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My latest blog posts can be found here, but plenty of other articles are to be found elsewhere throughout the website – I suggest using the Country List as a starting point!

Off the beaten track: 301 009 in Getafe

The latest in my series of brief articles highlighting locos “off the beaten track” is again a shunter, but this time in Spain.

Above is a link to a Google Maps image of 301 009 in situ as of July 2017.

RENFE’s class 301 diesel shunters, dating from 1961-63, are all now withdrawn – although 19 of this once 46-strong class survive in some way, shape or form.

One of them – 301 009 – is especially unlikely to work again, being – as it is – plinthed on public display.  It is situated just outside the exit to Alonso de Mendoza, a station on line 12 of the Madrid Metro, in the Madrid “suburb” of Getafe.  Line 12 does not, in fact, run into or though Madrid itself, being a circular route in the south-west outskirts of the conurbation.

The explanation for the loco being there is that, prior to 1998, the north-south road through the area was in fact a railway.  At that point, the railway was closed, the Metro was built on the same alignment but underground (this opened in 2003) and the road was laid over the top.  The 301 has been in place since this project was carried out, as just a small historical reminder.

It’s less than half an hour’s travel from Madrid Atocha to see 301 009 – 17 minutes to Getafe Centro on line C-4, from where it is a 2 minute journey on line 12 to Alonso de Mendoza, which is the next stop along.

Denmark’s last passenger train ferry

There are only three remaining passenger train ferries in Europe: one between mainland Italy and the island of Sicily; one from Sassnitz in Germany to Trelleborg in Sweden; and one from Rødby in Denmark to Puttgarden in Germany.

The idea of putting a whole train on board a ferry to cross an expanse of water is one largely confined to the past, at least in Europe.  This is predominantly due to the creation of numerous fixed links, such as the Channel Tunnel between the UK and France or the Øresund bridge between Denmark and Sweden, and also the proliferation of low-cost air travel making the rail routes themselves redundant in a number of cases.

Even the three survivors are under threat.  That between Villa San Giovanni in Italy and Messina on the island of Sicily is mooted to be getting a bridge replacement (although this is a very much on/off affair, most recently being declared “off” for the time being); that between Sassnitz and Trelleborg is an overnight, summer-only operation which has been suggested for closure on a number of occasions; and that across the Fehmarnbelt between Rødby and Puttgarden is being replaced by a fixed link for which the construction contracts have already been signed.

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The proposed fixed link across the Fehmarnbelt will take the form of an 18 kilometre long immersed tunnel encompassing a four lane motorway and a double track railway, and will be the world’s longest immersed tunnel upon completion.  It will take 7 minutes to cross from one side of the Fehmarnbelt to the other by rail, and 10 minutes by road – whichever way you look at it, a significant saving on the current 45 minute crossing time by ferry for either mode of transport.  In addition, it will be far less susceptible to weather-related disruption.  The shortened travel time from Hamburg to København is expected to drastically increase traffic between the two cities.

It’s fairly clear that the pros of the fixed link far outweigh the cons, which are largely sentimental.  However, the good news if you’ve yet to visit, is that the construction work has not yet started.  It is expected to begin in 2019 and take 8½ years.  However, the route between Neustadt and Puttgarden will close in 2022 until the tunnel is completed, so it is to be assumed that the train ferry will cease at that time too.  Puttgarden station will not reopen.

Traction

Sadly, loco haulage on this train ferry has long since ceased.  All trains are formed of Danish class MF “rubber ring” DMUs, and are Eurocity premium services between København and Hamburg.

Happily, however, it is possible to travel between København and Rødby – at least for the time being – with Danish class ME diesel locos, and from Puttgarden or Fehmarn Burg on the German side of the water to Hamburg at weekends in the summer with class 218 “rabbit” diesel-hydraulics.

The journey

I last took a journey on this train ferry in summer 2007, travelling from Denmark to Germany, and I found it very interesting indeed if, indeed, it felt like something of an anachronism even then.

As befitting the nature of Denmark, the journey from København to the port at Rødby is one of numerous islands linked by bridges.  After travelling via Roskilde, Ringsted and Næstved to Vordingborg (all on Sjælland), the train crosses first to Masnedø, then to Falster, and finally to Lolland on whose coast Rødby is situated.

It must be said that the scenery en route is not necessarily fantastic – although I thought that the views of the water from the bridges – in particular the Storstrøm Bridge – were memorable.  Lolland is also known by the nickname “Pancake Island” as a reflection of its flatness, and the railway is as good a way to appreciate this facet of its geography as any!  It is therefore something of a surprise to finally reach Rødby Færge station, its pylons and floodlights reaching higher into the sky than even the turbines of the surrounding wind farms.

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The ferry connection between Rødby and Puttgarden commenced operation on 14th May 1963 – completing a direct link between København and Hamburg.  This was dubbed the “Vogelfluglinie”, or “bird flight line”, as it roughly follows a common migratory route used by birds.

The route briefly took on international significance in late 2015 during the EU-wide refugee crisis.  Large numbers of illegal immigrants, predominantly from Iraq and Syria, were trying to reach Sweden which was displaying a more welcoming attitude to them than most EU countries.  As a result, the Rødby to Puttgarden ferry and associated railways and motorways ended up being closed on police orders.  Reports described “chaotic scenes” where well over a thousand refugees disembarked from ferries arriving at Rødby, some “disappearing” to evade capture by the police, others attempting to walk up the E47 motorway in the vague direction of Sweden.

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Both ports painted a sad picture of emptiness and desolation, and had certainly not only seen better days but had been constructed with the intention of handling much higher volumes of rail traffic than now pass through; indeed international railfreight via this route has ceased.  Rows and rows of overgrown and rusty sidings lay empty in and around the terminal as we edged our way towards the ferry.  Saying that, however, it is clear that the dearth of rail traffic must be more than compensated by the proliferation of lorries and cars, as the intensive ferry shuttle service is clearly supported by something!

The ferries themselves are operated by Scandlines and can carry both cars and trains.  Ferries depart each port at broadly 30-minute intervals, 24 hours a day – however only three in each direction convey trains.  There are four train ferries in the fleet, all dating from 1997 – two under the Danish flag (Prins Richard and Prinsesse Benedikte), and two under the German flag (Schleswig-Holstein and Deutschland).  It was the latter onto which my train rolled.

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It’s slightly unnerving to be on a full size train just feet away from lorries and cars, not least for it to cross from land onto a vessel!  The train slowly drew to a stand on the ship’s single railway track within the car deck, and passengers were instructed to disembark and make their way up to the passenger area, mingling with the motorists who had just parked their own vehicles.

The crossing itself was admittedly something of an anti-climax. The Deutschland has all the amenities you would expect from a modern short-distance passenger ferry – shops, restaurants, etc – and the 45 minute journey passed quickly and without incident.  Before long, an announcement was made for train passengers to make their way back to the train, and after docking, the engines were restarted and the train slowly emerged from the darkness of the ferry’s car deck, back onto terra firma and into Puttgarden railway station.

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Puttgarden was broadly similar to Rødby, in that it featured relatively nondescript 1963-vintage architecture simultaneously being heavily used and being slowly reclaimed by nature, depending on whether you looked at the road or rail parts of the terminal.  With a harsh wind blowing straight off the Baltic, seagull droppings everywhere (I have never seen so much in one place!), rust and foliage everywhere, it was not a place to remain in for long.

Indeed, it’s kind of the point of Puttgarden that nobody every does stay there for long.  The port complex (as distinct from the tiny village of Puttgarden, some distance to the west, from which it takes its name) exists solely to tranship people, goods and their vehicles from land to sea, and from sea to land, as efficiently as possible.  When the Fehmarnbelt fixed link is finally commissioned, will likely disappear from the map, its purpose negated.

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You can’t help but feel that although – again – it will undoubtedly be a step forward when the tape is cut on the Fehmarnbelt tunnel, that it will be sad to see the end of something which has been a thriving, now almost unique, operation which has quietly gone about its business for well over half a century.

If you haven’t yet experienced the train ferry from Denmark to Germany, I would recommend building it into your travel plans before that day arrives.

Loco haulage on the Berlin U-Bahn

U-Bahnen – all units, aren’t they?  Well, yes…but there is an exception in Germany.

Berlin’s underground rapid transit system – its Untergrundbahn (universally referred to be the abbreviation “U-Bahn”) – is a classic of its type.  With services running up to every two minutes, it conveys over 1.5 million passengers each day.  Much like its equivalent in London, its rolling stock is of both ‘large’ and ‘small’ profile and universally consists of EMUs, drawing their power from upward-facing third rails.

However, on Fridays between April and October, the Berlin U-Bahn also offers some interesting loco haulage beneath the city’s streets.  This is offered by the “U-Bahn-Cabrio”, which is fairly self-explanatory – an open-top tour of the U-Bahn tracks!

“U-Bahn Cabrio”

The “U-Bahn-Cabrio” makes two round trips on the dates that it runs – departing Deutsche Oper station (on the U2 route in the west of the city) at 19:00 and then 22:30.

The tour takes about two hours and covers a distance of approximately 35 kilometres, and includes a number of non-passenger curves.  A track plan of the U-Bahn system can be found here.

Above is a link to a YouTube video uploaded by user “Sunshine Radio Line / srl 2.1“, documenting a trip on the “U-Bahn Cabrio”.

Traction

The trains are operated in push-pull fashion powered by an Akkulok (battery loco), on a load of four what can best be described as flat wagons with seats on!  From photographic evidence the traction can be either 1997 Schalke-built centre-cab “SA97” machines 4052 or 4053, or Siemens/CKG “SD96” locos 4077, 4078 or 4079 dating from 1995 (4077 is currently out of traffic).  The push-pull element is provided by unpowered control car 4157.

Fares

The trip does not come cheap, at €50, but it does tend to sell out several months in advance.

Irish Locomotives – 2018 Overview

I recently commented on the European Traction Facebook page along the lines of “I no longer have an interest in Irish mainline railways”, but that’s something I’ve pondered on ever since.  Over the years, I’ve made over 200 trips across the Irish Sea specifically for railways, and 20-25 years ago I had comparatively little interest in mainline railways anywhere else.  So what has changed, and was it a reasonable thing to say, even in haste?

Well, the main change, of course, is the widespread and almost total replacement of loco haulage with modern multiple units – doubtless a step forward in the eyes of a business-focused railway and its customers, but a sad development in the eyes of the enthusiast.  Even into this century, even some main line inter-city services were steam heated and vacuum braked, running on jointed track under semaphore signals – to ‘English’ eyes it was a real window on the past.  Combined with the legendary welcoming nature of the Irish people, and the fantastic scenery to be found on the Emerald Isle, and it was just a lovely environment to be in.  These latter two things, of course, are permanent and well worth your visit regardless.

For this article, I thought I would take an objective view on what the locomotive enthusiast will find if they head to Ireland in 2018.

Main Line Passenger Loco Haulage

The only class of loco left with passenger diagrams in Ireland are the 201 Class GMs, which (worryingly for me, as they still seem new!) are approaching their quarter-century.  Their use is now on just two routes – linking the three largest cities of the Emerald Isle – Dublin to Cork and Dublin to Belfast.

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221 awaits departure from Dublin Connolly, 14/10/07 (JW)

Services between Dublin and Cork operate using 201s in push-pull configuration with Mark 4 carriages on some trains, and the service requires six machines a day to operate it.  The most recent known diagrams are included in a post on this thread on the WNXX forum (subscription required).  These locos are permed from a pool of 215-226229232 and 234 (with 216 being the dedicated loco for luxury train duties – see section below – although it can appear occasionally).

Similarly, all services on the “Enterprise” cross-border route between Dublin and Belfast are booked to be formed of 201s with push-pull De Dietrich sets.  These are hauled by locos from a pool consisting of 206-209227228231 and 233 and three are in use each day.

Main Line Railtours

Thanks to the efforts of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland and, less frequently, the Irish Railway Record Society and the Modern Railway Society of Ireland, it does remain possible to experience main line haulage by different traction, in the form of railtours.

Currently, the RPSI have a railtour to Cobh advertised for 13th October 2018 featuring haulage by both 071 and 201 Class diesels, but their bread-and-butter are steam trains, with the currently-operational fleet comprising of ex-LMS (NCC) 2-6-4T “Jeep” no.4, ex-GNR(I) 4-4-0 compound no.85 “Merlin”, ex-GNR 4-4-0 Q Class no.131 and GSR 2-6-0 K2 no.461.  They run a frequent programme of these, and regularly run affordable shuttles over short routes (e.g. Dublin to Maynooth or Greystones, or Belfast to Whitehead), particularly around Easter and Christmas.  The ‘brief’ nature of these as compared to a full-day tour mean that they are usually doable whilst flying over and back in the same day, or can be done as part of a ‘normal’ holiday if the rest of your group don’t want to spend too long on the rails!  Of interest is that the RPSI’s current diesel tours are in aid of restoring its loco 134 for it to operate future main line tours with 141.

Keep an eye on the Haulage Calendar on this site for future diesel loco-hauled railtours.

141

141 runs round its train at Limerick Junction, circa 1998 (JW)

I must also mention the Belmond Grand Hibernian – a luxury private charter along the same lines as the Northern Belle – comprised of a rake of converted Mark 3 carriages and with dedicated loco no.216 – but with tickets for the forthcoming multi-day excursions starting at €3,484, it’s not a cheap way to get your 201 fix!

Preserved Railway – Loco Haulage

There are a number of preserved railways which give frequent opportunities to travel behind quite a variety of locomotives.  The biggest and the most famous is the Downpatrick & County Down Railway, a ‘standard gauge’ (as in, the Irish standard of 5’3) line approximately 20 miles south-east of Belfast.  It is not rail-connected, but it is easy enough to get there by Translink no.515 bus from Belfast, which takes about an hour.  Given the short flying time and the frequent nature of some air routes to Belfast, it is possible to do this as a day trip from some parts of England and Scotland too.

The railway predominantly operates steam where possible and its currently serviceable steam loco is Orenstein & Koppel 0-4-0T no.1, formerly of the Irish Sugar Company at Thurles.  Its sister loco (no.3) is soon to return to service too.  However it has a varied collection of diesel traction as well.  Possibly of the most interest to the enthusiast are its three big diesels – all owned by the Irish Traction Group – A39, 146 and C231.  There is also an operational shunter (G617) along with E421 and E432, G611 and G613 currently out of traffic.  Northern Ireland’s English Electric “thumper” DEMUs are represented by two recently-arrived two-car 80 Class sets and a 450 Class set now used as a buffet train; one of the hauled carriages, 728, was also formerly a 70 Class intermediate trailer.  Of interest is also Leyland railbus RB3 (former BR 977020), also out of traffic.

The West Clare Railway, at Moyasta Junction in County Clare, operates a 3′ gauge demonstration line.  The ITG also have some of their preserved fleet on static display here – A3, 124, 152 and 190.  A second Metro-Vick is there, as the railway have 015 themselves.  Also of interest are ex-CIÉ Mark 2 carriages 4108, 4110 and 4402 – all former BR vehicles exported in the early 1990s – and Mark 3s 6402 and 7146 (the former being ex-HST trailer 40513) along with push-pull control car 6105.

015 Inchicore 1996

Unlikely to run again, but fortunately a survivor, 015 – now at the West Clare Railway at Moyasta Junction – is seen at the Inchicore open day in June 1996 (JW)

The other operational heritage railways in Ireland are of narrow gauge and do not operate anything ex-CIÉ or NIR as a result.  However, they are still worth a visit.  In Northern Ireland, you have the 3′ gauge Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills Railway, about 25 minutes’ bus ride east of Portrush.  Éire has its fair share of 3′ gauge railways too, including the Fintown Railway in County Donegal, the Cavan & Leitrim Railway adjacent to Dromod station on the Dublin to Sligo railway in County Leitrim (at which the cab of scrapped ex-CIÉ loco no.133 is also an exhibit), and the Waterford & Suir Valley Railway at Kilmeadan in County Waterford; some ‘standard gauge’ interest also exists at the latter, as Mark 2 carriage no.4106 (ex-BR FO no.3157) is used as a static buffet.

There is also the interesting Lartigue Monorail and Museum at Listowel, County Kerry, which allows visitors the unique opportunity of travelling on a reimagined version of the fascinating Listowel & Ballybunion Railway – the loco is a steam outline diesel (but what an outline!) and the gauge is… well, it’s a monorail!

Miscellaneous…

Freight on the main line has been largely decimated but some does remain, largely 071-hauled and consists mainly of zinc ore from Tara Mines, west of Drogheda, to Dublin’s North Wall and a few other flows concentrated on the same routes: timber from Ballina and Westport to Waterford, along with liner trains from Ballina to Dublin to Waterford.  Aside from that, most non-passenger work is now restricted to occasional works and engineers trains.

There are, however, a number of museums to occupy your time.  Probably number one on the list is the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum, adjacent to Cultra station on the Belfast to Bangor line.  The star exhibit of its numerous items of rolling stock for me personally is Hunslet diesel no.102 – I wonder if I will ever get the chance to add to the 1.6 miles I enjoyed behind it on its last passenger run in 1996?  However, six-cylinder Sulzer B113 is well worth your time too, and the massive GSR 4-6-0 steam loco no.800 Maedbh is a site to behold.

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102 in the museum at Cultra (photo: Nicola Elsden (my fiancee!))

Also open to the public is the RPSI’s Whitehead Railway Museum, at which 142 lives as a ‘super-shunter’, as well as a number of steam locos both operational and under restoration.

The Foyle Valley Railway Museum in Derry, which was formerly the starting point for a short preserved railway along the bank of the River Foyle, appears to have recently been taken over and reopened by a local disability charity called Destined.  Its star exhibits are two County Donegal Railways Joint Committee 3′ gauge 2-6-4Ts, no.4 “Meenglas” (outside) and no.6 “Columbkille”.  This museum is a ten-minute walk over the Craigavon Bridge from Derry’s (last remaining) railway station.

There are a small number of locomotives which are located at private, non-operational sites, too.  The ITG’s B103, 226G601 and G616 are at a private site in Carrick-on-Suir.  E428 – one of the Maybach-engined E421 Class – is now at the closed Dunsandle station on the former Attymon Junction to Loughrea branch line, along with “Laminate” coach no.2159.  Metro-Vick A55 has had the Hell’s Kitchen pub/Castlerea Railway Museum built around it – about a 15-minute walk from Castlerea station – and 227 (ex-NIR 106) is at a private site at Kilmacow, County Kilkenny.  This latter loco was cosmetically restored for static display at Cahirciveen as “C202” – that being the last loco to work to Valentia Harbour – but tragically it was vandalised by the locals and had to be removed – initially to Bilberry in County Waterford – however as can be seen in this view from 2009 on Google Maps, it was far from secure and vandalised further.  It’s to be hoped that its more recent move will ensure that this does not get worse.

There are also some carriages in unusual places.  A non-exhaustive list would cover no.6203 (ex-BR “International” demonstrator no.99524) now in use as a cafe at Caragh Nurseries in Naas, County Kildare.  At Clonakilty, about 30 miles south-west of Cork, lies the West Cork Model Railway Village.  Two ex-CIÉ “Park Royal” carriages, 1400 and 1424, exist as grounded bodies here.  I remember being in the car with my family driving towards Skibbereen in the early 1990s and stumbling across them entirely by accident!  the Kiltimagh Railway Museum in the former station in the County Mayo town has been built around carriages 1460 and 2148.

Additionally, the Glenlo Abbey Hotel in County Galway has three ex-BR carriages (Mark 1 no.4474, GUV no.93558 and Pullman parlour car “Leona”) in its grounds, and the Quirky Glamping Village in Enniscrone, County Sligo has 3-CIG no.1498…along with ten double-decker buses and a Boeing 767!

So, what do you reckon?  Worth a visit?

Köln Trip 11th July 2018

by Ian G Hunt

Decided to take Ryanair up on one of their cheapo flights to Köln in order to photo the National Express 110 and if a class 143 came my way then that’ll be a bonus. What I tend to do, which some people would probably consider a little mad, is travel after a late shift. So I’d get home at around 0100 from work (work being 1530-0030) then have a little something to eat, a shower then head out again (all without disturbing the wife, very impressive haha). At around 0245 to get the N3 from Beckenham to Horse Guard Parade then walk to remainder to Liverpool Street for the 0440 train to Stansted. On this occasion the Köln flight was booked off at 0750 but due to ground staff issues we didn’t leave until around 0830!

Once I arrived into Köln i managed to get through passport control in around 10 minutes then down to the DB ticket machine (which I usually struggle to know what ticket to buy) on this occasion I purchased a city area day ticket for under €9. So down the escalator where 146274 was heading to Minden fast to Köln HBf, I could have joined this train but it was Messe Deutz I actually wanted to go to. Messe Deutz station itself isn’t too bad for photos with anything from S Bahn, loco hauled and ICE units passing through but on a sunny day you’d only have about an hour before the sun turns head on so you’d probably want to move away from here. Before moving on around the 143263 almost caught me out working RE12515 Rommerskirchan – Koblenz HBf Departing around 1107. What is usually do is head to Köln Süd for freight but on this occasion, as mentioned, 110469 was on the cards so I chose Köln Mülheim however I did have to wait for it to go into HBf first as the loco is on the Wuppertal end. Whilst waiting 101070 passed through working IC2226 Regensburg HBf – Kiel HBf, plenty of 101s, 146, Nat-ex Hamsters, ICE units and S Bahn pass/stop here. To waste more time I went into the local supermarket next door to the station for breakfast (ah yeh fancy isn’t it haha) and some water. I found a shot for the 110469 working RB32446 Köln HBf – Wuppertal Oberbarmen dep 1301 round the back of the supermarket near the delivery area which provided me with a decent enough departure picture- job done.

After this I headed off to Köln Süd (journey time of around 30+ minutes) for a freight session. Seven freight trains seen in around 70 minutes). After 1530 then sun moves round enough for you to go the the proffered location of Köln West which is more open rather that Süd station which has ugly graffitied up sound barriers as a back drop. 23 photos were taken (22 freight + 1 of 110469 again) in the space of just over 3 hours which is not too bad but on this occasion the types of train was a little under par for my liking.

At Köln West there is a half decent kebab shop which will suffice also there is a supermarket in between so all good.

On this occasion I left earlier than previous as England were playing Croatia so I wanted to watch that haha.

 

Type of freight

Well you’d expect most things from Steel, Coal, Intermodal, Tanks, Cars, Cargowagons and Wagonloads.

 

Companies

Rhein Cargo provide a lot of the freight locos as they are based in Köln. Obviously DB are very busy here with passenger and freight as expected. NorthRail, MRCE, BLS, Railpool, Chemion and ELL were seen on this day.

 

Loco types

Class 101 110 151 155 146 186 189 182 192

Class 261 265 271 272 275

 

The same day return flight is 2150 off Köln which generally speak most of the time 1+ hour late. On the occasion I made the 2345 Stansted express back to London then onward home which is pretty good going given the flight was around 90 late leaving Köln Bonn.

On a final note Köln Bonn airport can be disastrous in terms of how easy it is to use!! You go through security which generally takes around 15min…all good. BUT after this you go through to duty free and all the rest of it (also a pub with a small screen TV) passport control 2-4 staff are used to cover 15 or so gates so when a few flights are called at the same time expect its to be very busy and extremely unorganised!!!! You have been warned.

Over all I’d say it’s worth a go (I have done it 3 times).

 

Pics are 

Köln Messe Deutz

143263 on RE12515 Rommerskirchan – Koblenz HBf Dep 1107

 

Köln Mülheim 

110469 RB32446 Köln HBf – Wuppertal Oberbarmen

 

Köln Süd

MRCE pair 182525 + 182527 on Coal Eastbound

 

Inline image

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European Rail Site
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6th & 7th October 2018: Belgian diesel power

Those who were disappointed to miss the “Festival” at the Chemin de Fer du Bocq in Belgium have an opportunity to travel behind two of its stars later this year.

The occasion is the operation of the “Bocq Gourmand” – a daytime dining train on the preserved line which carries out a round trip from Spontin taking approximately three hours – so it’s very “partner-friendly” and allows you to pursue your railway interest whilst also having a “coupley” holiday!

Traction and Rolling Stock

The train will be formed of the railway’s two former DDR “Speisewagen” and a brake van with a PFT-TSP diesel loco at either end – normally 5183 and 5205.  If either are not available, another Bocq resident loco (7305 or 7402) will substitute.

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5183 at Dorinne/Durnal (JW)

How to book

Bookings are not yet open for the “Bocq Gourmand” but if you check out the website, details will appear slightly nearer the time and there is an email address to register your interest.

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5205 between Purnode and Bauche (JW)

This lovely little branch line runs through some of Belgium’s best scenery, hugging the Bocq river, and the trees of the Ardennes forest will surely look very pretty with the Autumn colours just coming through.

Sunday 12th August 2018: Diesel Haulage Event at PFT-TSP Depot, Saint-Ghislain

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Building on last year’s success at Stoomcentrum Maldegem, I arranged another Sunday morning diesel haulage event in Belgium to coincide with the eagerly-awaited “Festival” weekend at the Chemin de Fer du Bocq.  It seems to be a winning format and encourages people to visit Belgium and attend both events, who may not have done so had just one of the events had been occurring.

93 people (including me – as ever, I also paid my way!) turned out to travel behind the operational members of the PFT-TSP’s collection of diesel locomotives based at their depot facility at Saint-Ghislain.  Four locos were advertised – CFL 80670057358, and 8428 – and these four all worked as booked.  8320 also worked the train – a loco that had been mid-repair at the time the event was advertised, and indeed work was still being carried out on it on the morning, hence the slightly late start of our visit!  We also enjoyed the bonus working of 6106 – considered by many who attended as the highlight of the day.  This gave a total of six locomotives hauling our train, as compared to four initially advertised – a real success.

Of interest, had Ryanair not cancelled a number of their flights, causing a number of people to sadly miss their weekend in Belgium altogether, we would have had an attendance just scraping into three figures.  Perhaps that is a target for another time.

Facts and Figures

I know that we do not often see numbers against this type of event so I thought it would be interesting to give a quick rundown of the proceeds from the day:-

Fares – €2,760 (2 visitors at child fare)

Fares for optional run with 6106 – €367

Additional donations – €45.19

This gives a total of €3,172.19, to which we must add €310 taken in beer sales within the depot too.  Just to reiterate, every single cent went directly to the PFT-TSP for their preservation projects.  Added to the estimated ticket sales at the Bocq railway over the weekend, the PFT-TSP have received over €5,000 from just its British visitors over the course of the two days – and that’s before sales of food, drink and merchandise at the Bocq are taken into account.  This is phenomenal and I am personally very grateful and more than a little proud that we are able to say this.

Movements

Although I was busy throughout the visit I did try to keep a record of what we did – however I will be far from offended if you feel you can offer any corrections!

8428 top, CFL 806 tail – 09:56 end of running line to depot
CFL 806 top, 8428 tail – 10:01 depot to end of running line
8428 top, CFL 806 tail – 10:05 end of running line to depot
CFL 806 top, 8428 tail – 10:07 depot to end of running line
7005 – 10:35 shunt from one road to another on depot
7005 top, 8320 tail – 10:40 depot to end of running line
8320 top, 7005 tail – 10:44 end of running line to depot
7005 top, 8320 tail – 10:48 depot to end of running line
8320 top, 7005 tail – 10:52 end of running line to depot
6106 – 12:07 depot to end of running line
6106 – 12:11 end of running line to depot (propel)
7358
– 12:22 depot to end of running line
7358 – 12:26 end of running line to depot (propel)
7358
– 12:32 depot to end of running line

GPS measurements of the running line indicated a length of approximately 615 metres (0.38 miles).

Feedback?

I am personally very pleased with how the event went, but it’s the first on this scale that I have tried and I am well aware of some aspects of this visit that I can learn from for the future.  Please do contact me if you do have any comments on the day, positive or negative, or if I may ask, any testimonials that you would allow me to place (anonymously) on this website.

Future events

I am happy to say that following the success of this event, I have already received a couple of extra bookings on my next one – a visit to the Chemin de Fer Touristique du Rhin in north-east France on Sunday 9th September 2018 to ride behind 1948-built Baldwin-engined ex-SNCF diesel loco 62029.  Limited space remains on this trip, and it would be great if you could join us too.

I am even happier to say that this success has led to discussions already beginning regarding further haulage opportunities within Belgium – keep an eye on this website for any announcements.

Thank you

I would like to point out that although the many “thanks JW” comments that I have received and read are humbling indeed, today has been a team effort.  Of course, none of it would have been possible without the trust placed in us by the four PFT-TSP staff on site that such a bizarre-sounding endeavour would be worth their while – let alone their tireless efforts in near-30° heat on the day – especially Simon de Ridder.

I would also like to publicly acknowledge the invaluable assistance of Simon Moore at all stages of the process, to Josh Watkins and Andy Read for manning the bar, and to Miles Williams, Alex Cook and Ed Graham for their help tidying up at the end of the visit.

Of course, a big thank you is reserved for the 93 people who attended.  This – and the seminar photo taken during the visit – are cast-iron proof when negotiating future haulage opportunities that people really will turn up and pay good money for this type of event in such great numbers, which I am sure will be invaluable.

Same time next year?

Jonathan Wilcox

Visit to St Ghislain – Final(?) Update

All,

Many thanks to those of you who provided your thoughts on the options we have for Sunday.  Almost everyone has responded, which means I have as good a cross-section of opinion as I could have expected.  My apologies if you have not yet had the chance to reply, but I have had to make a decision; similarly, my apologies if you’re not reading this until after you return from Belgium and you were not aware of any changes ahead of time.

Interestingly, not one person has expressed a preference to just proceed with just the four ‘core’ locos at €25.  Everyone seems prepared to pay €5 extra per ‘additional’ shunter given the circumstances, and I am grateful for your understanding and support with that.

Unfortunately, I have since been informed that despite all efforts one of the ‘extras’ – 7349 – will most likely not be ready in time for Sunday.  With a favourable wind, however, 8320 is more likely to.  Objectively 7349 is the ‘best’ of the two to miss out on, if we must lose one of them, as it worked a Mercia Charter in 2002 and some of our participants will have already ridden behind it.

6106 has predictably been a more contentious matter, being ‘dud’ for haulage for more participants, and has been the only source of negative comment – with a significant number of people not wishing to pay extra for this loco’s participation.  At the same time, there is a greater number of people telling me that it would be the loco they’d be most looking forward to.

My solution

I am all too aware that it is impossible to please everyone in this scenario, but I have tried my best to come up with a straightforward plan that will tick most people’s boxes and is agreeable to the PFT-TSP.

The fare for the event, on the basis of five shunters being available, will be €30.  I will collect this at a ‘barrier’ upon entry to our carriage at the start of the event.  (If 8320 is not ready, this will be €25 – we will know by then).

During the visit, I will ask everybody to leave the carriage and 6106 will be attached.  I will then make another ‘barrier’ at the entrance to the carriage and charge a further €5 for those who wish to get back on to travel behind this loco.  Those who do not wish to pay this do not have to, but will not be able to travel behind 6106 – the bar will be open so this could be visited instead.  After 6106 has been detached, the event will continue.  Please note that some work remains ongoing with 6106 too; so it is a possibility that it too may not be ready for use and this may all be academic.

I hope that this is an acceptable solution to most – if you have any further thoughts on this, please do get in touch.  Regretfully I will not be able to offer this ‘opt-in’ facility for any of the other locos and the basic fare will remain so.

Many thanks once again for your understanding with this eleventh hour amendment – I really hope it will give us as good a day out as possible.  As ever, please do bear in mind that the availability of any of the locos is subject to the usual caveats that you would apply to machines that are up to 64 years old, but be assured that our Belgian friends are really pulling out all the stops for us.

With best wishes,

Jonathan Wilcox

Visit to Saint-Ghislain – Update

Hello everyone,

Firstly – this is not at all bad news! – hopefully quite the opposite.  However I would be very interested as a matter of some urgency in the thoughts of those planning to attend.

I have received an update today (08/08/18) that the four ‘confirmed’ locos – i.e. CFL 80670057358 and 8428 – remain confirmed, and as of right now are available for traffic.

The extra locos…

You will be aware that our hope all along has also been to use 7349 and/or 8320 – however these have not to date been operational.  I am pleased and very grateful to say that the PFT/TSP volunteers have been working like trojans on them with a view to having them available to haul our train.

However, numerous parts (including at least one full set of batteries) have had to be purchased and some work remains to be done, by people who I speculate may possibly rather be helping with preparations for the Bocq “Festival”.  They are however very willing to do this, but have asked that – if these locos are to be used and turn out on the day – a supplement of €5 is levied per locomotive for their use to cover the work and parts involved and the extra cost incurred in operating them.  This would not be charged if 7349 or 8320 did not work.  For clarity – if one of these locos worked, then the fare for the day would be €30, and if both worked, €35.

Additionally, we have been offered Cockerill Bo-Bo 6106 for our train, within the same timeframe in addition to the other locos, which would equally come at a small additional price (I expect this to also be €5 and will confirm ASAP).

I am very keen for this not to be seen as any kind of cynical move either by the PFT/TSP or myself in ‘suddenly’ asking for more money at the last minute.  That is not the case at all; any and all extra fare money will be specifically to cover further expenses in providing what I hope would make a more enjoyable event.  That is also why I am asking you, as the participants, for your input to the decision making process on this – the options seem to me to be:-

  • We plan to use 806, 6106, 7005, 7349, 7358, 8320 and 8428 at a fare of €40 (TBC, see above)
  • We plan to use 806, 7005, 7349, 7358, 8320 and 8428 at a fare of €35 (€30 if one of the ‘extras’ could not work)
  • We remain with the four confirmed locos (806, 7005, 7358, 8428) at €25 as advertised

Please do contact me as soon as possible at jw218344@gmail.com to let me know your thoughts as I would be interested in everyone’s opinion.  I can’t promise that the eventual outcome will please everybody, but I am keen not to make the decision for people, and to give everyone a voice.  I emphasise that it remains very much an option to proceed with just the four locos you were expecting at the price initially advertised.

Beer

A fine stock of Belgian triples and strong beer will be available at Saint-Ghislain for you to purchase on site, either to consume straight away or to take home.

Shop

There is indeed usually a shop at Saint-Ghislain however understandably the stock will all be at the Bocq railway for the weekend, so this will be closed.  I can highly recommend perusing this whilst you are at Spontin!

Reminder

Please can I remind you that a yellow (not orange, or any other colour I am afraid) high-vis vest will be required for admittance to the event.

I extend my sincere thanks to the PFT/TSP and all of their hardworking volunteers for everything that has been done to date.  I very much look forward to a sociable event on Sunday, to catch up with many good friends and hopefully make new ones.

Jonathan Wilcox

Albanian Passenger Haulage

The small Balkan country of Albania has no passenger rail connection to any other country and is one of the least visited by railway enthusiasts.  It would be fair to say that its rail system is struggling, but it is still worth a visit.

Timetable

Albania has a skeleton of a rail network and a sparse service.  Travel is generally quicker by road.  As if that was not enough, its capital – Tiranë – lost its rail service in 2013, the trains now running only as far as Kashar.  The station in Tiranë is allegedly being rebuilt on another site and the service will return there, but this does not look likely to be any time soon.

The timetable as currently understood (July 2018) is as follows:-

Shkodër 05:45
Kashar 07:15 08:30 15:30
Durrës 06:30 07:59 08:15 09:13 09:35 14:45 16:13
Rrogozhinë 07:40 ??:?? ??:??
Elbasan 10:58 17:30
Elbasan 06:10 13:53
Rrogozhinë ??:?? ??:?? 16:00
Durrës 07:00 08:57 13:00 14:30 16:36 17:00 17:10
Kashar 07:42 15:13 17:43
Shkodër 16:50

Below is a map of the current passenger routes currently thought to see a service.  Not to scale.albania

Traction

All trains are hauled by Czechoslovakian-built class T669 diesel-electrics, formed nowadays generally of ex-East German carriages in deplorable condition.

Tickets

There are no rover tickets valid for travel in Albania.