18th September 1999

The Great Experiment

Mercia Charters first railtour in Belgium. It almost didn't happen as SNCB staff were on strike at the time. Because of the strike however only two locos were available to haul the train all day.

Locos Used SNCB : 5116 & TUC : 5947
Stock Used 4x First Class green liveried coaches

Route :

Locos Route
5116 (1) Leuven - Sint Joris Weert - Ottignies - Tilly - Charleroi Oest - La Sambre Jn - Monceau ATD (depot visit)
5947 (2) Monceau ATD - Marchienne-au-Pont
5116 (1) Marchienne-au-Pont - Pieton - Bascoup
5947 (2) Bascoup - Pieton - Charleroi Sud - Chatelet - Jemeppe-sur-Sambre - Moustier - Ronet Formation - AC Salzinnes
5116 (1) AC Salzinnes - Ronet ATD (depot visit)
5116 (3) Ronet ATD - Ronet Jn
5116 (1) Ronet Jn - Moustier - Jemeppe Froidmont - Gembloux - Ottignies - La Hulpe - Watermael - Schaerbeek ATD (depot visit)
5116 (1) Schaerbeek ATD - (4) Brussel Noord - Brussel Centraal - Brussel Zuid
5947 (2) Brussel Zuid - Brussel Centraal - Brussel Noord - Schaerbeek
5116 (5) Schaerbeek - Zaventem - Leuven

Notes :
(1) 5947 on rear.
(2) 5116 on rear.
(3) 5116 propelled the train from Ronet ATD to Ronet Jn.
(4) Tour was booked to take line 28 via Brussels Ouest but couldn't as line was closed for engineering work.
(5) 5116 run round train as 5947 had failed. The 59 had actually been failed earlier in the day near Watermael when the engine shut-down and the fire bells were ringing. At Brussel Zuid however the driver decided to "give it a go" but, despite much thrash, a top speed of only about 10mph was achieved hence decision to fail loco at

Tour Review
(by Simon Bennett)

Back in May of this year I discovered that Mercia Charters, a group of railway enthusiasts who had previously run railtours in the UK, were to run a railtour for Euro-enthusiasts in Belgium. Having been introduced to the delights of the Belgium railway network a few years ago I quite liked the idea of going on this tour as it was a track and traction tour offering some interesting photographic opportunities as well. So after discussing the tour with a few friends a booking was duly made and with a view to turning the trip into a long weekend I made arrangements to travel out on the Thursday afternoon prior to the tour running.

I flew from Manchester on BA flight 1620 at 5pm on Thursday which gave an arrival time in Brussels of 7.15pm. I had worked out that I could get up to Brussels and onto Ghent in time to cover the last working to Eeklo which is hauled by a Belgian Railways class 51 locomotive and therefore have an extra hour in bed the following morning as I would not have to cover the early train from Geraardsbergen which would be worked by the same locomotive. The plane arrived in Brussels slightly before 7.15pm and with a speedy exit from the airport I was on the 7.32pm service to Brussels. On arrival at Brussels Noord station it soon became obvious that all was not well on the Belgium railway network that evening as train IC1540 to Knokke & Blankenberge which was due to depart at 7.26pm was still in the station and was advertised as only going to Brugge. This train is normally formed of an AM96 electric unit but on this particular evening a rake of locomotive hauled stock was in the station and class 27 electric 2746 was running round the stock. I was expecting to catch the following Oostende bound train, had I stuck to the original plan as I was to meet two friends on this service, so a quick telephone call was in order to let them know I was catching the late running, earlier train. It transpired that they too were on the same train but a few coaches further towards the front, so I made my way down the train to meet them. I asked them if they knew why the train was late as this is very unusual on the Belgian network and to my dismay they informed me that Belgian Railways were on strike!!!!

Due to the uncertainty over which trains would run on Saturday morning to get us to Leuven for the tour we decided to leave an extra hour earlier on the 7.03 service from Brussels Noord station. To our surprise a full service was running and we later discovered that Belgian Railways staff are paid a lot more money to work at weekends and they would be cutting their own throats if they did not work. By now we also knew that the tour was definitely running and departure from Leuven was scheduled for 9.00am. We had heard rumours the previous week that the tour would not run in its advertised format as Salzinnes works was closed on a Saturday and there was also doubt over the availability of a class 59 diesel as Belgian Railways had sold all their remaining locos to TUC rail to work on trains connected with the building of the high speed rail link to Germany and Holland.

Just before 9.00 the stock arrived for our train formed of 4 first class coaches in green livery. The train was lead by class 51 5116 with class 59 5947 at the rear. The previous day several representatives of Mercia Charters had visited Leuven depot to sort out the final running details for the tour and had dropped various large hints about getting 5947 onto the train. The final clincher was our driver for the day who also turned out to be a "crank" and he had decided that 5947 was the engine he wanted on our train. We set off at 9.00 and headed south west to Ottignies where we had our first photo call of the day due to early running. Then we continued our journey via the delightfully named Tilly and onto Monceau depot just outside Charleroi. Here we detrained in the yard and walked over to the depot for an impromptu visit and had the opportunity to take photo's of the assembled locomotives on the depot. Highlight for me was the sight of 6277 jacked up
with it's bogies removed.

Back on the train and our next port of call was Bascoup Permanent Way Yard. Our booked route took us direct to the yard but our driver had other ideas and he stopped to converse with signalling staff and had our train routed to Marchienne-au-Pont where he then reversed to take us to Bascoup. He wanted to make sure that the 59 was at the front for the journey to Ronet later in the day. On arrival in Bascoup yard it was once again everyone off for a photo call and a wander around. Then back on board and off to Charleroi for a short break and what we thought would be an engine change.

Due to the strike the previous day the various depots which were to provide additional engines for our tour had been unable to roster drivers to make the light engine movements and so unfortunately we were stuck with the two we had all day. Bearing in mind that no one was sure that the tour would run at all until 5pm the previous day it was not surprising that no provision had been made to move locos around. After the break in Charleroi we set off for Ronet with 5947 leading. Class 59's are very old locos and 5947 coughed and spluttered its way down the line. But what a racket!!! The thrash from this engine was incredible with plumes of thick black clag emanating from the exhaust.

On arrival at Ronet we carried on down the line to the entrance to Salzinnes works where our train was set up for a photo call across the main road outside the works. This meant some of the local residents moving their cars so that our train could move forward. I don't think they were expecting a train load of cranks to arrive outside their house on a quiet Saturday afternoon. Traffic chaos duly caused we all re-boarded the train for the short trip into Ronet depot then everyone off for a quick walk round the depot yard and back on the train for the run to Schaarbeek. The route from Ronet took us over the little used line 144 from Jemeppe sur Sambre to Gembloux, then along the main line to Watermael and onto line 26 to Schaarbeek. During this stretch behind 5116, loco 5947 was trailing our train. We made a signal stop on route and it became obvious that 5947 was not at all well. Fire bells were ringing in the locomotive and it's engine had shut down. The train arrived at Schaarbeek depot and we all got off for a look around. Highlight here was the presence of 202020 which was previously Luxembourg railways locomotive 1602. It is the "pet" loco of PFT a group of preservationists in Belgium who look after it at Schaarbeek. The driver of our train, having attended to 5947, asked if we would like to photograph 202020 in the open as it was in the loco shed and he duly started up one of the class 80 shunters which he then used to drag 202020 into the area outside the shed.

After the photo call it was back to the tour to learn that we could not travel over line 28 to get into Brussels as engineering work had closed the line. So 5116 took our train direct to Brussels Midi through the central tunnel. We were told that the driver would run 5116 round the train to save using 5947 on the run back to Leuven but on arrival at Brussels Midi he decided to risk taking the 59 forward. What a treat those people who got off the tour at Midi missed. On pulling away from the station we managed to get two coach lengths off the platform before 5947's engine shut down and a vicious brake application was made. The driver managed to re-start the engine and off we set again. The driver coaxed 5947 gently into motion and then as we approached the tunnels under Brussels opened the power controller wide. 5947 thrashed away at the front of the train achieving no more than 10mph through the tunnels and covering the platforms (and passengers) at Brussels Central station in clouds of black clag. The power of the exhaust was enough to bring bits off the tunnel roof!!!! The train made it to Schaarbeek station after stalling in Brussels Noord station and the driver decided enough was enough. He ran 5116 round the train and off we raced to Leuven and the tours end. Although the tour did not provide all the traction that was originally advertised those in our party agreed that we had had an excellent day out. For my part I required both 5116 and 5947 and also a considerable amount of track that the tour covered.

Thanks should be recorded to the organisers, Mercia Charters, for running this tour in the face of adversity. The powers of persuasion exercised by them on Friday and the hard work put in by the people at Leuven depot to get the tour running at all was very much appreciated.

Route, Distances and Timing's (Booked & Actual)
(by Simon Bennett)

5116  Leuven to Monceau ATD  45m 08ch
  5947  Monceau ATD to Marchienne-au-Pont  3m 21ch
  5116  Marchienne-au-Pont to Bascoup  8m 06ch
  5947  Bascoup to AC Salzinnes  37m 55ch
  5116  AC Salzinnes to Ronet ATD  1m 09ch
  5116  Ronet ATD to Ronet Jn. 0m 23ch Pushing train
  5116  Ronet Jn. to Brussel Zuid  51m 61ch
  5947  Brussel Zuid to Schaarbeek  3m 63ch
  5116  Schaarbeek to Leuven  16m 62ch

All distances are in Kilometres and are taken from the details issued on the day. The official distances were provided from Neil Suttons's SNCB timetable distance book however due to travelling off the booked route on a number of occasions the distances have distances using Stuart Clarke's Continental Miles & Chains Volume 1 Belgium/Luxembourg & Holland. Certain distances were also taken from Stuart Clarkes observations on the day.

km Location Booked Actual
00.00 Leuven 09.00d 09.01
11.50 St Joris Weert 09/14 09/11
23.50 Wavre 09/29 09/18
28.85 Ottignies 09/35 09.24 ~ 09.34
32.10 Court St Etienne 09/39 09/38
43.80 Tilly 09/54 09/49
52.70 Fleurus 10/00 09.56 ~ 09.59
64.00 Charleroi Ouest 10/11 10.09 ~ 10.10
66.60 La Sambre Jn 10/15 10.13 ~ 10.14
67.40 Marchienne-au-Pont 10/16 10/18
72.50 Monceau ATD 10.22a ~ 10.45d 10.26 ~ 10.50
79.50 Martiner Jn 10/46 ?
86.50 Pieton 10/51 11.10 ~ 11.11
90.25 Bascoup 11.01a ~ 11.26d 11.21 ~ 11.34
94.00 Pieton 11/36 11.43 ~ 11.44
100.40 Martiner Jn 11/41 11/51
102.30 Marchienne-au-Pont 11/42 11/43
105.60 Charleroi Sud 11.46a ~ 12.14d 12.00 ~ 12.18
112.40 Chatelet 12/20 12/26
120.40 Tamines 12/27 12/33
125.50 Jemeppe-sur-Sambre 12.32a ~ 12.43d 12/41
127.80 Moustier 12/45 12/43
149.00 Ronet Formation 12/54 12.56 ~ 13.02
150.50 AC Salzinnes 13.01a ~ 13.20d 13.05 ~ 13.20
? Ronet Formation 13.27a ~ 13.42d ?
151.90 Ronet ATD ? 13.25 ~ 13.41
152.20 Ronet Jn ? 13.44 ~ 13.44
163.80 Moustier 13/49 14/03
166.25 Jemeppe Froidmont 13/53 14/05
179.25 Gembloux 14.05a ~ 14.15d 14.19 ~ 14.31
193.85 Ottignies 14/25 14/42
202.55 La Hulpe 14/37 14/49
213.35 Watermael 14/59  
222.85 Harenheide Jn 15/05 15.11 ~ 15.14
223.55 Keelbeek Sud Jn 15/06 15/16
? FSR Block 22 15/09 ?
227.15 Schaarbeek ATD 15.17a ~ 15.32d 15.28 ~ 15.53
228.95 Schaarbeek 15/37 16.00 ~ 16.04
231.25 Brussel Nord 16/08 ?
233.05 Brussel Centraal 16/13 ?
235.05 Brussel Zuid 15/54 16.16 ~ 16.26
237.05 Brussel Centraal 15.57a ~ 15.59d 16/32
238.85 Brussel Noord 16.03a ~ 16.06d 16.38 ~ 16.40
241.15 Schaarbeek 16/09 16.45 ~ 17.00
245.60 Diagem Jn 16/13 17/05
248.75 Zaventem Jn 16/17 17/07
253.55 Kortenberg 16/21 ?
268.15 Leuven 16.32a 17.20

a : arrival time
d : departure time
/ : passing time

Back to Previous Railtours Page