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Visiting the railroad stations at Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg and Audun-le-Tiche, France: a strange phenomenon

Updated on November 15, 2012
Flag of Luxembourg
Flag of Luxembourg | Source
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Esch-sur-Alzette (Luxembourg) station seen from the footbridge
Esch-sur-Alzette (Luxembourg) station seen from the footbridge | Source
View towards Esch-sur-Alzette of the station platform of Audun-le-Tiche
View towards Esch-sur-Alzette of the station platform of Audun-le-Tiche | Source

International railroad travel which seemingly waives the rules

The small countries of Europe sometimes provide examples of administrative and organizational affairs which appear to reverse the usual expectations for sovereign states.

One case in point is the railroad link, 2.7 kilometres long, between the second city of Luxembourg, Esch-sur-Alzette, and Audun-le-Tiche, France. Given the proximity of Audun-le-Tiche to Esch-sur-Alzette, it is maybe not surprising that economic reasons lie behind such cross-border transport links. However, the way this is organized will leave many people surprised.

Esch-sur-Alzette railroad station maintains frequent links with Luxembourg City, and this service is maintained by Chemins de Fer Luxembourgeois (CFL). So far, so good; unsurprising.

Audun-le-Tiche railroad station, being in France, is maintained by Société des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF): not surprising also.

However, strange though it may seem, the railroad service from this French railroad station at Audun-le-Tiche leads to Esch-sur-Alzette, in the Grand Duchy, and nowhere else in France! Furthermore, it is the Luxembourg company CFL which has exclusive use of this small part of the French railroad network. (The photo supplied of Audun-le-Tiche station shows the red and yellow colours of a train belonging to CFL.) It is almost as if issues of sovereignty and economic priority have been turned on their head (1).

However, this may be a moot point. Although technically and in terms of sovereignty the portion of railroad between Audun-le-Tiche and the France-Luxembourg border counts as part of the French railroad network, it has no physical links with the remainder of the network, and in effect it forms an extension into French territory of Luxembourg's railroad network.

How did all this come about? Well, the roots of the curious situation lie at least as far back as the period prior to World War One. At this time, what is now the French department of Moselle, in which Audun-le-Tiche is situated, belonged to Germany, and its territory, and that of Luxembourg also, was included in the German-dominated Zollverein (customs union). This meant that in an area with heavy industry, such as characterized Esch-sur-Alzette and Audun-le-Tiche, considerable transport-related and economic links existed, transcending the cross-border element. Two intervening world wars have not obliterated the basic geographical and spacial relationship between these two localities, neither have waves of prosperity and recession.

Some people with travel to the small countries of Europe in order to obtain an optional, souvenir visa stamp in their passports. Similarly, railway buffs may wish to experience the service in this unique situation surrounding the rail link here at Esch-sur-Alzette and Audun-le-Tiche, between two sovereign states Luxembourg and France respectively.


(1) Interestingly, with the railroad links between France and the neighbouring Principality of Monaco, the opposite has happened. There were previously two railroad stations in Monaco; now there is one only: Monaco-Monte Carlo. The French railroad company SNCF maintains the Monaco-Monte Carlo station and the service in both directions from it, which forms a stop between Nice and Menton, with an onward service to Ventimiglia, Italy. But here, near the France-Luxembourg border, it is France's small neighbour which — uniquely — provides the railroad service. And French residents of Audun-le-Tiche desirous of rail travel, can go only to Esch-sur-Alzette in Luxembourg and to onward destinations from it.

Also worth seeing

Esch-sur-Alzette , Luxembourg, has a Resistance museum, with a focus on opposition to Nazi German occupation during World War Two.

Audun-le-Tiche , France, has a necropolis museum, with remains from Merovingian era.


How to get there: The nearest large international airport is Luxembourg Airport (Aéroport de Luxembourg ), at Findel, from where car rental is available. Rail services link Luxembourg City with Esch-sur-Alzette , with onward services to Audun-le-Tiche . For North American travellers who make the London, England area their touring base, airlines flying to Luxembourg include Luxair (from London Heathrow Airport and London City Airport) and CityJet (from London City Airport). You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. For any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities, please refer to appropriate consular sources.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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