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


Unknown said...

The blue-yellow train looks like it's Belgian and Dutch - the double-headed arrow is the Dutch Railways logo.

Steve Boyko said...

Thanks - that sheds some light on the colour scheme and that double-headed arrow.

Jenn said...

Very cool Steve! Amazing photos, I never get tired of seeing photos from anywhere in Europe. Glad you had time to explore!

Steve Boyko said...

Thanks, Jenn, I was initially thinking I would not have much time to explore!

Patrice said...

Great pictures! OK, I know that I have a North American bias here, but am I the only one to find European locomotives ugly? I mean apart from the TGV-type trains which are streamlined, it just seems to me that they can not design an attractive loco. My $0.02 :-)

Steve Boyko said...

Hi Patrice, the European diesels are pretty brutish looking. Some of the higher speed passenger trains have a very nice, sleek look that North American trains are lacking. In my opinion!