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


Philippe CALLAERT said...

Dear Sir,
I came across your blog by coincidence, looking for technical information on the Belgian electric locomotives class 18 - Google sent me there!
I notice a small but important error in your report: near the beginning, while you are waiting at Schaerbeek: you were not at track 9, as your comment leads to believe!
The concrete post with the cast'9' is in fact a 'milestone' (hectometer) and indicates the distance from the beginning of the line!
The next picture, if you look closely, shows a small white label '2'. This indicates the number of 'kilometers' as measured from said beginning of the line.
So you were waiting for your train at exactly 2900 meters from the (precisely geographically surveyed) starting point at Brussels North Station of that railway line ...but from the picture one can not tell at which track!

Philippe said...

Dear Sir,
As I read on, some more detailed information on our Belgian trains:
- the type with the rubber band (which you compare to the sand worm from Dune :-) ) is nicknamed 'Danish Nose', as a look-alike model runs in Danmark. The designer must have taken his inspiration home from a holiday over there!
- the train under the picture of the sand worm is made up from cars of Type I 11: 1st and 2nd Class cars very similar, and pilot cars with a distinctive yellow front, which you see in the picture. These trains are reversible (can run loco behind, pilot car in front).
I 11 (=I as first letter in 'Idaho', and 'eleven') stems from 'cars apt for International traffic, 11-th version since the beginning of use of all metal cars since about 1930)

Canadian Train Geek said...

Hello Philippe, thank you very much for your comments and correction! In retrospect I should have seen that was a mile post (#9) as the other tracks didn't have a similar post.

Thanks for the details on some of the trains I saw. "Danish Nose", it's funny how trains receive nicknames.