Tourrailing and Railtouring

Belgium - Thursday 25th May to Monday 29th 2000

My third trip to Belgium of the year! Another chance to mix a B-Tourrail railrover ticket with, in this case, two railtours (both run by Mercia Charters). On the Friday would be "The Corvallen Freighter" and on Saturday "The Neutral Zone".

My full haulage details for this trip can be found here.

Day 1 : Thursday 25th May

For the second time I chose to entrust myself to British Airways to get me to Brussels. On a weekday they have a flight at 06.45 - an early start but at least it gives a chance to be out bashing before 10am in Belgium. I booked the Thursday flight and arranged to meet up with a few colleagues before lunchtime in Brussels....

To comfortably make the 6am check in time involved a 4.10am alarm call, no breakfast and a drive to Birmingham Airport. I'd parked up and got into the terminal for 5.30am so plenty of time to get checked in. Imagine my horror then to look up at the departure screen and see :

BA1744 Brussels Cancelled

Aaarrghhh! Rather than use a self-service check in machine I had to join a long queue to find out what was happening. Reaching the front of the first queue I got told to go and join another long queue where my ticket would be changed to allow me to travel on a Sabena flight to Brussels. Don't worry said the first check-in girl, we'll be putting you on the 06.45 Sabena flight.

Second long queue.... Second check-in girl stamped away on her computer and then said "you'll be put on the 10.55 Sabena flight".

10.55????

F*!k, that's FIVE hours wait!!

"No seats left on the 06.45" came the response to my next question. I killed about 20 minutes of the wait with a British Airways manager who failed to adequately explain why I was told I'd be on the 06.45 flight then be told there were no seats left. My own suspicion is that is was NOT a "first-come-first-served" situation as he suggested, but rather based on the ticket type held (mine was an el-cheepo non-changeable piece). After three requests for some form of sustenance to get me through until the flight (remember, I flagged breakfast!) I finally got given a 7.50 food voucher.

The food voucher only got me two rounds of sandwiches and a coffee (and I had to pick cheap sannys to keep under the 7.50!!). I wandered out to the viewing area just in time to see the 06.45 Sabena flight departing (grrrr...). Was interesting to see a couple of airliners landing from the former Soviet states. Eventually the five hours passed and I scratched a new airline (and aircraft) aboard Airbus 319 OO-SSA. I was so impressed with the meal that was offered that I've completely forgotten what it was!

Finally got to Brussels about 1pm so at least having only hand luggage I was soon through and at the airport railway station. B-Tourrail purchased and I was on the 13.32 departure which I took as far as Brussels Noord. Here I caught up with some of the friends who were also over for the Mercia tours. Spent the afternoon in and around Brussels, scoring 2154, 2211, 2203, 2223, 2514, 2507, 2723, 2632 & 2359 for haulage. Towards the end of the afternoon rush hour myself and one friend headed off to Gent (on P8068 with dud 2235 at the helm) to view the 19.16 Eeklo service. A crank at Gent told us it would be 5109 (well dud) so at this point Simon and myself split up and I headed back to Brussels to check into the hotel. Having checked in I wandered out again for some short leaps, scoring 1323, 2125 & 2758 in the process. Was a bit upset to see dud 2022 arrive on a EC working, but did it anyway. At least required 1305 got me back to Nord station. We (about 12 of us) were stopping in the New Vendome hotel, about 10 minutes walk from Nord station.

Day 2 : Friday 26th May

An early-ish breakfast (half of us and a couple of coachloads of German oldies) had me out and on my first train out of Nord by 07.44. Scores in the morning rush were 2759, 2127, 2363, 2737 and 2726. The last one was nearly my undoing - it was booked to leave Central station 3 minutes ahead of a Namur unit (which I wanted to be on) - but I'd not allowed that this was one of the few services to call at Kongres station! The unit was already in Nord as we arrived so a very fast leap through the subway was required! When I found the others on the unit all that was said was "where the hell did you come from?".

Making the 08.45 service from Nord to Namur put us in position to cover the very last INT332 (10.05 Namur to Paris). Before catching this however we gave quite a bit of custom to the "Panos" on Namur station - the two girls were kept busy knocking up enough rolls for about two dozen plus cranks to last them most of the day!

At the request of Mercia Charters, a Class 26 was turned out for INT332 and a considerable number of us took the train, hauled by 2626, to Charleroi Sud. A "plug" EMU back and it was time for our first tour "The Corvallen Freighter".

...an eventful tour! Being dumped at Libramont at almost 9 O'clock at night was not such a nice experience, but more than compensated for as SNCB stopped EC96 "Iris" to pick us up! We baled at Brussels Nord and headed back to the hotel.

Day 3 : Saturday 27th April

With breakfast not starting until 7.30am on a weekend, we had to negotiate with the hotel staff to get it started a bit earlier. They agreed 7am but in the event didn't open the breakfast room doors until 7.15am. Oh, and we were already in a queue behind a (another?) couple of coachloads of German grannies! A few were in danger of getting bowled out of the way as we made for the food area!!

Comfortably made the 08.02 off Nord (required 1309 at the helm) which we took to Leuven for the start of "The Neutral Zone".

Back into Leuven and there was time for a beer in a local bar before falling onto dud 1304 back to Brussels. A swift change at Nord station scored me 2742 to Midi where we baled for munchies and beer. Got back to the hotel about 11.30pm. I ducked out early as, during the day, I'd started coughing and sneezing.

Day 4 : Sunday 28th May

After Saturdays breakfast farce, and with an earlier departure planned, half our group flagged it altogether. On this occasion however it seems the breakfast room was opened before 7am, so some of us had time to go in and grab some food. Got to Nord station for the 07.24 EC service (well dud 2716 hauling) which was taken to Namur.

Loads of cranks at Namur, all there to cover the "kayaks", a couple of trains that are used to ferry canoeists to their canoes up river from the finishing point. On leaving Namur on the 08.50 service to Houyet (required 5205 in charge) Stuart Clarke did a headcount - 71 cranks and one normal on the train! The normal baled at Dinant and at Anseremme we were joined by 12 kayakers. Apparently the number of cranks who turned out for the train is a new record! A few baled en-route but most of stayed on to Houyet where a short wait secured 5209 going the other way. This train is topped-and-tailed but with 5401 being the tail loco it was dud for all having been on our tour on the Friday.

Bit of a riot at Dinant where most (all?) of the crank contingent baled for the unit back to Namur - the gripper shut the unit doors just as ours were opened - and that was a couple of minutes early for the units booked departure time. The unit was suddenly besieged by a group of cranks and we all had to pile in through the grippers door. Not sure he ever worked out what was going on!

Back at Namur and most of us then headed for Charleroi Sud as there was a rumour the incoming international service to Namur "had something old on it". With almost an hour to kill in Charleroi most of us took the chance for a short leap on the Couvin branch - a 62 out to Jamioulx for a "plus 10" for another back.

Wrong move....

We got most of the way to Jamioulx when we stopped in the middle of nowhere. A look out the window and I noticed that there were a lot of leaves and branches around the front of the loco. About the same time the driver baled out with detonators, red flag and track-circuit clips and proceeded to close the other track. Turns out we'd struck a tree which had fallen over the line. After a few minutes we began moving again, but very slowly. As we approached Jamioulx we could see our return working already waiting to gain access to our running line. Would we manage to swap trains, or be stuck at Jamioulx for at least two hours (assuming the train we were on returned and was not failed!)....

Even though the other train (loco 6271, also dud for me) was almost completely off the platform, the guard did release the doors for us (can't imagine his thoughts as he saw 50-odd cranks bearing down on his train from several angles!). Although we'd made the train, it was obvious we'd missed the international service from Charleroi Sud. A slow wrong-line stagger back ensured this. We passed the tree, still fouling the running line and it was quite a large one. About this time we also found out from a text message received on some ones mobile phone that the wires were down in the Gouvy area - so much for the new electric service between Liege and Luxembourg! Day 1 of the new timetable and they were reported to be running buses!! The problems were being caused by high winds which were affecting most of Belgium.

Back at Charleroi and the group kind of split up - for myself and some of the others a late running "plug" took us back to Liege for a look at the new electric services to and from Luxembourg (if they were still running of course!). My plan soon changed as a required "can" appeared on a German-bound international working. I did this as far as Verviers Central where I then caught a unit to Welkenraedt to kill some time. Here I noted 1501 and 1502 stabled before dud 1323 rolled in on the 15.05 ex-Eupen. This was done back to Liege Guillemins where I was chuffed to discover 5540 on the 16.15 Gouvy service. Chuffed twice over - it was a required sight as well as being the last "EH" 55 I needed for haulage.

Now this caused me a slight problem as I was intending to cover P8220, the 19.45 Neerpelt to Heverlee. Consulting the timetable I realised I could still cover both, though I could only get P8220 from Lier rather than Olen as originally planned. Said my goodbyes to Duncan who was off for P8220 and I headed for Aywaille behind 5540. Once there a half hour fester saw me behind CFL 3002 (required) for the return trip.

The high winds were causing more problems and I now had to decide how to get to Lier - via Hasselt of Leuven (services to the latter were being affected by fallen trees as I left for Aywaille). An announcement of a problem on the Hasselt line made up my mind and I caught 1307 to Leuven for a "snorkel" EMU to Lier.

At Lier and in rolled P8220 with required 6281 at the head and 6261 (dud) on the rear. I joined several friends already on the train then they pointed out a little fact that I'd not realised....

.....the train reversed at Lier to get to Leuven. This meant all I got was dud 6261 for haulage! caused quite a laugh amongst those on board when they realised I had missed out on 6281 for haulage even though it was on the train! We all baled at Leuven for (required) 1317 back to Brussels. My cold had really taken hold during the afternoon so I retired to the hotel whilst the others went off to a bar.

Day 5 : Monday 29th May

My day for returning home, but not until 19.40 in the evening. Having had a rough night due to my cold I decided to have an easy start in the morning and took breakfast before venturing out. The whole day went pear-shaped quite quickly as I discovered there was a strike on! Apparently the Oostende drivers had come out over some issue or another. I had planned to cover the end of the rush hour then head over to Gent to check out which 62's were working and also cover the Antwerpen to Oostende services which had gone from "plugs" to 13's on push-pull stock.

The first few Nord - Central - Midi moves were winners at any rate - 2232, 2735, 2741, 2313 & 2225. Had intended to cover the 09.15 international off Midi but this didn't turn up, its booked path being taken by an "EXT" service hauled by (dud) 2206. Did this to Nord to view the INT. It eventually turned up 40 minutes late behind 2110 (required) so I did it to Brussels Luxemburg station (the former QL). Back on an AM75 for some more spinning, scoring 1312 before falling on 2124 on an Antwerpen service. Did this to Mechelen (spending the journey with Matthew Reeves and Denzil Morgan who were off chasing 62's on the Neerpelts). A unit back then my 46th loco haulage score of the trip came up with 2115 which was on a Mouscron service.

I crashed and burned big-style in the evening rush - two hours and all I scored were a pair of 20's - 2024 & 2019! With this being the first weekday of the new timetable I did notice that P8966 to Zottegem had gone over from a Class 22 diagram to an old EMU. Also noticed different was the 17.13 Midi to Jemelle (P8605) which was a booked 23 turn - it was 2019, which I scored. Once back at Nord and it was a break unit back to the airport and my flight home. Was a bit miffed to get a dud Airbus back to Birmingham (G-EUPE)!

No complaints overall- a total of 47 new locos claimed for haulage (43 Belgian, 1 Luxemburg and 3 Dutch). On top of the 72 and 52 I had on previous visits that gives a total of 171 for the three visits! Try achieving that total in the UK....

Gary Thornton.

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