Desperate...or What?

My second trip to Belgium this year - to take in another 5-day B-Tourrail rover and also travel on my first ever non-UK railtour. My last visit bagged 72 new loco haulages but with the Monday being a public holiday I would have to settle for a few less this time.

My normal method of getting to Belgium is to use the 10.27 Eurostar departure from London. On this occasion however I couldn't get my usual "Leisure Apex 14" 1st class ticket for the train - the quota for the service having already been sold. For the same price British Airways could fly me from Birmingham (more convenient than London Waterloo) to Brussels. With an extra few hours gained by flying it was not exactly a difficult decision to make to change my mode of transport! Sorry Eurostar, about time you looked at your ticketing policy. In fact, I've also booked my next trip over with BA too - so Eurostar have managed to loose over 200 of business from me.

Where appropriate I've shown my haulage scores underlined in red. For those interested, a full haulage list (including train identities) can be found here.

Saturday 29th April - Day 1

A farce at Birmingham Airport almost had me wondering why I had decided to abandon Eurostar - we were given a take-off slot of 08.45 for a flight advertised as departing at 9am. We eventually got another slot at almost 09.45 so my days plans looked in some doubt as I only had 50 minutes from booked landing time to the train I wanted to be on. Luckily the flight time is somewhat generous and we arrived into Brussels only 15 late on a dinky little plane (an "Embraer 145" operated by Brymon Air on behalf of British Airways). Still a bit of a fast walk to the airport railway station to get my rover ticket purchased and make the 12.04 train.

A "break" unit got me to Brussels Nord with a few minutes to spare before the departure of train EC97 which is a booked class 20 working. Time enough to meet up with David Russell who had flown in from Manchester just ahead of me. 2003 took us to Namur then a "plug" unit was our transport onward to Liege Guillemins. As David wanted the Eupen branch it was 1606 that got us to Verviers Central for a unit that took David on to Eupen - I baled at Welkenraedt to photograph the 15's stabled there. I was very pleased to see 1501, the last of the class I need for haulage, was stabled "in pole position" and therefore likely to be used on the next day of "P" trains (the Tuesday). David soon reappeared from Eupen, aboard the Oostende service behind 1310 which got us back to Liege.

Time now for the evening beer, food and diesel move - 5515 to Aywaille for 5529 back as far as Angleur for a two hour break in "La Vaudree". Although I'd mentioned to a few others where we'd be, myself and David enjoyed the food and beer on our own. On returning to Angleur station however we found two lonely characters (Mat & Denzil) stood on the station waiting for us - owing to a late taxi earlier on they'd only just arrived at the station in time to leave again! 5523 took us the short distance to Liege from where 1322 sped us back towards Brussels. We split up at Leuven as Mat and Denzil had a hotel booked there, myself and David continuing on to Gent where we were booked into the Trianon 2 - just a couple of minutes walk from the station, well handy!

Sunday 30th April - Day 2

Early start to make sure we made Leuven in time for the tour - the 06.22 from Gent with 1606 at the helm. Plenty of familiar faces at Leuven. As David Russell volunteered to do the tour review I'll leave you to follow this link to read it. All at Mercia Charters get my thanks for a good tour. It was a useful trip for me as I scored all the locos for haulage (5156, 5926, 5946, 5947, 7608 & 7609) and got some new bits of track in. The trip round Kinkempois depot also scored me a good number of locos I required for sight, including 1804, one of the recently withdrawn class of multi-voltage locos. Just 1805 left now to clear the class for sight.

Back in Leuven and I split from David temporarily as we both headed for Charleroi by different routes (he wanted the track via Ottignies). 2760 took me to Brussels where 2133 was also claimed on a short leap before I had to suffer a "snorkel" unit (without doubt the worst units that SNCB operate!) all the way to Charleroi Sud where David was already sat on board the Couvin service behind 6254. This was done to the first shack, Jamioulx, for 6221 back. Bit miffed to return to find it was back to Brussels on the same snorkel unit as I'd come down on! I parted company from David here as he was heading for some new track, including the line to Ronse. At Brussels Nord it was a leap onto EC90 (2009) to Midi station then back to Nord again with 1313 before settling onto a plug unit for the run back to Gent. David arrived shortly after - withered as he arrived at Oudenaarde to find the Ronse service was replaced by a bus owing to engineering work. Decided to finish off with a leap to Gontrode to get a couple more 62's - 6212 out for 6306 back, so at least I finished the day on a winner. A beer in the hotel rounded off a good day out.

Monday 1st May - Day 3

Being a public holiday there were no "P" trains to chase so it was a later start for us - the 07.22 departure at any rate (1322) to Brussels Nord. We parted company here again as David wanted to do the line from Antwerpen to Neerpelt. A series of short leaps around Brussels for me saw haulage behind 2728, 1192, 2722 & 1182, the latter getting me to Antwerpen Berchem to check out the 62's out on the Neerpelts. Dud 6261 to Olen for 6238 back to Lier. David was on this train having been to Neerpelt (and making the +2 leap onto the outgoing service). His gen soon confirmed I'd scored the only required 62 that was out (even the Mol to Hasselt turn was a dud 62 for me). Time to split up again and I headed for Leuven via Aarshot (units) for 1322 (third time for haulage in as many days!) to Brussels Nord then 1603 to Liege Guillemins.

A wait at Liege to view the 14.49 and 14.57 departures - the former with a 13 and the latter a 21 or 27 turn. The 14.57 was also banked out of the station up the gradient so I was hoping the banker would be 2250 which I required. 1307 was the loco for the 14.49 departure which was flagged. 2729 was on the 14.57 but the banker turned out to be 2152 - unusual, but dud! Back to Brussels to see what 20 would produce on EC295.

2015, which I took down to Namur for a 40 minute fester for 2023 back on EC90 then 1603 to Gent and the short walk back to the hotel. David arrived a few minutes behind me and asked if I needed 6249 as he'd just come off it and it would be on the Geraardsbergen service. I did. Back to the station and 6249 was sampled to Gontrode for 6306 back.

Tuesday 2nd May - Day 4

First day of "P" trains and an early start was called for as other bashers had suggested that 5128 had been out on the early turn from Geraardsbergen to gent. David also confirmed it had been there when he passed through on the Sunday evening. Alarm went off at 04.40 and as I got dressed I had to remind myself I was doing this because I enjoyed it....

The 05.10 to Geraardsbergen (done to Melle) produced 6237 and 5128 soon rolled in on the train to Gent, as predicted (hoped for). For the next couple of hours we span madly about Gent which netted 2208, 6201, 6229, 6235, 6306, 6236 & 6256.

By now it was just after 8.30am and we were in Geraardsbergen. A unit move to Edingen saw myself and David go our separate ways again. I headed for Brussels on the unit where I put 1307 & 2139 in the book. I narrowly missed required 1188 at Nord so arranged my move to cover it on the return out of Nord station. Unfortunately SNCB had other ideas and at Nord it was removed in favour of (dud) 1181. Grrr....

Dud 2140 next which I took all the way to Quiverain (required track from Saint Ghislain). David joined me at Mons. Same loco took us all the way back to Brussels too! With the afternoon rush approaching it was time for a couple of hours of mad leaping - 2117, 2752, 2713, 2117 (oops, an early repeat!), 2202, 2101, 2008 & 2131 were done. Unit move now to Mechelen for 2512 to Puurs and 2501 to Sint Nicklaas. Stroke of luck here as we made the" +1" onto a plug for Gent. This we did to Dampoort station where a 20 minute wait had us in position for 5109 inbound from Eeklo to Gent. No required 62's about so I headed back to the hotel whilst David headed back to Dampoort to pick off another 62 he needed. I left it an hour and went back out for a last run to Gontrode with 6237 out for 6219 back - no luck tonight but did score brand new 1324 & 1325 for sight at Merelbeke. Back to the hotel a bit earlier than previous nights so time for an extra beer :-)

Wednesday 3rd May - Day 5

Slightly later start for our last day - 05.55 out of Gent to Wetteren behind 2703. 2216 following on the 05.58 train and this was taken to Brussels Nord. Unit move then to Lier for 6251 to Boechout for 2508 to Mortsel and 2243 onward to Berchem. 2757 next - to Mechelen for David and Brussels for me.

Good news was that at the buffers at Midi station were 1503 and 1501 - the latter being the last I needed for haulage. It would be working a Welkenraedt service back in the evening :-)

A check revealed that 2757 was my 39th required loco haulage of the trip. Hmmm.... could I break 50 for the 5 days, not a bad total (if it could be achieved) especially considering we only had two weekdays with a full timetable. Mind you I still had a unit move to get some required track in, so it would be a close run thing...

Loco 40 of the trip came with 2138 which I had to do to Braine-Le-Compte as I was at midi station when it appeared. Dud 2101 back and the move had cost me an hour for one required loco - not the way to reach 50! 2710 next (41) then it was a plug to Charleroi so I could claim the line to Jeumont. As this station is in France I had to get the gripper to sell me a ticket from Erquellines - which he did, but only a single. The language barrier beat us (he spoke no English and I don't speak much French). He was quite withered when I baled at Jeumont (where the unit terminates), photted it plus a couple of SNCF 66000 diesels, then promptly got back on the unit again. As the next train back to Charleroi was in five hours time I had no intention of stopping! Nice gripper that he was he didn't charge me for a single fare back to Erquellines!

Back to Brussels (plug unit again) and I now had just over two hours left to claim another 9 locos for haulage if I was to reach a total of 50 for the trip. Sit back and prepare for a couple of hours of absolute madness!!

2704 was no.42 then 2132 made the total 43. I was sat on board waiting the departure of required 2204 when David appeared with a smile on his face - he had just come off 1192 which he knew was one of only two class 11's I needed for haulage. Arrghh, what to do...

I was so busy re-planning my next couple of moves to get onto 1192 that I did a silly thing as we pulled out of Midi station behind 2204 - I forgot to add it to my list of scores. From here on in I'm counting one less than I've actually had....

Off at Central station for a plug unit back to Midi and 1192 was duly scored followed quickly by 2217, 2732 and 2701. The spinning was really getting to me by now and I also forgot to add 2732 to my list (only just noticed just now as I'm writing this!). So there was me thinking I was at a total of 46 whereas I was in fact at 48. With time running out and the promise of 1501 I still thought I needed 3 more scores. 1501 duly performed on the 16.43 departure - 47 down so I thought (actually 49 if only I'd realised my omissions!).

Dud 2208 next and panic started to set in, compounded when dud 2708 appeared the other way - and it had to be done to get onto two class 23 diagrams, sure bets for scoring as I've not had that many for haulage. As we left Nord station behind 2708 I spotted required 1302 pulling in. A leap at Midi for 1302 would only give me about a +2 at Nord onto the first 23 diagram - but to reach 50 I had to score on my way to Nord! A bale at Central and 1302 was done (my 50th of the trip - but there was me thinking it was only no.48!) but it was a real stagger and I pulled into Nord with nothing to spare to get the 17.13 departure (and I had no idea from which platform it was leaving).....

For once luck was on my side and required 2303 was sighted - on the adjacent platform. I piled on board with literally seconds to spare only to see a smiling David already sat on the train - he was pretty sure I'd crashed and burned on this move! 2303 to Central for a 10 minute wait for the next booked 23 diagram. With only time to get to Nord then the unit to the airport and me thinking I still needed one more to get the 50, did I wait for the 23 - which knowing my luck could just be a dud one - or did I hop on the first required loco to appear...? Decisions decisions....

A 27 appeared but it was not required, then in rolled required 2330 :-) which was taken to Nord for short fester for a break unit back to the airport and the flight home.

It was only when I got home I realised I'd missed out 2204 from my "scratch list" then tonight as I am typing this I spotted I also missed 2732, so all the last minute flapping was actually unnecessary! Oh well....

A good trip over with an excellent railtour on the Sunday. Managing 52 new locos for haulage was pretty good too and I can already see the funny side of the mad last minute "desperate flapping" session to reach a target I'd already beaten!

Just three weeks before I'm back over in Belgium for another two Mercia Charter railtours and railrover ticket!

Gary Thornton.

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