Thursday, October 1, 2009

Communications infrastructure

We often tend to imagine that a technology such as the Internet simply arrives magically in our homes like water in the kitchen sink, or electricity, or TV. In fact, in rural areas, the installation of a high-performance Internet infrastructure is a major task.

For the last few days, road traffic between Pont-en-Royans and the neighboring village of Saint-Jean-en-Royans has been interrupted at Sainte-Eulalie-en-Royans because of improvements to the local Internet system. This road sign announces proudly that regional authorities are building a network in the Ardèche and Drôme départements to handle data flows described as "high-volume and very high-volume". I love their "very" (which is like the Super in Superman). It sounds great, but I'm not sure what it actually means. It's a little like the true clocked speed of Speedy Gonzales.

The photo is amusing in that the building on the left has a barely-readable old sign on the outside wall indicating that it was once the local railway station, many decades ago, for a tiny steam train (often referred to as a tram) that ran between Pont-en-Royans and Romans (in the Drôme).

[Click the image for a larger photo.]

The telecom boutique of my ISP [Internet service provider], Orange, is located in the former terminal city of the little train. So, I like to think that the soul of the lovely little train [What? You didn't know that trains have souls?] has been reincarnated in my Internet connection. Meanwhile, instead of fixing up railway lines, workers are busy at Sainte-Eulalie installing cables for the Internet network.

Don't let this photo mislead you into thinking that all the trenches are being dug manually. If I understand correctly, they only call upon human diggers when the Internet cables are located in the vicinity of existing infrastructural elements such as power lines, water ducts or sewage pipes. The rest of the time, most of the digging and cable laying is done by the following remarkable beast, whose powerful teeth (like those of a mythical prehistoric rodent such as a giant rat) could convert your front garden into a cable network in less time than it takes to down a hamburger and consult your emails at MacDonald's.

The latest models of mini-shovels are acquiring the look and feel of sports cars. [My blog friend Paul might not agree with me on that question.] The guys drive them as if they were powerful toys.

All these land-moving operations are directed from a civil-engineering base camp at the foot of the mountains.

The place where I took these photos this morning is about a minute, by automobile, from Pont-en-Royans. The antiquated steam tram took a quarter of an hour to make the journey from the bridge over the Cholet (seen in the earlier photo) to the terminus at Pont-en-Royans. As for the Internet, these words and pictures will be reaching the Antipodes, after I publish them on my blog, within a few seconds.

This Internet-oriented blog article is dedicated to the soul of the dear departed old train between Pont-en-Royans and Romans, whose rusty remains repose today, anonymously, no doubt, in some kind of graveyard for mechanical puffing elephants. If only I knew its address, I would love to send it an email. But do dead trains read their email?


  1. Hey guy! I live in this village, Sainte-Eulalie en Royans, where most of your photos were taken. If you have a good look there, you can find some traces of the old train railways. For example in Saint-Laurent en Royans, the abribus is the relic of the village station.
    In some places, you still have the rails, but for the Cholet bridge, it is more complicated cause it is now a road. However it has not been modified and still looks like it was on the black&white photo you posted. Actually, this is why this bridge is a bit dangerous and so tight :)

  2. Can we start a lobby aimed at reinstalling the Tram (as they used to call it, before its abandon in 1929) between Pont-en-Royans and St-Nazaire-en-Royans? A stop at St-Jean-en-Royans would enable me to do my shopping at Intermarché. Let's get into action !

  3. Bonjour,

    Exceptionnellement (dans le cadre de mon blog Antipodes en langue anglaise), je m'adresse en français au gars (anonyme) de Sainte-Eulalie-en-Royans qui vient de m'envoyer un commentaire sympathique mais non-signé.

    Curieusement, je ne sais pas pourquoi (peut-être est-ce la tonalité de tes mots, que je reconnais immédiatement en tant que résidant du village de Choranche, juste à côté de Sainte-Eulalie), je t'imagine de l'autre côté de la Manche, aux alentours de ma terre natale du Dorset, aux environs de Portsmouth...

    Si jamais ma perception était bien fondée, avoues que ce serait un drôle de résidence pour un gars de Sainte-Eulalie...