By Ralph Hanley
The Etoile du Nord [Northern Star] was the first international train to run
on the Belgian network. It was also probably the most prestigious. The train
ran in May 1927, then named as Plein Nord [full / farthest north], and ceased
in June 1996, the route being from Paris to Amsterdam. In 1996 it was superseded
by the newly introduced Thalys service. Service was not entirely continuous,
being interrupted by the Second World War. Up to the Second World War it was
composed of 1st and 2nd class Pullman carriages only. “Traditional” 3rd
class carriages were added after the Second World War. This composition was maintained
until June 1957 when several of the Pullmans were “dropped”. At
that time it became one of the European TEE services.
Prior to the war it was probably a protracted journey from Bruxelles to Amsterdam.
A photograph taken in 1927 shows a stop at Essen on the Belgian / Dutch border
to change engines. From the photograph the NS had rostered an Atlantic of the
3500 series, whilst the SNCB had rostered a Pacific type 10 steam engine. The
train composition consisted of a luggage brake and 5 Pullmans. By 1936 the composition
had changed, based on a photograph at Vilvoorde, which showed a luggage brake
with 3 Pullmans, this time hauled by an SNCB Atlantic No. 608.
In 1961 the SNCB ordered 11 of the famous Budd Inox coaches from the Belgian
firm “La Brugeoise de Nivelles”. The SNCF followed suit in 1962 by
ordering 25 similar coaches from the French firm “Carel Fouche”.
A further 7 were built in 1966 and 6 in 1970. Most readers will probably remember
the “Etoile du Nord” by its Budd Inox coaches, which were introduced
in August 1964. These were 25.5 metres long, known as Budd due to their tubular
chassis with Inox or stainless steel cladding. These were indeed very comfortable
coaches with air conditioning, reclining seats, fluorescent lighting and soundproofing.
Windows were of a generous size, being 1.5 m long. In my view these coaches
were far more comfortable than those on the current Thalys.
Five types of first class coaches were initially used on the service, these were:
11 coaches with central corridor [A8t]; 7 coaches with side corridor [A8]; 7
restaurant coaches [A3r]; 4 coaches with bar [A5s] and 7 luggage / generators
The latter were unique to the service in having a diesel generator to provide
electricity for lighting and the carriage heating. In addition accommodation
was provided for customs and immigration personnel. The restaurant coaches were
built for the interior to resemble the earlier Pullmans.
The timetable during the 60’s showed:
Dept Paris 17.54 Dept Amsterdam 08.51
Arrv Bruxelles 20.24 Arrv Bruxelles 11.30
Dept Bruxelles 20.32 Dept Bruxelles 11.40
Arrv Amsterdam 23.20 Arrv Paris 14.10
Photographs of this period between Amsterdam and Bruxelles show an SNCB type
1500 in charge of a somewhat short rake of 4 carriages. However during 1984
eleven of the original first class coaches were converted to second class.
also ownership transfers between the SNCB and SNCF. The typical composition
up to 1996 was of predominantly SNCF coaches with most of the SNCB Inox coaches
assigned to the “Isle de France”. The composition was:
Amsterdam to Paris:
2x type A8 [First class]; 1x type A3r [First restaurant]; 3x type B9 1/2t [Mixed
first and second class]; 1x type B8 [Second class]; 1x Second class Luggage B3Dt.
Amsterdam to Bruxelles the train was hauled by an SNCB type 2500.
At Bruxelles 5 additional coaches were added:
1x SNCF type B3Dt; 1x SNCF type B9 1/2t; 2x SNCB type A8t [First class - central
corridor]; 1x SNCF type WR [Restaurant].
Bruxelles to Amsterdam the train was hauled by a SNCF type 40100.
On Sundays the service from Paris terminated at Bruxelles with the same composition
as the weekday Amsterdam to Bruxelles less two B9 but one more B8. Sundays the
SNCB provided the motive power with a type 1500.
For modellers, the following models were earlier produced:
SNCB series 2500 by Jocadis / Lima,
First A8 Inox coach by Jouef [#5540] and Lima [#301023 - but to scale 1/100]
Second B9 Inox by Lima [# 301033 - but to scale 1/100]
Brake B3Dt Inox by Lima [#301024 - but to scale 1/100]
Apparently Rivarossi were planning to issue a set of SNCB / SNCF Inox coaches
to scale 1/87. This will have to await the outcome of the Lima take over and
The following additional information has been supplied by Marc ASSELINEAU
As initially delivered, I believe the coaches (which were known as"PBA" for the three capitals they were serving) were actually 24.5 m long. Later
on, more coaches were added but they were slightly longer (over 25 m) with
slightly larger windows (this was especially true of the corridor coaches),
and those belonged to the same batch as the southeastern trains (Mistral,
When they were designed, one was not totally sure that electric
would always be available. The concept called for a train that could
heat/cool/ventilate itself without external assistance, hence the
power/luggage van always included in the rake. Such a scheme had already
been experimented on the Mistral (though the power luggage van was then a
former luggage van).
More to the point, as most customers would travel either Paris
Brussels-Amsterdam, it was decided to keep a feature of the Pullman
carriages, i.e. the kitchen car, as it was felt passengers would not have
enough time to go to the restaurant and come back to their seat. The
initial delivery featured :
A2Dx power/luggage (by the way the A2 means that there were two first
class compartments but as far as I know they were never used in revenue
service), featuring a service cabin and another cabin for the
police/customs officers. By the way this was the only non air conditionned
carriage of the rake.
- A8u and A8tu carriages (respectively compartment and coach, air
conditionned as meant by the letter u)
- A3rtux bar and first class coach
- A5rtu kitchen car
When the southeastern rakes became available (because of the TGV
in this area) the power/luggage van was often a A4Dtux (air conditionned
coach this time). When the TEE label was dropped, this coach became a
B3Dtux (though keeping its first class seating); meanwhile the A5rtux were
removed from service as Vru restaurants were now available, incidentally
those were only engaged on the Paris-Brussels run. The bar could sometimes
be a Artux ("Mistral" bar). Some compartment carriages from 1970 (and all
original stock) were downclassed to B8u (as the partitions could not be
moved), while some coach carriages from 1970 (and all original stock) were
downclassed to B91/2tu.
Lastly, I remember that haulage was provided by a french 40100 or a
1500 between Paris and Brussels, and by a 1500 from Brussels to Amsterdam
(as the 40100 were not allowed north of Rosendaal). From 1988, the 1500
were no longer welcome in Netherlands as they were not ATB fitted and
haulage was then provided by a 2550.
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