Thursday, March 22, 2018

Not Just Waffles and Chocolate - Train World in Belgium

Schaerbeek train station - Train World - Brussels, Belgium
In February I visited Train World outside Brussels. This is a new museum dedicated to the history of trains in Belgium. It is located in the grand old train station in the municipality of Schaerbeek in the Brussels capital region.

Getting There

To get there, I took this train from the Brussels Centraal station to Schaerbeek - another Siemens Desiro ML trainset.
Train at Schaerbeek
Another train zoomed past while I was on the station platform. It's a busy spot, as you'll see later.
So many trains!
I walked over to the museum building by going down the stairs to the tunnel under the platforms. In Belgium it is quite common to have a tunnel under the platforms so people can switch platforms without crossing tracks, as it would be very dangerous to cross the tracks and it is strictly forbidden.

Schaerbeek is a tram stop and there were plenty of trams around.
Trams at Schaerbeek, Belgium
These are Bombardier T3000 "Cityrunner" Flexity Outlook vehicles. Each of these 5 segment vehicles can seat 54 people (total capacity 184) and can reach a maximum speed of 70 km/hr, although I think that's unlikely in normal use.

Two of these vehicles were loaned to Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics for use on the Vancouver Downtown Historic Railway.

The Museum

Interior of Schaerbeek train station / museum
The interior of the station is large and airy, filled with freestanding model cases and some art areas for kids. The models include early Belgian locomotives and train stations. Along the back is a large enclosed area - probably an old ticket counter - that contains various collections including ticket punches, railway uniforms, and even old computers.

Belgian railway uniforms
That was interesting, but frankly I was getting a little disappointed that this was all there was. I had expected more.

I followed a few other people out the back door and found myself behind the station, where there was an old passenger car and a steam crane / "stoomkraan" / "grue a vapeur" named Juliette. The builder's plate said it was made by the Craven Brothers in Manchester, England in 1912 and was a 35 ton crane.
Back of Schaerbeek train station / Train World with steam crane
Those European couplers and buffers are so different than the North American version.
Couplers and buffers
There was a path along the back that I followed, which led to a large, modern looking building. This is what was inside:
Belgian steam engines!
OK, so there was more than I initially saw! This was good.

Belgian Steam Engines

These were early Belgian steam engines, from 1844 through 1905. Note the one closest to the camera has no cab at all; the engineer stood on a platform behind the boiler. That must have been exciting!

Type 51 steam engine, 1880.
0-6-0 tank engine.
Max speed 45 km/hr
How about a little detour into the history of railways in Belgium? Sure!

The Belgian state was involved in railway development very early on, right after the Belgian Revolution in 1830 where Belgium split from the Netherlands. The first steam passenger railway in continental Europe was built between Mons and Antwerp (through Brussels) in 1835. A  Liège-Ostend followed.

Several private railways did spring up afterward, but by 1912, 94% of the railway mileage in Belgium was owned by the state. By 1958 Belgian railways were fully owned by the state.

Steam locomotives and railway design was initially heavily influenced by British designs. Belgium operated with steam power for many years, until electrification of the lines began in 1935.

Today the vast majority of Belgian railway mileage is electrified, with diesel-electric locomotives operating as switchers in yards and powering maintenance trains.

Here's an overhead photo that I took on my way out. One of the nice things about this museum is that you get overhead views of most of the collection.
Steam it up!


Builders plates
After the first steam engine gallery, I walked through a display of railway clocks and a room with a "grab bag" of railway signals, signs and other miscellaneous railway items. I liked the clocks a lot.
Railway clocks at Train World

Steam and Trams

Type 12 "Atlantic" steam engine 12004 at Train World in Belgium
This was impressive.

The second large gallery contained several early self-propelled passenger cars, and this impressive green steam engine.

12004 is an SNCB Type 12 locomotive, built for fast boat trains between Brussels and Ostend. They were inspired by the Canadian Pacific Railway 4-4-4 "Jubilee" locomotives and were fully streamlined, except for openings to access valve gear and other items. These locomotives were capable of speeds up to 140 km/hr (87 MPH) and must have been quite a sight speeding along the rails.

The "Thomas and Friends" locomotive "Axel" is based on this type of locomotive.

There were a few early passenger cars here, as well as a mail / express car. Check out the interior of this self-propelled car. The seats look beautiful but probably weren't all that comfortable!
Interior of passenger vehicle at Train World
The controls for this vehicle don't seem to be very complicated.
Not a lot of controls on this vehicle!

I liked this electric tram. I think it's a "Motorwagen Type 551"
Electric tram in Train World in Belgium

The Semi-Modern Era

Series 64 locomotive at Train World
The next (and final) gallery contained several relatively modern pieces of railway rolling stock. I really liked this series 64 locomotive. You could go into the spartan cab and look around, and also walk underneath the locomotive to see it from below.

One thing I didn't realize is that the engineer sits on the left side of the cab. In North America, the engineer sits on the right side, and the conductor sits on the left. Before you ask, Belgians drive on the same side of the road as we do in North America.

View from the cab
The above photo shows the view from the cab of the locomotive. There are several passenger cars and another locomotive in the same gallery. There's another level above with various displays and nice views of the equipment from overhead. This gallery has direct track access to outside.

I really liked this little piece of equipment:
It's like a self-propelled caboose
The sign said this is a "Lorrie Type 7" / "Draisine Type 7" from 1949, capable of 40 km/hr. The word "Draisine" is used to refer to auxiliary human or engine powered machines used to transport rail workers. In North America these would include velocipedes, hand cars, and speeders. This little guy looks like a caboose - with a lot of windows - but it has its own engine.

There's even a model on Shapeways for this.

Trans Europ Express coach
TEE coach interior
As I mentioned, there are several passenger cars in this gallery. One is from the Trans Europ Express (TEE) (not Trans-Europe Express, the song by electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk).

This was a first-class train service that covered most of Europe in the 1960s and 1970s, before being replaced by more localized train that also offered second-class service.

There's a Canadian connection here, as a couple of former TEE trainsets came to North America in the early 1980s. Eric Gagnon has some information here.

Also in this gallery are two royal carriages. I peeked in the windows and they look very nice inside, but they are not open for tourists. Hopefully they will be opened up at some point!

At the end of this gallery, visitors climb up a few levels to an overhead walkway that takes them back through all the exhibits, from above. Great views abound!

Along the way, there is a train simulator! I would have liked to have tried it but there were a few families using it, so I kept going.

Finishing Up

There is a gift shop at the end of the museum, featuring the usual collection of train toys and books. Here the books were in Dutch or French, so they were of limited use to me! I didn't buy anything.

I really enjoyed my visit there and I'd recommend it to anyone who is interested in trains. It's also a great destination for families to spend a couple of hours exploring.

Once I wrapped up, I went to the train platform to catch my train back to the Centraal station in Brussels. Alas, I missed my train, so I had to spend most of an hour waiting... which was great for railfanning! That'll be in my next post.

Back to part 1 of "Not Just Waffles and Chocolate"

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Not Just Waffles and Chocolate - Trains in Belgium - Part 1

A Siemens Desiro ML trainset at the Schaerbeek train station near Brussels, Belgium
I was sent to Belgium for two weeks in February to do some programming work with a partner company. It was kind of a last minute thing, with only a couple of days between the "go" order and my flight out of Winnipeg. The work went well and I really enjoyed working with our partners.

However, this is a blog about trains and photography, so let's get to that!

I didn't know much about Belgium other than waffles and chocolate. My wife and I did some fast research and we determined a few things:
  • It was possible to travel via train from the airport to the town I was to work in;
  • I could walk from my hotel to the workplace; and therefore
  • No car was required (whew!)

To Brussels

I flew from Winnipeg (YWG) to Montreal (YUL), and thence to Brussels (BRU), all on Air Canada. The Brussels airport is commonly known as Zaventem after the municipality that the airport is in.

While waiting for my flight from Winnipeg, I amused myself by photographing a few planes... and trains.
Bearskin Airlines flight over a CP intermodal train

My two flights went smoothly. On the YUL-BRU trans-Atlantic flight, I was seated next to a mother with her very young child. It's always a challenge to fly with an infant and more so if you have to do it alone. The other woman in our group of three seats and I did our best to assist the mother. I ended up switching seats with the mother so she could have the aisle seat instead of the middle seat to have easier access to the washroom. I didn't get a lot of sleep on that flight but I'm OK with that. Her child was pretty good and slept a lot of the way but he did fuss now and then, as children do.

My plane landed around 9 AM on Sunday morning. After clearing customs and immigration at Zaventem - it's far easier to work in Europe than it is to work in the USA - I located signs for the airport train station and headed that way.

Brussels Zaventem

The airport train station is located under the airport so it only took a couple of escalator rides to get there. I bought my ticket to Brussels Centraal station at a machine, using my credit card, and I was ready to go. I had a bit of time for my train, so I took some photos of other trains as they came through.

SNCB 2717 at Zaventem / Brussels airport train station
The SNCB "class 27" locomotives are workhorses of the Belgian rail system. 60 of these 3000V electric locomotives were built in the early 1980s and can be found pulling passenger and freight trains all over Belgium.

SNCB class AM80 trainsets in Zaventem / Brussels airport train station
These three-unit self-propelled trainsets are classed as "AM80" but commonly known as "Break" for some reason. This had two trainsets together (344 and 432), for a total of 6 "coaches".

Next up was another locomotive-hauled passenger train, with a pair of class 28 locomotives bracketing a blue-and-yellow consist. It almost looked like the original VIA Rail colours! ;)
SNCB 2802 hauling a passenger train through the Brussels airport station
Most Belgian trains have first and second class coaches and/or sections. In the photo below, notice the white "1" (and "2" at far left) indicating what class the coaches are.
First class!
I'm not sure why these are blue and yellow, instead of the more common white, red and yellow colours. This may have been an international train.

Here's the trailing locomotive on that train, another class 28. Note the black marks radiating from the roof - arcing? I know so little about electric locomotives.
SNCB 2813 in Brussels' airport station
Finally my train showed up, an IC (Intercity) train destined for Brussels and Knokke. It was a Siemens Desiro ML trainset, very common in Belgium as I soon discovered.
Finally, my train!
We hustled into Belgium at a reasonable speed. I don't think we ever got above about 80 km/hr but it was fine. I took a few photos out of the window as we passed by a rail yard and a coach yard. By "rail yard" I mean a yard dealing with rails, as it looks like this handled very long rails for track use.
Lots of rails!

I saw a few of these locomotives out the window.
SNCB 5528 and 5518 in Brussels
These are class 55 diesel-electric locomotives, built in the 1960s. They have GM 16-567C diesels inside, a familiar engine to North American railfans, as they were in the F9 and GP9 locomotives, among others. I saw several of these interesting locomotives during my two weeks in Belgium, solely in work train use.

Brussels Centraal / Bruxelles Central

Brussels has several train stations - Midi/Zuid (south), Centraal (central) and Nord (north). Many international trains like the Eurostar and Thalys depart from Midi/Zuid, but the Centraal station is where I was headed to see the tourist sights in Brussels.

There are plenty of trains that come through the Central station.
Departure board at the Centraal station in Brussels

The train from the airport to Centraal takes about 20 minutes. I was happy to be on board!
On board my first Belgian train
I stowed my luggage in a storage locker at the station and walked out to see the sights in Brussels. I really didn't have an agenda on where to go, as A) I hadn't done much research, and B) my wife was going to join me the following weekend to explore Brussels and Bruge. I wandered into the tourist area of town and found the city square, which is pretty spectacular.
Brussels Grand-Place / Grote Markt

I walked around a lot, and I won't bore you with too many tourist photos. Brussels is lovely and is well worth visiting.

Brussels Nord

I basically went from big church to big church, and while doing that I found myself at Brussels Nord. There was a skate park above the station but it had a wire fence in the way. I did the best I could to shoot through it.
Trains at Brussels Nord station
On the left is an AM80 trainset (well, several together) and on the right is a Thalys high speed train. This is a Thalys "PBA" train with a top speed of 300 km/hr. Both trains were heading south and did not stop.

I should mention that the Centraal station is wholly underground, with tunnels at the north and south ends, and the tunnel entrance was just below my feet. The tunnel sees up to 96 trains/hour and is one of the busiest railway tunnels in the world.

Shifting to a different viewpoint, I caught these two Desiro ML trainsets at Brussels Nord.
Ew, graffiti


On to another location... as I wandered around "above" the train station, I saw a tram line. Here's one tram and a bonus bus, in front of the Museum of Fine Arts and near the Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon.
Tram and bus in Brussels, Belgium
I will post more trams!

You probably noticed that the sky was overcast for most of the day. The sun did come out, very briefly, and I used that opportunity to photograph the church.
Church of Our Blessed Lady of the Sablon, Brussels
Notice the green grass and complete lack of snow, in February!

At this point, I made my way back to the central train station. I was headed to Train World, a railway museum, and time was ticking on. I was a little hungry, though, so I had to have a little snack...
Enjoying a waffle in Belgium... it had to be done
I bought my ticket at the train station and headed off to Train World. READ ON!

In the meantime, maybe you'd enjoy:

Waffles and Chocolate Part 2 - Train World

Monday, February 12, 2018

SOO LINE Grain Hoppers

SOO 74362, Chaplin, SK, August 2010
I was chatting with Donald Klippert in mid-January and he mentioned that he saw a white SOO gondola. We talked about the white SOO LINE paint scheme being a favourite of ours and then we got onto the SOO grain hoppers.

I started digging through my photo collection and it turns out I have quite a few photos of them. I usually make a point of photographing a SOO car when I see one. So, without further ado, here are some SOO grain hoppers.

I've seen two basic kinds of SOO LINE grain hoppers - the flat sided ones with the external vertical ribs, and the hoppers with the somewhat rounded sides. A third kind of SOO hopper is a rounded hopper in plain grey, but they aren't lettered "SOO LINE". Here's all three in one photo:
Three SOOs in one - Winnipeg, MB, August 2017
SOO 74521, SOO 118655 and SOO 75113 in Virden, MB, April 2016

Rounded Sides

SOO 74229, Banff, AB, August 2010 with the wheat sheaf and big black SOO LINE

SOO 74453 with heavy weathering and graffiti, Winnipeg, September 2016

SOO 74154, Field, BC, June 2016
The car below has the "Colormark" logo on it. According to this Trains thread, cars were colour coded based on the loading features for the freight cars. Apparently they stopped doing this on hoppers around 1974.
ICE 50833, Burdett, AB, October 2015 with "Colormark" and smaller green SOO LINE
Some of the "Colormark" cars don't seem to have a wheat sheaf (like this one or this one or this one). I wonder if they ever had a sheaf, or if it has just faded over the years.

There are two number series for the round-side ACF Centerflow cars - the 74xxx and 76xxx cars. The 74xxx cars have a larger "SOO LINE" near the top of the car, while the 76xxx cars have a smaller "SOO LINE" vertically centered.

In general they all seem to have had the gold wheat sheaf... with one exception below.
SOO 76553, Winnipeg, MB, May 2014
SOO 76414, Field, BC, June 2016
Really weathered SOO 76534, Winnipeg, MB, July 2016
Cleanish SOO, no sheaf, Winnipeg, MB, December 2003

Flat Sides

SOO 75307, Binscarth, MB, April 2016
The flat sided SOO LINE hoppers seem to be in the 75xxx number series, with some in the higher 74xxx series (SOO 74582, SOO 74718, SOO 74953). They all seem to have the wheat sheaf, without exception.

SOO 7x1x4 (faded), Winnipeg, MB, September 2016

SOO 75350, Winnipeg, MB, August 2017
SOO 75458, Calgary, AB, October 2013
SOO 75529, Grande Pointe, MB, April 2016
SOO 75606, Grande Pointe, MB, April 2016
I invite you to click through to SOO 74289 to see a really different SOO LINE paint scheme.

That's all the SOO LINE hopper photos I have! I hope these can provide some reference for freight car enthusiasts and modelers.

I'll leave you with this flat-sided SOO hopper - not a SOO LINE, though - land locked in Solsgirth, Manitoba.

No wheels - no problem!

Further Reading

(The last two links are affiliate links, meaning I get a small commission if you buy something from Amazon after clicking on the link, at no extra cost to you)