11th, 12th & 15th August 2018: Chemin de Fer du Bocq “Festival”

One of the most hotly-anticipated events for 2018 is the annual “Festival” at the Bocq railway in Belgium, which will be held on Saturday 11th, Sunday 12th and Wednesday 15th August 2018.

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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“202.020” (CFL 1602), 7305 and 5183 at Dorinne/Durnal, 12/08/17 (JW)

August “Festivals”

The railway tends to hold a special event each August-time, and these are always imaginative and, consequently, well-attended.  Among the many attendees at 2017’s event were an estimated 60-70 British enthusiasts, and all were very impressed, with 11 locomotives available for haulage.

One of the most attractive aspects from a British perspective was the supplementation of the PFT/TSP’s preserved diesel fleet with a number of main line freight visitors.  Although a couple of 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.  2017’s visitors included a class 66 and two class 77s from Lineas (the former B-Logistics) and an ex-NS class 6400 from DB Cargo.

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513-10 (266 037), 7784 and 7868, all visitors from Lineas, at Spontin, 12/08/17 (JW)

2018 Event

The 2018 event is to be held on Saturday 11th, Sunday 12th and Wednesday 15th August 2018 – although I would expect the main line visitors to only be present over the weekend.  Traditionally, the weekday has been aimed more at photographers.

Negotiations are already underway for main line freight locos to attend this event and work trains at it.  Europorte have expressed the early intention to send one of their GM-engined “Euro 4000” locos to the event, subject of course to availability and commercial requirements.  Additionally (and I stress that these are not yet confirmed), currently being explored are ex-NS class 6400s from both DB Cargo and Railtraxx, more diesel visitors from Lineas (class 77 and/or class 66), and possibly also a General Motors-engined SNCB class 62 from Infrabel.  Regardless of how much of this “wish list” can be negotiated – as visitors from 2017 will attest – it will surely be a most enjoyable event!

The PFT/TSP will again be providing a variety of diesel locomotives from its stable to work at this event – it is too soon to say which ones at the time of writing (January 2018), but updates will be provided here when more is known.

The “Festivals” are traditionally mixed traction event and 2018 will be no different, with steam visitors expected to be provided too.

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6506 from DB Cargo at Dorinne/Durnal, 12/08/17 (JW)

Sunday 12th August 2018 – European Traction-sponsored diesel event

Last year, I arranged a low-key diesel day at Stoomcentrum Maldegem on the Sunday of the Bocq “Festival” weekend, which allowed those who had visited the Bocq railway on the Saturday to further add to their tally of Belgian diesel loco classes had for haulage over the weekend.  7408 and 8040 worked passenger trains for us, and 9131 was available for footplate rides, during a relaxed few hours which concluded in time for participants to get to mid-afternoon Eurostars, flights etc to return (mostly!) to the UK.

I am currently in the process of organising something similar for the Sunday morning/early afternoon of this year’s “Festival” weekend – please keep checking back on this website and the associated Facebook page for updates on this.

The Bocq 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)

Tickets

Travel will be possible by day rover (just like galas of a similar nature in the UK); fares in 2017 were a remarkably reasonable €15.

Getting There

The Bocq railway shares a station – Ciney – with the national network.  It is expected that trains during this gala will service Ciney at the 2018 “Festival”; the 2017 event saw trains only reach Braibant (with a bus connection to Ciney) 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.  Both capital cities are approximately 1hr 30min by train from Ciney, and both still see significant amounts of loco haulage themselves.

 

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