"Spin & Win" - Belgian Style

This outing to Belgium came about during a conversation with a colleague (Simon Bennett) on a railtour some time ago. Simon was planning a weekends loco bashing in Belgium and, as I was about due another trip over myself, I decided to coincide my trip with Simons - though I decided to stay an extra few days. When I make my railway trips abroad I normally concentrate on track-bashing - travelling over new routes in the country I'm in however for this trip I decided to spend some time "doing track" and some time putting new locos "in the book".

For those so inclined, click here for a complete list of all the haulages I made during my five days in Belgium (including travel to and from the UK). Where known I've included the train number of the SNCB services.

As we were travelling out by different means, we arranged to meet at Brussels airport on the Friday evening. My route out was using Silverlink from Northampton to Euston then a walk to Waterloo in plenty of time for the 10.27 Eurostar to Brussels. I had booked a first class return - a "Saturday Night Away" ticket which cost £149 (compared to £79 for the standard class ticket). With free food and drink plus the much more comfortable and quiet surroundings it is certainly an option I'd recommend to anyone using Eurostar. I was a bit miffed however to get a dud Eurostar - 3105/3106, the only SNCB-owned one I've travelled in! As we approached the Channel Tunnel I was pleased to score 66066, 92031 and two Eurotunnel maintenance locos for sight. Just one 92 to go now (92041).

Arrival into Brussels was a few minutes behind schedule but I still had plenty of time to get my B-Tourrail rover ticket. This is another good value ticket, giving 5 days travel in a one month period, first class anywhere in Belgium, and costs 3230BEF (about £54). My plans for the afternoon began with the 15.01 departure from Brussels Midi so I killed a bit of time by doing the "short leap" to Nord station to claim my first new loco haulage (2708). I had to laugh however when the 15.01 train arrived - with a dud 27 on the front (I have only had five of them out of a total of sixty). At least it was only another short leap as far as Midi station where I changed for an EMU to Schaerbeek (another equally short journey). My next few moves gained me both new track and new locos (including my first SNCB Class 20). With a few of the "fiddly bits" of track got I headed off to get a longer required bit - from Aalst to Burst. This route had the extra attraction of using single car DMU's which are little beasts - and very noisy with it. With that line in the book it was off to Zottegem to pick up my first diesel loco of the trip - 6220 - to Gent Sint Pieters where I then fell onto another new loco class by having 5118 to Dampoort station.

At Dampoort station I was due (by the timetable Simon had conjured up for me) to head off to Antwerpen by a modern AM96 EMU to get some more 62's in the book but my plans soon changed when a "no-heat" (otherwise known as a "dot") class 62 appeared heading for Gent. 6252 duly sampled and I now had to re-plan (without the aid of a timetable) the rest of my day to get me to Brussels airport for about 10.30pm to meet up with Simon. This was achieved and I duly found Simon wandering about on the station concourse at the airport when I arrived just on half-past-ten. We got to the hotel just after eleven and checked in. We were a bit disappointed to discover the hotel bar shut at eleven so we dumped our bags in our rooms and headed off to find an alternative watering hole (which we did without much difficulty). Arrival back at the hotel was about 1am allowing about four hours for sleep before our Saturday bashing began.

Ooops! I set my alarm clock for 5am and promptly fell into a deep sleep. I awoke a bit later to discover it was saying 05.10 on the hotel room digital clock. Erm, so why hadn't my alarm clock gone off at 5am? Yes I'd set it right and yes I'd remembered to switch the alarm on (both reasons in the past why I've overslept). So.... Ahhhh.... ah ha! The time was saying 04.10 - Oops....I'd forgotten to put the time on by an hour! Still enough time for getting up and ready plus a quick coffee (no breakfast - didn't start until 07.30 at weekends) before there was a knock at the door as Simon passed my room. Our plan, which went like clockwork, took us down to Quevy near the French border where we picked up a "T" (tourist) train for the run to Gent (giving new track and another 51 in the book). The remainder of the morning was spent chasing electrics in and around Brugge plus a visit to the station buffet there to sample some of the beer on offer.

Afternoon nap was achieved courtesy of a run right through to Leuven on the other side of Brussels. We now concentrated on some of the international trains that ply between Köln and Oostende. That gained me 1503, 1601 and 1602 as new locos for haulage. Back then to Brussels and the chance for some rare track - plus another new class 20 for haulage. From Schaerbeek we went to Brussels Nord but via Midi station by way of the Brussels freight avoiding line - one of (I think) only two passenger services a day that are routed this way. The remainder of the evening was spent chasing Class 20's with a trip as far as Namur (where Simon bumped into someone else he knew!). Arrival back to the hotel was around 11pm but we were both too tired to consider an outing for beer!

Sunday - a later start - well, 07.24 train anyway! Off to Namur to put some more diesels in the book. Spinning along the line between Namur and Bertrix got two class 53's (one was a "dot" too) and a class 54 for haulage. With these locos sampled we headed back to Brussels via Jemelle and the (required) line to Namur. Here myself and Simon parted company - Simon was off to get some more electrics around Brussels before heading back to the airport and home whereas I decided to get back via Mons and some more of my required track. Before getting back to the hotel I also managed to score a couple of class 62 diesels (including another "dot") on the Antwerpen to Neerpelt services.

Monday took me over to Liege by way of a few more bits of required track. I wanted to spend some time around Liege to get some class 55 diesels for haulage. Time is running out for these locos on passenger services as electrification of their routes is almost complete. Courtesy of a couple of Luxembourg trains and two rush-hour services I succeeded in scoring four for haulage, and two were "dots". Mind you, I very nearly missed the second "dot" as I arrived at the station (Milmort) a couple of minutes late on a +5 connection only to find the 55 already rolling in on the opposite platform. It pulled out two minutes early - with me puffing a bit (actually - a lot) after a fast sprint between the trains! At least at the next station we waited time, giving me a chance to get out and photograph the loco (5532). The journey home was direct to Brussels, giving the opportunity to score the banking loco at Liege Guillemins - the gradient out towards Brussels being so steep that most loco hauled trains require the additional shove which is provided courtesy of a class 22 or 23 electric. Once 2383 was the only loco used as the banking engine but during my visit 2249, 2250 and 2304 were in use.

Tuesday - Back to the Liege area for more track bashing plus the chance to score another couple of 55's by way of an outing to Aywaille and back. An amusing visit to the station buffet at Jemelle where I had about half an hour to kill. The decor was straight out of the 1950's though the girl serving was young and very attractive and seemed strangely out of place. The customers in the buffet consisted of one guy sat having a "how long can I make my beer last" contest with himself and another who was slumped over the bar, completely out of it. No English spoken and no food available so I made do with a beer. The guy at the bar never moved the whole time, nor did the guy sat down take a single sip of his beer. Yep - one weird place! As I left Jemelle I noticed the only other first class passenger on the train was the guy who'd been sat down in the buffet. I don't really recommend a visit there - but if you ever do find yourself in Jemelle please visit the buffet let me know if the other customer is still there, slumped over the bar.

The branches of Géronstère and Eupen were also scored and then it was off towards home on one of the Köln to Oostende services (disappointingly hauled by a 27 rather than a 15 or 16, but at least it was a required one). My Eurostar home was a score too (3001/3002) and with good timekeeping I was confident of catching the 20.24 home from Euston. Top score on the way back as we came out of the Channel Tunnel was 92041 - my last class 92 for sight.

I arrived at Euston (having sampled one of the new Northern Line tube trains) just on 8pm and was congratulating myself when I suddenly realised all was not well at Euston. Oh dear - "an incident" at Kings Langley earlier in the day had caused most services to be either very very late or cancelled altogether. By some luck however my train still ran (but was absolutely packed solid with passengers!) and I got home a little before 10pm - tired yes, but quite content I'd enjoyed a good few days travelling.

Gary Thornton.

Credit where its due....

My thanks go to to Simon Bennett who sorted out various travel options for me covering the days I was on my own - without his planning I'd have had far fewer decent locos and probably not so much track either!

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