An introduction to Luxembourg

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3006 departs Noertzange, 24/02/17 (JW)

One of Europe’s smallest countries remains a fair hotbed of electric loco haulage, and its entire network can be covered in a day.  Here is a brief introduction to the country.

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, landlocked between France, Belgium and Germany, has a landmass of only 999 miles, and is home to approximately 576,000 citizens – roughly the same number as Sheffield.  It is the quintessential European country, with three official administrative languages (French, German and the local dialect of Letzeburgesch).

Its “European-ness” is underlined by the fact that it is home to the village of Schengen, on the banks of the river Mosel, where the territories of France, Germany and Luxembourg meet.  It was at this point on this river on 14th June 1985 where the Schengen Agreement, the European open-borders travel agreement, was signed.  Luxembourg survives and thrives on free movement across the borders that surround it.

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3002 at Luxembourg station, 24/02/17 (JW)

History and Geography

Officially neutral, Luxembourg was overrun by Germany in both world wars; it was actually annexed into Germany from 1942 until its liberation in 1944.  It ended its neutrality in 1948, when the Benelux customs union between Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands came into being, and it joined NATO the following year.  Despite its modern alignment with these two countries, Luxembourg has closer ties to France and Germany both historically and culturally.

The country has two distinctive regions – the northern third, known as the “Oesling”, is a part of the Ardennes massif, a sparsely populated, hilly and forested area that was the setting for much of the fighting in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 and 1945.  The larger, flatter, more populous southern portion of Luxembourg is the “Gutland”, part of the scarplands of Lorraine.  It is relatively urbanised and contains the country’s eponymous capital.

The face of the country has changed dramatically in recent decades.  As late as the 1970s it was virtually dependent on the steel industry, and belying its tiny size, it was the world’s ninth largest producer of steel prior to the 1974 steel crisis.  However, its manufacturing industry has never been great; much of the steel it produced was exported, massively aided by the arrival of the railway in 1859.  The events of the mid-70s meant that its importance as a steel nation has diminished, although the world’s largest steel producer, ArcelorMittal, is based there.

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4004 pauses at Berchem with an evening commuter train out of Luxembourg City.  24/02/17 (JW)

Luxembourg was forced to reinvent itself.  With little else by way of natural resources to fall back on, it has turned to banking and finance, which now comprises of over a third of its GDP.  It is now a formidable financial centre, being home, for example, to the European Investment Bank.  However, you don’t need to look too hard in the Gutland to see evidence that steel-making remains a prominent activity.

The development of Luxembourg is non-stop, and construction of new facilities continues apace – locals apparently joke that Luxembourg’s national bird is the crane!  Luxembourg now has the second highest GDP per capita in the world after only Qatar, but despite this, the country was ranked second unhappiest in the world (second only to the African corruption-riddled failed state of Chad) in the “Happy Planet Index” in 2016.

Railway network

The railways of Luxembourg are operated by the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Luxembourgeois (CFL).  The majority of its 170-mile network is electrified (including all of its passenger routes), most of which see at least some loco-hauled services.

All routes radiate from Luxembourg City, the station actually being situated over a mile from the city centre itself, with the bus station on its forecourt.

Here is a link to CFL’s online passenger route map.

Rolling stock

An intriguing factor of CFL rolling stock is that it does not possess any truly unique mainline designs – it tagging orders on to bigger ones from neighbouring countries or taking small batches of “off the shelf” designs.

There are two predominant types of electric loco that, between them, handle all of these hauled services.  The older of the two is class 3000, 7,000hp Alstom “Tractis” dual-voltage machines dating from the late 1990s.  20 of these were built – 3001 to 3020 – as part of a joint order with the Belgian Railways for their 60 class 13s, which can themselves be seen operating to Luxembourg on Intercity services from Brussel and Liège, as well as freights.  3001, however, did not last long in service – having entered traffic on 31st July 1998, it was withdrawn with fire damage after only a year’s use, and was finally cut up at the end of 2011.

More recently, CFL has procured a fleet of 20 class 4000 locos (4001-4020), Bombardier TRAXX machines that are a passenger version of DB’s class 185 and SBB’s class 482 designs.

Both types are also seen on freight work, and using their dual-voltage capability, can be seen operating internationally on such duties – the 3000s into France and Belgium, and the 4000s into Germany.

The rest of CFL’s passenger fleet comprises of multiple units – of three types: class 2000 (based on SNCF’s Z11500s), class 2200 “Coradia Duplex” units (as SNCF Z24500) and class 2300 “Stadler KISS” units (as used in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and further afield).

CFL do retain some diesels – some shunters, as well as slightly bigger MaK 1000BBs and Vossloh G1206s for working freights on the small number of unwired routes and sidings.

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MaK 1100BB, no.1505, shunts some coaches at Luxembourg, 24/02/17 (JW)

Times and fares

Timetables for the Luxembourg railways can be found in PDF form here.  All public transport in Luxembourg is fairly heavily subsidised, and therefore it’s quite cheap to get around.  The day rover (“Dagesbilljee“) valid on all trains and buses is great value for €4/day; Luxembourg using the Euro, as does all of its neighbours.

How to get there

There are a couple of options to get to Luxembourg from the UK.  To do so by rail, it is easiest and quickest to catch the Eurostar to Brussels and then change onto one of the hourly Intercity services direct to Luxembourg – which are generally shared by AM96 EMUs and class 13 electric locos.  Alternatively, it’s about a 4½ hour drive from Calais.

The country has one airport, which is currently served directly from Birmingham, London City, Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted, and Manchester.  It served as a Luftwaffe base during World War 2, and has now carved a niche as a major European airfreight hub.

The number 16 and number 29 buses both link it to the main station, with a journey time of approximately 25 minutes.  The latter stops at Cents-Hamm station, on the route to Trier, on the way.  Traffic congestion is an increasing problem in Luxembourg, which has the highest car ownership level in the world (661 per 1000 inhabitants), although the new tram system, currently under construction, will eventually serve the airport.

 

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