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European Rail News #657 - SNCF Voitures Ambulance

European Rail News #657 - SNCF Voitures Ambulance

Old Jul 25th, 2006, 11:51 AM
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European Rail News #657 - SNCF Voitures Ambulance

The SNCF (French Railways) runs a fleet of one of Europe's most unique passenger trains - the so-called Voitures Ambulance fleet with 27 ambulance train cars known as Type So. built in the 70s and early 80s, they are similar to Corail coaches on the exterior except for having a large central door and large corridor, allowing stretchers or wheelchairs easy access - larger than normal toilets and small staff and catering compartments. Each coach has 40 beds.
The ambulance cars were designed to take phycially challenged pilgrims to/from Lourdes and are typically chartered. The number of pilgrims arriving by rail is decreasing as more and more pilgrims fly to Lourdes...even though the pilgrimage aspect is more lacking in that case and the trains also offer the advantage of communal prayer en route.
2,000,000 people visit Lourdes each year and 400,000 arrive by train. Lourdes is second only to Paris in France in number of hotel beds.
QUESTION?
As the Lourdes pilgrim season lasts mainly from April to October what does the SNCF do with these voitures ambulance from November to March - it does not mothball them but has found a lucrative use for them?
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Old Jul 25th, 2006, 12:16 PM
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Interesting question! Are those train cars used as hostel beds off-season?
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Old Jul 25th, 2006, 12:21 PM
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Nope but a good guess.
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Old Jul 25th, 2006, 12:34 PM
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Fun question PalQ. But I sure do not know. Take them to the ski resorts for the winter skiers that hurt themselves and need medical attention?

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Old Jul 25th, 2006, 12:40 PM
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Correct, in part, so you get the prize - free admission to Lourdes' Parade des Malades!
Yes - "in order to use these coaches outside the pilgrimage season they are fitted with ski racks and can accommodate groups of 60 on services to winter sports resorts!" Kind the contrary of malades to Lourdes - healthy sportive folks to ski!
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Old Jul 25th, 2006, 12:57 PM
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WHAT?? I WON?? Good grief PalQ, I think that this is the only thing I have ever won in my life (well except for my husband of course). Now about Lourdes, is it alright if I pass my prize on to someone who might be interested?

Haha, Faina..did you notice, I won!!

Thanks for a fun thread!!
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Old Jul 25th, 2006, 01:00 PM
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I'm sorry to rain on your 'parade' so to speak, but some of the judges didn't want to give you the prize because technically you missed the correct answer - but i overruled them because you had the right idea. But the judgment has been appealed and we'll let you know about the committee's ruling. And they may require drug testing as well before awarding the prize, if the ruling stands up.
Have a nice night! And don't start packing your bags just yet! Best wishes PQ
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Old Jul 25th, 2006, 01:20 PM
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LoveItaly, unlike PalQ, I am not going to rain on your parade. Congratulations! Let me know when you're flying to attend that parade, I'll wave good-bye and make sure your tiara is not forgotten at home!

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Old Jul 26th, 2006, 09:03 AM
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The article i'm reading about Lourdes trains has some other interesting tidbits:
By far the two largest groups to visit Lourdes by charter train are the French and Italians - each nationality doing about 200 charters a year (not all ambulance trains).
The article describes how each year in Sicily and Calabria especially flock aboard trains to Lourdes - a 24 hour journey that may seem arduous but which pilgrims find very rewarding - simulating the old arduous pilgrimage aspect in the thoughts that a journey to Lourdes must be earned - flying would be too quick and easy. And as nurses and clergy accompany the pilgrims the whole trek becomes a religious experience - with lots of communal prayer and reflection en route.
In March every year every church, it says, in Sicily advertises the dates of the Lourdes train trips and whole trains are formed in Palermo, Catania and Syracuse which then go on the train ferry to the boot of Italy and all the way to Lourdes.
Once in Lourdes what casual observors may consider a macabre scene unfolds as trains are emptied with the help of volunteers - invalids are helped into wheelchairs, 3-wheeled vehicles or even beds on wheels! The many invalid vehicles gathered around the train, accompanying by clergy in full flowing robes can be quite a spectacle - even more so when at times several separate trains arrive simultaneously - the record perhaps being set in apr 26, 1999 when nine trains rolled in about the same time and 6,000 people got off, including 600 invalids and 100 clergy - since there are only three platforms at Lourdes station, the scene can become total chaos to the outsider. But for the pilgrims and invalids especially an air of hope and happiness reigns in expectation of nearing the completion of their arduous pilgrimage and the rewards that await in their minds.
Strangest of all, there are no underground passages in the Lourdes station for wheelchairs, making the transfer of invalids even a more remarkable task.
Though many folks flock to Lourdes out of devotion and reilgious hopes, i've been there three times because of the human comedy that unfolds in scenes like above. Though i'm deeply saddened by the shape of many of the pilgrims and hope them well, it's really like a circus to me, including the very macabre Parade of Sick Folks (Malades) that occurs daily around a course in front of the basilica.
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