-Omer

Behind the scenes at CFTVA, Chemin de Fer Touristique de la Vallée de l'Aa

Because behind every enchanted escapade, every marvelous ride and every unique experience lie passionate men and women, unsuspected tricks of the trade and titanic work, we wanted to show you behind the scenes, behind the scenes of a piece of equipment. Zoom on the Chemin de Fer Touristique de la Vallée de l’Aa and the volunteers who work behind the scenes.

An ordinary Thursday morning

It’s an ordinary Thursday morning near Arques station. We catch a glimpse of men in blue coats. Whistled or sung tunes compete for our ears with hammer blows and the grinder. The smell of pie tickles our nostrils. “When the women are here, we eat well”, says a retired SNCF worker with a smile. But mealtime is still a long way off: there’s plenty of work to be done for all these Chemin de Fer Touristique volunteers.

“What takes the most work out of us is the steam locomotive, explains Jean-Claude Renaux, an active member of the association. But it’s far from the only one requiring the expertise and patience of volunteers. “All the equipment is old. What’s more, the vehicles sleep outside. So there are often repairs to be made. Not to mention the day-to-day upkeep of the site, the maintenance of the equipment…”. So thereare around thirty of them, meeting once or twice a week, all year round, whatever the weather, to keep the trains running on weekends when they’re open to the public.

In the CFTVA workshop

In the workshop, a regular cuts a metal plate. Next to the parking lot, another works on the woodwork of the Autorail Picasso. Yet another finishes the exterior of a passenger car for hosting seminars or birthday parties. In the distance, a figure can be seen painting a turnout component…

“Everyone lends a hand according to their skills, says Jean-Claude Duquenoy, a former SNCF driver. “Me, I know the steam locomotive well, I trained the others. From time to time, we pick up a new recruit who knows something about electricity or welding: that’s good!”

A large family

The Chemin de Fer Touristique de la Vallée de l’Aa is a big family. Everyone does their bit. The women take care of lunchtime refreshments, bookkeeping, promotion and welcoming visitors. Some volunteers come from far and wide to take part in the work. “It’s very friendly,” assures Jean-Claude Renaux.“Some don’t hesitate to travel miles, because they know they’re needed, but also because they like the atmosphere they find here and have a good time.”

Thanks to all these enthusiasts, le Chemin de Fer Touristique de la Vallée de l’Aa takes young and old to discover the area in restored, safe trains every weekend in spring and summer, as well as on themed trains at Halloween or in the run-up to Christmas. Groups are also welcome all year round.



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