The Petit train d'Artouste is a narrow gauge tourist railway situated in the French Pyrenees close to the Spanishborder, some 55 km (34.2 mi) south of the town of Pau, and within the commune of Laruns. The line runs high above the headwaters of the Gave d'Ossau, and provides access to the Lac d'Artouste, a semi-artificial lake in the mountains at an altitude of over 2,000 m (6,562 ft).
The line was originally constructed for the Compagnie des Chemins de Fer du Midi (CFM), the then main line railway operator in the area to the north of the Pyrenees. As part of a program of electrifying these lines, the CFM constructed a series of hydro-electric power stations in the valley of the Ossau between the years 1920 and 1932. Significant civil engineering works were required in order to provide access to these works, and included the line now used by the petit train. Once this work was finished, the CFM recognised the tourist potential of the line, and the first tourist trains were run.
Today the petit train is reached by a télécabine from a lower station at Artouste-Fabrèges, on the Lac de Fabrèges in the valley of the Gave du Brousset. This lower station is at an altitude of 1,240 m (4,068 ft) and accessible by road. The télécabine climbs to an upper station (known as Ossau2000) at an altitude of 1,920 m (6,299 ft), where passengers change to the petit train. After leaving Ossau2000, the line runs through a 315 m (1,033 ft) tunnel, crossing under the ridge to reach a point high above the valley of the Gave de Soussouéou, another of the Gave d'Ossau's tributaries. From here the line runs along a twisting and vertiginous ledge above that valley until it reaches the dam of the Lac d'Artouste. The culminating point of the railway is approximately 1,940 m.
The line is 10 km (6.2 mi) long and is built to a gauge of 500 mm (19 3⁄4 in). Trains consist of 6 12-seat carriages pulled by a diesel locomotive, and operate from late May or early July until the end of September or early October. They are subject to a maximum speed of 15 km/h (9.3 mph) and the end to end journey takes just under one hour. On busy days, up to 10 trains are used providing 3 departures per hour, whilst at other times departures are hourly. Trains depart from 08.30 until 14:30 or later in the high season.
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The Col d'Aubisque (elevation 1,709 m (5,607 ft)) is a mountain pass in the Pyrenees 30 km (19 mi) south of Tarbes and Pau in the department of the Pyrenees atlantiques.
The pass is on the northern slopes of the Pic de Ger (2,613 m (8,573 ft)) and connects Laruns, in the valley of the Gave d'Ossau, via Eaux-Bonnes (west) to Argelès-Gazost in the valley of the Gave de Pau, via theCol du Soulor (east). The road crosses the Cirque du Litor, in the upper part of the Ouzom valley. It is generally closed from December to June.
The pass is starting point of excursions and a centre for winter sports. In summer, it is popular with cyclists. It is regularly part of the Tour de France, generally rated an hors catégorie climb.
From the west, the climb to the Aubisque starts in Laruns. From there, the Aubisque is 16.6 km (10.3 mi) and rises 1,190 m (3,900 ft), an average gradient of 7.2%. The first few kilometres, to the spa resort of Eauc-Bonnes, are fairly easy. After the Cascade de Valentin comes a section at 13%. From there to the top, the climb is 8.0 km (5.0 mi) at 8% average, passing the ski resort of Gourette at 1,400 m (4,600 ft).
The east side is climbed after the Col du Soulor (1,474 m (4,836 ft)). Starting from Argelès-Gazost, the Soulor is 19.5 km (12.1 mi). It rises 1,019 m (3,343 ft), an average gradient of 5.2%. It gets tougher after Arrens-Marsous with 10% and more. From the Soulor, the climb is 10.6 km (6.6 mi), gaining a further 235 m (771 ft). The road from the Soulor runs along cliffs in the Cirque du Litor, where there are two short, narrow tunnels. From the Cirque du Litor, the climb is 7.5 km (4.7 mi) at 4.6%, a height gain of 350 m (1,150 ft).
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