Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Book Review: Faces and Places Along the Railway

Faces and Places Along the Railway
I recently found Elizabeth A. Willmot's book Faces and Places along the Railway at a used book store here in Winnipeg. You can consider it a sequel to her better-known book, Meet Me at the Station, and continues the same theme of an affectionate look back at railways in Ontario during the steam age.

The book is copyright 1979, so it is a little out of date, but since she was writing about the early days of railways it doesn't matter a lot.

A little over half of the book is devoted to photos and stories about 17 railway towns or topics, from Amherstburg through Kingston and Owen Sound and featuring locations like the Hog Bay Trestle and the Brockville railway tunnel. Each town or topic gets at least one photo and a few pages of history and stories about the railways that went through the town and the people who worked on them.

The latter portion of the book is more photo-heavy, with photos of "Faces From the Steam Era" with short captions, and 12 railway stations in the "Meet Me at the Next Station" section with full page photos of each station and a one or two sentence caption for each.

I freely admit that I don't know much about railways in Ontario, so this book was a great introduction to towns I have never been to. It also helped draw together the little bits and pieces I have learned about Ontario's railway history into a more coherent story. I have been to Amherstburg, Ingersoll and Woodstock, but I still enjoyed seeing the photos of those stations from the 1970s.

All photographs are in black and white.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in Canadian railway history, and especially to those interested in Ontario's railway history in particular. It's an easy read.

Find Faces and Places along the Railway on Amazon.ca, or on Amazon.com.
Disclosure: If you buy the book using the Amazon links provided, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

See all my book reviews

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Not Just Waffles and Chocolate - Sunrise and Sunset

For my last post in the "not just waffles and chocolate" series of Belgium train posts, I'm going to post some passenger train photos, in the order I took them.

February 13 - sunrise in Aalter
Here's a train at sunrise on the 13th. I'm fascinated by the electric overhead lines. Have a look at the little details as we go through these photos. Power wires, support wires, support poles, tensioners, weights... lots of little things.

February 15 - sunset in Aalter
A Desiro ML trainset at sunset in Aalter.

A Belgian signal light in Aalter
With a busy line like the Antwerp-Brussels line, you have to have signals to control traffic. Signals like this are everywhere.

I can't claim to understand Belgian signals after observing them for two weeks, but I can tell you that red means "no train coming" and green means "train imminent".

This page has a ridiculous amount of detail on Belgian train signals.

Note that in Belgium, trains normally go on the left track when there are two tracks.

February 15 - train in dying light
It was getting pretty dark but I managed to capture a Desiro ML train zooming into Aalter. There's a road bridge over the tracks down from the station, and I stood to the side to capture the train. I would have liked to have been right over the train, but there are walls on either side of the overpass preventing any view of the tracks. I imagine that's to prevent any debris - intentional or otherwise - from falling onto the tracks, but it also prevents photography!

February 16 - VIJF VAKKEN
"Vijf Vakken" translates to "five boxes" or "five pockets". I think it means there are 5 parking spaces at this location, which I confirmed by using Google Street View.

February 16 - blue skies
Literally one minute later, the Desiro left and this train was still waiting at another platform. You'll notice there are a lot of tracks here - maybe six - with four of them at platforms. The outer two seem to be used for through trains that don't stop.

February 17 - on board
On board a train on February 17. I think this was a Desiro ML trainset but I'm not sure. This was early on Saturday as I took the train to Brussels to meet my wife at the airport.

February 18 - TGV!
I caught a French TGV train out the window as we rolled past at sunset. This must have been Ghent.

February 19 - Passing by
A Desiro ML trainset comes rolling into Aalter as a double-decker train waits on the adjacent track.

February 19 - switches in Aalter
These are a bit of a mystery to me. These rotary switches are located on a post or wall on every train platform, as far as I can see.

Here's the sequence that I observed whenever a train was readying to depart.

  1. All of the onboard train crew blow their whistles.
  2. They look up and down the train to confirm nobody is trying to get on or off.
  3. All but one person gets on the train.
  4. The last person walks over to these switches and turns one.
  5. They get onboard, press a button on the train, and the train departs.
My guess is that this is a request to depart the station, or a signal to the traffic controller that they are departing. It doesn't change the signal being displayed - it was already green before they turn it.

February 20 - 137 km/hr
We were rolling along at 137 km/hr when we were heading into Brussels for some night photography.

February 21 - Sunrise in Ghent
By this time, I was staying in Ghent and commuting to Aalter by train. I was waiting for my train when I photographed this Desiro ML trainset. I like that clock tower, part of the Gent-St-Pieters station.

February 21 - there's my train!
Turning the other way, here's my 07:46 train coming out of the sunrise. I was taking L578 toward Zeebrugge-Dorp. Train L578 starts in Mechelen, north of Belgium.

30 minutes later, I was in Aalter taking this photo.

February 21 - Sunset in Aalter
It was a nice morning for train photography, apparently!

February 23 - Onboard display
Here's the onboard display in the Desiro ML train, L578. It was 07:47 so it was just about to depart, ready to roll to Aalter. Note that I was in 2nd class!

February 23 - 1867 in Aalter
Some sweet sunset light on the nose of 1867, a EuroSprinter ES60U3.

Finally, here's my last train photo in Belgium, our train from Gent-St.-Pieters to the airport.
February 24 - last train
Thanks for reading! I hope you've enjoyed this series featuring trains in Belgium.

See Also

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Not Just Waffles and Chocolate - Freight and Trams - and Cookies

For this post in my Belgium train series (part 1), I will feature freight trains and trams. I was hoping to wrap this series up in one post, but there are too many photos that I want to share, so I'm splitting it up.

Freight Trains

Train? What train?
There are certainly more passenger trains than freight trains in Belgium, at least on the lines I saw. The freight trains run on the same tracks as the passenger trains, but far less frequently.

I noted three major types of freight being carried:
  • Containers
  • Automobiles
  • Tank cars
Little trucks by rail in Belgium
Freight services are provided by private companies. The locomotive below is owned by Rhenus Logistics, a very large multinational company. This particular locomotive is a Bombardier TRAXX MS, one of three purchased for cross-border electric operation.
Rhenus Logistics locomotive
The container train was a relatively short single-stack train. I think it had about 20 platforms. Notice that the car on the right is at least two platforms long, as the truck (wheels) is shared between the two platforms. We have similar cars in North America, and they are called "3 packs" or "5 packs".
GTS containers in Aalter, Belgium
I think it's pretty safe to say that Europe does not have any double-stack (one container on top of the other) trains due to tunnels, overpasses and other limits to how high a train can be.

Here's a train I spotted in Ghent while rolling by.
Europorte 4001 in Ghent
Europorte 4001 is a diesel-electric locomotive, a Stadler (or Vosslo) EURO 4000 model. These six-axle locomotives are relatively new, with the first of the series built in 2006. They have an EMD 710 diesel under the (rigid) hood and are used in freight service. Note the dual cabs so the crew is always facing the direction of travel.

European tank cars are interesting to me as they seem to lack the top valving and safety cage that North American tank cars have.

Ghent has a maintenance-of-way depot which featured a few interesting pieces of rolling stock. It took me a few days to capture a decent photo of it with my phone.
Check out that boxcar!
I liked that outside-braced boxcar very much. European railways "sweat the assets" too, it seems.


Tram in Ghent, Belgium
Ghent and Brussels both had sizable fleets of trams, or streetcars if you prefer. These modern trams travel over three different lines in the city. We took trams 1 and 4 between the train station area (where our bed and breakfast was) and the touristy Korenmarkt area.

I think these are Bombardier Flexity trams but I'm not 100% sure.

The trams are really nice inside - brightly lit, spacious with lots of handholds. There are not as many seats as you would think there would be, but I guess the total capacity is higher if you force more people to stand. I noted in the mornings that these trams were pretty full.
Inside a tram
It's amazing what curves and tight spaces these trams can get through. We walked down some pretty narrow streets in Ghent and they had tram tracks running through the street.
Two trams
Thank goodness for sidewalks.

Unfortunately for us, they closed one tram route after we had taken the tram to the Korenmarkt area for some delicious fondue. We had purchased our return ticket and stood waiting at the tram stop for close to an hour before someone walked by and told us that they saw some work being done on the tram line.

We were a good 20 minutes' walk from our hotel, but it was a nice night so we decided to walk back. On our way, we passed the work area and saw a crew doing some track work.
I've been working on the.. tram line.. all the live long.. night..
While in the Korenmarkt area, I amused myself by taking some long exposure photos... some of which included trams.
Trams by night in Ghent
The driver of the stationary tram saw me with my camera and tripod and did a little dance for the camera. :)

I already posted some tram photos from Brussels in part 1 and part 2 of this series.

Station-Ary Photos

Ceiling in the Gent-St-Pieters station
The Ghent train station (Gent-St-Pieters) has a lovely ceiling in the main station area. I shared an external photo of the station in my last post.
Departures board at the Ghent train station
The Brugges train station (Gare de Bruges) is, quite frankly, ugly. It was built in 1939 and is an uninspiring yellow brick station. I couldn't bring myself to take an external photo of it, but I did like some of the art inside the station.
Art inside the Brugges train station

Moving On

Track 6 in Aalter, Belgium
In my next post, I will finally wrap up the Belgium series with some sunrise / sunset photos of trains in Belgium. Soon!

PS one Belgian delicacy I really enjoyed was speculoos cookies.
Speculoos cookies
These sweet biscuits are common in the northern area of Belgium and our company provided them in the cafeteria. I ate a lot of them... those and the pastries might account for the five pounds I gained in Belgium (sigh).

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Not Just Waffles and Chocolate - Belgium By Night

During my time in Belgium this past February, I took some night train photos. I was working through the day so night was really the only time I had to spend trackside. I ended up taking night photos on two different nights - February 12th and February 15th.

February 12

Double decker delight
I captured this westbound double decker train in Aalter as it paused for a station stop. This was an 8 second exposure at f/8.0, ISO 100.

As the train started on its way, I took a 10 second exposure.
Green Smear
It's tricky to get the right white balance at night. All of these photos were a little yellow "out of the camera", so I tweaked the white balance in Adobe Lightroom to be more accurate to real life.

If you know what white balance is, feel free to skip down to the next photo.

White Balance

Cameras try to accurately record the colour in a scene when you take a photo. However, the available light can fool a camera's sensor, which will lead it to record a photograph with some weird colours. For example, if you photograph indoors, flourescent lights make things appear more blue while tungsten lights make things appear yellow. These outdoor lights were tungsten.

Your camera may be able to detect that and adjust. If it doesn't, you can adjust the white balance while editing the photo. This is what I did.

Back in the film days, this adjustment was done by the processor when they made prints from your negatives.

You can find more information on white balance here.

Desiro at Night

A Desiro trainset in Aalter station
 Here's a Desiro ML trainset at the station. I liked riding in these trains. They are quite comfortable and fast.

Another smear:
Silver smear
 I decided to try a different location a bit farther down the platform, so I recorded another train passing the local pharmacy ("apotheek"). I believe this was a freight train but it's hard to tell!
Passing the Apotheek

February 15

And now for something slightly different...
I was back at the station in Aalter on February 15 for more night photography. I liked the Belgian trains very much, the passenger trains do get a bit repetitive after a while.

I had my camera (Canon 77D) and a tripod to take these photos. Usually I used the built-in 2 second timer so I could start the long exposure photo, then take my hand off the camera to limit camera shake while the shutter was open.
EuroSprinter 1901 and another double decker train
This time the train went away from me, so you can see the streak of the red "tail lights" as it receded into the distance.
Red streak by night


Ghent train station at night
The only other night photo I'll share is this photo of the train station in Ghent ("Gent Sint-Peters") at night. It's an impressive looking station and I was happy to take a few photos of it.

See Also

Not Just Waffles and Chocolate - Trains in Belgium (start of series)

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Not Just Waffles and Chocolate - Belgium is a Railfan's Delight

After I visited Train World in Brussels, I walked to the adjacent Schaerbeek train station to catch a train back to the central train station. My luggage was in a locker in the Centraal station, so I had to get that first before proceeding on to Aalter, my final destination.

There are a lot of trains passing through the Schaerbeek station. This is a snapshot of a bit over 2 hours for a Sunday afternoon at Schaerbeek.
Schaerbeek Trains
These are just the trains that stop at Schaerbeek. I'd say the same number passed through the station without stopping when I was there.

I just missed the train I intended to take, so I had to wait a bit. It turned out that I waited for almost an hour. In retrospect, I certainly could have left earlier, had I known more about Belgian train schedules. Trains going to Antwerp, for example, also stop in the central station along the way, and I could have taken one of those. All I had to go by was the video display and paper schedule posted in the tunnel under the tracks, and that showed the next train stopping in Centraal was in about 50 minutes.

Fortunately, it wasn't cold, and I wasn't in a hurry, so I was happy to wait on the platform and photograph trains as they went by.

I'm going to share some of the photos I took in that hour of waiting. I'm not sharing every train, but just the ones I found the most interesting. Also, these aren't in order of appearance.

Domestic Trains

Class 18

1858 and a double-decker train
This is a Siemens class 18 (EuroSprinter ES60U3) locomotive pulling a "double-decker" train on a passing track. SNCB, the Belgian train operator, purchased 120 of these electric locomotives starting in 2008. I saw quite a few of them when I was in Belgium.
SNCB 1922 at Schaerbeek
In fact, I saw at least 3 while I was waiting for my train!

SNCB 1907 at Schaerbeek
I rode in a few of the two-level trainsets. They are pretty comfortable but I imagine it can be difficult for people who have trouble with stairs, as you have to climb or descend stairs to sit anywhere. This is what the top deck looks like from the inside:


Siemens Desiro ML
These Siemens Desiro ML trainsets are all over the place in Belgium. I photographed quite a few of them. I was glad the sun came out for a little while so I could capture this image of the train in front of the old station. I especially like the two old gentlemen standing on the platform.

Siemens Desiro ML by Platform 9
You can see I was standing on platform 9 waiting for my train.

Number 9

Pig Nose

Wonder why it's called a "pig nose"?
The above train is an MR-75 / AM75 electric multiple unit (EMU) train. There are 44 of these trainsets, built between 1975 and 1979. Refurbishment started on these in 2015 and should be complete by 2020, extending their life by another 15 to 20 years. They are called "pig nose" trains for fairly obvious reasons.


Not the most attractive train
These AM96 trains seemed the least attractive to me. They remind me of this:

(that's a sandworm from Dune, in case you're not a science fiction geek like me)

One more domestic train before we move on to the international trains I saw at Schaerbeek.
Not sure what kind this is!

International Trains

Thalys train at Schaerbeek
This Thalys trainset also did not stop at Schaerbeek. Thalys is an intercity train serving Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. I've always liked the look of their trains.

A Dutch train!
The above train bears the logo of the Nederlandse Spoorwegen, aka the Dutch national railway (Dutch is a great language). The blue and yellow is a classy look, in my opinion.
Class 186 (TRAXX) locomotive
There was a class 186 locomotive on either end of this train. These Bombardier TRAXX F140 MS locomotives push/pull the international trains between Amsterdam and Antwerp. They operate on the HSL-Zuid high speed rail line but these locomotives are only capable of 160 km/hr, so they take a back seat to the much faster Thalys trains.

This train just LOOKS fast
I was pleased to catch a German Intercity-Express (ICE) train going through Schaerbeek. I believe this is an ICE 3 trainset - a Siemens Verlaro - capable of 320 km/hr speeds. It certainly wasn't going that fast through here!

Maintenance of Way

Spoorworken. What a great language!
The above vehicle is a Plasser and Theurer tamper - specifically a Unimat 08-275 3S. Tampers pack (tamp) the ballast under railway ties to make the track more durable. Check the link for a video showing the tamper in action.

"Spoorworken" means "railway work" and Vanormelingen-Stas is an equipment rental company.

Medisa VM500 SAB
This vehicle is a Matisa VM500 SAB. As far as I can tell, it has platforms on the roof that can be raised for working on overhead electric wiring.

A closeup

Off to Aalter

Eventually my train came and I took it to the Centraal station, fetched my luggage, then got on the train to Aalter. I had to switch trains in Ghent (known as Gent-Sint-Peters station) so I took a few photos from the platform there while I waited. You'll see more photos from that station in another post.

Autoracks in Belgium!
 I find it very interesting that European trains still have cars and trucks in open autoracks. In North America almost all road vehicles are shipped in enclosed autoracks to protect them from theft and vandalism. Clearly that's not as much of a problem in Europe. In fact, as you can see, they are shipped without any covering at all, not even the vinyl coverings over the headlights and other vulnerable bits that you see in North America.

Another Desiro trainset
Another Desiro ML trainset came rolling through Ghent while I was waiting.

My train was a double-decker with a class 18 EuroSprinter locomotives on each end. I took a video, which I will upload later when I merge several of the short clips I took together into one longer video. Here's a snap from the video:
Keep your hands to yourself!
No children were harmed in the making of that video.

By the time I got to Aalter, it was dark and my railfanning was done for the day. It was a great day to see trains, and Belgium is indeed a railfan's delight. So many trains, and all different from what I normally see in North America!

I think there will be two more posts in this series - one featuring trains at night and the other featuring trains spotted at Aalter, Brussels and Bruges. More to come!

See Also