12th, 13th and 14th August 2017: GM power in the Ardennes

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5205 on the Chemin de Fer du Bocq (JW)

Updated 05/08/17: 7341 is now unavailable to work at the gala, but work is progressing on preparing 7305 to replace it.

Updated 24/07/17: I am now quoted all three Lineas locos as below.  6077 has sadly been pulled from the line-up, however.  The TUC Rail 55s have also been declined.

Updated 22/06/17: Lineas (the former NMBS Logistics) have confirmed their presence at the festival – they will be bringing a class 77 in original livery.  If available (I am quoted a 70% chance), then a class 77 in new livery and also a class 66 will also be dispatched.  More nearer the time.

Update 16/06/17: All freight locomotives remain subject to confirmation at the current time – there is heavy-duty diversionary work in the Montzen area on the weekend in question which will require a lot of diesel locos – once the requirement for this is known, the details of what can be spared for the Bocq gala will be known more clearly.  Please keep checking back here for updates.

The format will be three train running with all sets top-and-tailed.  It should be very possible to ride behind at least 6-8 different locos during the course of the day.  I will have a roster to share in advance of the gala, but due to the above, this may only be a couple of days ahead of time.

British-style diesel galas are rare on the Continent, but a weekend in August 2017 will see a preserved line in Belgium buck that trend.

The Chemin de Fer du Bocq is a 10-mile long preserved railway in south-central Belgium, deep in the scenic Ardennes forest.  Following the course of the Bocq river (from which the railway takes its name), the former Line 128 weaves its way along the valley from Ciney, through the operating centre of Spontin, to Purnode and the current end of the line at Evrehailles.  It formerly ran through to a junction at Yvoir, and hopefully one day trains will once again arrive there from Ciney.

The railway is run by volunteers of the PFT/TSP, a national society dedicated to railway preservation, and some of their locos are based at the Bocq railway, whereas others are displayed in the museum at Saint-Ghislain and others under repair at Schaarbeek.

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Dorinne/Durnal station on the Bocq railway (JW)

August Festivals

The railway tends to hold a special event each August-time, and these are always imaginative and, consequently, well-attended.  Whilst it’s de rigeur these days in the UK for preserved railway galas to feature visiting main line freight locomotives, this is not a trend that has yet really travelled over the Channel; the Bocq railway is one of the forward-thinking exceptions.

Although a couple other Belgian preserved lines have recently hosted main line guests to their galas, these have generally been of older classes that were once synonymous with passenger work, now cascaded onto freight duties (such as ex-SNCB class 51 or 62).  The Bocq is different in that it is aiming generally for more modern locos that have always, and will always be, freight locos – due to the relative scarcity of haulage opportunities behind such machines, any such gala attendance could conceivably be the only time that a loco ever hauls passengers in its life.  Previous visitors to the Bocq have included Crossrail Class 66 no.PB03 (266 018) in 2012 (see video here) – as well as an impressive selection of PFT/TSP traction from their other sites.

2017 Event

The 2017 event is to be held on Saturday 12th, Sunday 13th and Monday 14th August 2017 – although the Sunday will be a day aimed at photographers.

Traditionally, the Festivals at the Bocq railway have featured a good mixture of diesel and steam traction, operating to an intensive timetable based on Spontin.  However, primarily due to the current dearth of operational steam locos in Belgium, this gala will predominantly focus on diesels.

Lineas (the former B-Logistics) have confirmed their presence at the 2017 gala and will be providing an MaK diesel-hydraulic class 77 in original livery, a different class 77 in the new black and green livery, and also a General Motors class 66.

DB Cargo class 6400 (from the 6500-6520 series) is also lined up for this event.  This is a loco type built for Nederlandse Spoorwegen, the Dutch railways, between 1988 and 1994 and are MaK-built, centre-cab 1,580hp MTU-engined machines.

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5514 and 5512 at Brussel-Zuid, 23/05/14 (JW)

There will be more, although I stress that none of the following are yet confirmed (and more detail will be provided nearer the time).  This information is shared in order to let you as much as possible about the railway’s hopes and plans for the event, but please do not consider this as a cast-iron guarantee that all of these will come to pass!

It is hoped that an ex-SNCB class 55 will attend from TUC Rail.  This once 42-strong class are General Motors-powered machines, having 16-cylinder 567-series power units, and were built by the Belgian firm BN in 1961/62.

Further General Motors diesels of a much more modern type are also hoped to attend, in the form of Class 66-type machines – possibly from the Ruhrtalbahn and Railtraxx – but this is certainly subject to confirmation.

PFT/TSP will again bring in traction from their other sites – 51836077 and “202.020” (ex-CFL no.1602).

Steam will be represented by “Energie 507”, a machine built in the war for industrial use, and attending from the Train 1900 organisation in Luxembourg, and ex-War Department “J94” Austerity 0-6-0T WD 196, from Maldegem.  Rovers are €15.

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7341 at Evrehailles, 25/02/17 (JW)

Of the current “home fleet”, 5205 and 7341 are also expected to work at the event.

5205 entered traffic in June 1955, and is one of the 40 General Motors diesel-electrics built for SNCB by Anglo-Franco-Belge (AFB), under licence from the Swedish firm of NoHAB, based broadly on their successful designs for Norway (Di3) and Denmark (MY).  It’s a 1700hp machine, again with a 16-cylinder 567-series GM power unit.  Although it had a classic NoHAB-style round nose when built, most locos of this class were rebuilt during their careers with “comfort cabs”, this one included, that more resemble the later BN-built GMs.

This video on YouTube features some classic sounds from this venerable machine, filmed last year on the Bocq railway.  It’s hard to believe that it will shortly be 62 years old!

7341 is one of a 95-strong class built by BN in the 1960s and 1970s.  They are basically big diesel-hydraulic shunters; being of approximately 750hp and featuring 6-cylinder Cockerill engines with Voith transmission.

The following video, uploaded to YouTube by user “ROKKO1953”, is a neat little video diary of the 2013 event, and serves as an interesting taster of the sort of thing to expect.

The Railway

Running, as it does, through such a scenic rural area, Line 128 was never really an important passenger railway, losing its timetabled service in 1960, but did have a strategic role as a freight route – not least during World War 2.

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Tunnel de Spontin (JW)

19th July 1944 saw the Tunnel de Spontin – one of the most impressive engineering features of the route – enter the history books as the site of an extraordinary act of wartime resistance.

At the time, this area of Belgium was still under German occupation.  The Luftwaffe held an air base at Florennes, about 20 miles to the south-west, and brought in the aviation fuel for its Junkers, Focke-Wulf and Messerschmitt aircraft by rail, including over Line 128.  One such train was known to be stabled in the Tunnel de Spontin, so as not to be a target for overhead bombers.

It was, however, a target for the local Resistance.  The line climbs very steeply away from Spontin towards Ciney, and on the night in question, they hijacked the loaded Spontin to Ciney limestone tripper on the incline and attached explosives to it, before sending it unmanned and unbraked back down the hill, through the station and into the tunnel, where it impacted with the stabled fuel train at a significant speed.  The tunnel burned for eight days and nights and, as Florennes’ store of fuel dwindled, severely impacted upon its ability to dispatch aircraft.  The Allied liberation of Belgium, of course, began only six weeks later.

Just something to think about as you pass through it!

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Line 128 near Purnode (JW)

Getting There

The Bocq railway shares a station with the national network, although at the moment (May 2017) the last bit into Ciney is not open to passengers due to engineering work.  Ciney is easily accessible from the outside world, sitting on Line 162, the main artery between Brussel and Luxembourg.  Some of the expresses on this route even remain loco-hauled, in the capable hands of SNCB class 13 “Alstom Tractis” electrics.  A historic shuttle bus will operate from Ciney to Braibant to connect with the trains.

Both capital cities are approximately 1hr 30min by train from Ciney, and both still see significant amounts of loco haulage themselves.

2 thoughts on “12th, 13th and 14th August 2017: GM power in the Ardennes

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