Bashers Heaven?

Finding it a bit difficult these days to get any decent loco bashing in? When was the last time you scored 10 new locos in one day? Or how about clearing over 20 new ones in a day...and all this on a 5-day 1st class railrover costing under 55? Want to get there and back by rail too?

"Not possible" I hear you say? .... Oh yes it is - I just scored 72 new loco haulages between 16th and 20th February and a good number of those were diesels too!

Where have I been? ... Belgium of course.

Myself and a couple of friends had originally planned to travel on a railtour running between Belgium and Germany on the Friday and Saturday but this booked up within a short time of booking opening and we missed out. Rather than cancel the time we'd booked off we decided to spend the holiday loco and track bashing round Belgium.

Where appropriate I've shown my haulage scores underlined in red.

Wednesday 16th February - Day 1

My usual move to Belgium is via the 07.08 or 07.45 Silverlink County service from Northampton and this time was no exception - 321428 taking me to Euston on the 07.08 service. As it was a pleasant morning and I had plenty of time to get to Waterloo for the 10.27 Eurostar, I chose to walk rather than catch the tube. Time to watch the comings and goings at Waterloo (nothing much of excitement though) before booking in for my train. Once up to the platform I was pleased to find it was a required set - 3107+3108. Having treated myself to a 1st class return again I soon settled back to enjoy the journey with the other half a dozen or so passengers in my coach - with free food and drink on offer, the journey soon goes by.

Arrival into Brussels Midi was on time at 14.05 and in just a few minutes I was through passport control and had purchased my B-Tourrail rover. I wandered down to the end of one of the longer platforms and discovered one of my colleagues, Simon, already there and waiting for the start of the rush-hour services - Simon and Steve having flown over from Manchester first thing in the morning. Steve was off track bashing somewhere.

Only had a few minutes to wait before my first required loco turned up (2719) and for the next couple of hours we spent the time spinning between the main Brussels stations behind (in order) : 2112, 2227, 2224, 2136, 2121, 2135, 1504, 2743 & 2308. A diversion then to Bockstael (train P8095) behind 2360 before returning to Brussels Nord in an EMU for 2016 & 1187 before heading out to Gent on an AM96 "plug" EMU. Here we fell onto the 19.16 to Eeklo (5118) for 6204 back to Sint Pieters.

A quick break to book into our hotel (Triannon2) before doing a quick spin to Gontrode and back (twice!) to score 6225, 6233, 6315 & 6264 then back to the hotel for an evening in the bar.

Thursday 17th February - Day 2

Alarm set for 05.20 (holiday - who said anything about this being a holiday!) and it was out for the 05.55 service to Wetteren (2749) for a quick change onto the following train with 2245 at the helm. This was taken as far as Denderleeuw for a longer fester to pick up 2128 - a double score as it was the last 21 I needed for sight too. Once in Brussels it was a mad spin between Midi and Nord on P-trains, sampling 2150, 2215, 2111, 2356, 2244, 2228 & 2220. Slight problem then as Simon and myself stood at Central station waiting a double-deck push-pull service to Antwerpen - it didn't show up! This meant we'd missed the tight connection at Berchem station so a quick re-plan had us behind 1181 to Berchem for 6246 round the corner to Ost station in Antwerpen. Time here to view a few freights, and 2128 heading south on a freight - yet only a couple of hours earlier it was going north on a passenger working!

6246 then took us to Olen where we chased several 62's (6267, 6253, 6255 & 6251) between there and Lier. On our first change at Lier we got chatting to an SNCB gripper who, as it turned out, was a regular visitor to England and beer festivals! He gave us the bad news that the first of the newly ordered DMU's was due to arrive in just a few days. This would soon mean the end of the class 62's on passenger services. On the last change at Lier we stopped at the Friterie for a food top-up - and nearly missed the train to Mol as the guy serving wanted to tell us about his daughters forthcoming trip to London!

At Mol it was a quick change to 6296 for the run to Hasselt. A "plug" unit then to Leuven (via Aarshot) and 2116 to Brussels in time for another rush-hours worth of spinning. Amused to see 2128 again - back on a passenger working after the freight trip earlier! Successful spinning again as we had : 2246, 2242, 2210, 2717, 1502, 2201, 1304 & 1505 before I headed for Gent Sint Pieters behind 2224 on train P8068 - though in the event I baled at Merelbeke for 6292 on a Geraardsbergen to Ronse service. Bit peeved to find 5118 again on the 19.16 to Eeklo and even more miffed to get dud 6315 back! One round trip to Gontrode however saw required 6235 out for 6201 back. Time to retire for the night (to the hotel bar for a while anyway!).

Friday 18th February - Day 3

Started the day as a repeat of Thursday on the 05.55 (2147) to Wetteren for 2239, but through to Brussels Nord rather than changing at Denderleeuw. A (rare) unit move to Lier now to score - hopefully - a new class for haulage. On arrival however we (Steve and myself) were surprised to find 6297 and 6298 double-headed on a P-train to Antwerpen. In my quest for a class 25 for haulage I nearly flagged the pair but then realised they stopped at Bouchout where the following class 25-hauled service also stopped. From Bouchout we had 2502 to Mortsel for a 5 minute fester for 2509 onward to Berchem station. I split from Steve here and headed back to Brussels (behind 2148) to meet up with Simon.

A plug move to Gent saw a couple of Gontrode moves behind 6225, 6315, 6228 & 6212 (hooray - another 62 scored at last!). 1608 took us back to Brussels for a fill in move to Leuze (2716) and back (2725) to put us ready for another rush-hour's set of moves. 2140 got us to Nord station then we had a major score - 2627 turned up on P8606, the 15.09 Fridays-only Brussels Midi to Aarlon. It was a big score as there are no booked class 26 passenger turns. We'd been expecting a 23 or a more modern 21 or 27. This was taken to Schuman station then 2208 returned us to Nord for a spinning session behind 2023, 2241, 2155, 2245, 2743 and 2311. P8095 again produced a 23, 2318, but we were even mre pleased to see P8068 turn up at Bockstael behind 2508 - a class way off its normal route! This was done to Denderleeuw for a "break" unit back to Brussels. Move now was to Schaerbeek for train INT299 - a booked 20 working. Confusion when we arrived at Schaerbeek as there was no sign of the train - but another, to Port Bou, was there with 2613 at the head - another 26!! - just HAD to be done! Not sure if we were "legal" passengers on this service as it was formed of couchettes but we rode it to Nord station anyway :-)

Off to a new hotel now to freshen up (the Albert Premier near Nord station), then a quick move behind 2121 had us to Central for an evenings eating and drinking near the Grand Place. A few trappist ales later and 1311 took us back to Nord station on the 23.56 off Central.

Saturday 19th February - Day 4

To allow recovery from our three days bashing (and Friday night excesses) we planned for a late start on Saturday (well, late by our standards anyway) on the 08.37 to Charleroi Sud. Unfortunately the local dustmen had other ideas and we were rudely awoken at 05.15 by a lot of clattering and banging!

"Snorkel" 942 was our home to Charleroi then 6224 took all three of us to Jamlioux where Simon and myself baled for 6271 back to Charleroi Sud (Steve wanted the track to Couvin and stayed on). A "plug" next to Liege Guillemins and I split from Simon as he was off track bashing to Eupen and Geronstere, both of which I'd done before.

I decided to take a trip down to Vielsalm to sample a couple of 55 diesels and a pair of CFL 3000's, but with about 75 minutes to kill a fill-in unit move to Liers was on the cards. Oops, wrong move - the +3 swap at Liers evaporated as we sat about 500 metres from the station for 3 minutes and I missed the return unit. Grrr... Worse, I had to kill almost an hour here until the next train back to Liege. Next time I'll bale at Herstal for a +20 minute fester!

Back at Liege and I caught up with Steve on a Cologne service (1601) as far as Verviers Central and a unit to Eupen - though I baled at Welkenraedt to photograph 1501, 1502, 1503 and 1504 all of which were in and around the station - only 1505 missing for the whole class! Annoying to see 1501 at the buffers as it was the only one I need for haulage.

1303 got us back to Liege Guillemins (Simon getting on at Vervier Central and surprised to see me as I should have met them at Aywaille behind a 55) . 5510 then took us to Aywaille for 5523 back as far as Angleur. A pause here for a few drinks in a highly recommended bar - with over a 1000 beers on offer the choice was rather difficult. We decided to do it alphabetically (one beginning with A etc) but only made C before we ran out of time and headed back to the station for 5505 to Liege.

Here we parted from Steve again - Simon and myself taking 1307 directly back to Brussels and Steve going by unit via Hasselt for the track. See you in the hotel bar about 22.30 he said....

He didn't make the bar. Eventually, shortly before midnight, he finally appeared - having fallen asleep on the train he missed the connection at Hasselt and ended up heading back via Antwerpen (more new track for him though!).

Sunday 20th February - Day 5

An early start (06.30) paid off - though our planned move from Nord to Midi behind a 20 was missed as it wasn't advertised on the departure board. At Midi (reached courtesy of an AM75 unit) we spotted 2610 on a train - brilliant - it was EC91 on which we'd expected a class 20. It was done to Nord then we went back to the hotel for breakfast and checking out.

Saturdays and Sundays are not brilliant days for loco bashing and I ended up spinning (with big festers) between Nord and Midi station, with a couple of runs to Leuven to relieve the boredom. The locos sampled were : 1316, 2734, 2006, 1186, 1304, 1311, 1185, 2722, 1306, 1605, 1602, 2754 (also my last 27 for sight), 1190, 1189 & finally 1182 (went out on a score at least!).

A dud Eurostar (3005+3006) got me back to London - but what a stagger, going via Maidstone East and Catford. Arrival was 10 late on the 2 hours 54 minute schedule too! A rapid tube move to Euston however still got me on the (absolutely) wedged 19.37 to Northampton (321424). With a taxi home from the station I was in my front room just on 9pm.

A decent few days bashing - but for how much longer will it be like this? With the imminent introduction of brand new DMU's the class 62's will be eliminated from their diagrams. Although delayed by technical problems, the introduction of class 13 electrics will also soon spell the end of the class 22's and 23's on P-trains. From the new timetable at the end of May the Liege to Trois Ponts services will also go electric, spelling the end for class 55's on passenger workings. Top scores without doubt however were the three class 26's - already they have no booked passenger turns so getting one is pure chance.

So, if you intend to get over to Belgium sometime - do it in the very near future or be prepared for a lot of plastic DMU's and modern electric locos!

My next trips over? End of April to coincide with Mercia Charters "The Cloaked Vessel" running out of Leuven, then again at the end of May to coincide with another two Mercia railtours "The Corvallen Freighter" and "The Neutral Zone".

Gary Thornton.

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