Corsica belonged to Genoa until the Treaty of Versailles of 1748 under which it was transferred to the French crown. It is celebrated as the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821).
The island is mountainous and a decision to build railways was not taken until 1877, the difficult terrain dictating the choice of a metre gauge system. The strategic north-south link from Bastia through Corte to Ajaccio was completed in 1888. The network totalled 295 km by 1914 and some extensions were built in the 1920s. The system was severely damaged during the Second World War when Corsica was occupied by Italian troops in 1942-43. While some branches have been closed, there was strong popular support in the 1950s for the retention of most of the system, and the remaining lines provide the best means of appreciating Corsica’s spectacular coastal and mountain scenery. The oldest rolling stock still operational is a series of autorails built by Renault in 1949. Some railcars of the 1970s also remain, but most services are worked by vehicles built between 1989 and 1997, while the first of a new range of panoramic railcars following contemporary German practice were delivered in 2007.
The outstanding civil engineering structure is the Ponte-Vecchio between Vivanio and Venaco on the north-south line, a soaring viaduct with wrought-iron spans carried on stone pillars, designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923).
The government of Corsica passed responsibility for management of the network to the SNCF in 2001.