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

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's in my next post.