l Nieuwsbrief Issue 44 - March 2003
Contents      
SNCB/CFL News Belgian Railway News Dutch Railway News Netherlands Railways
ICK's explained VIRM Explained Dutch Tramway News Belgian Tramway News
Rail/Tram Walks Model News Reviews A Vist to Jack
       

SNCB/CFL News

By Ralph Hanley

[We gratefully acknowledge the PFT publication " En Lignes " as a source for much of the following information]

En Lignes # 52 contains articles on: -

PFT open day at St. Ghislain in September; SNCB / NMBS Green Livery engines part 5; Single line systems in Europe; 25 years since the end of DB steam; Ex SNCB / NMBS automotrices in operation with SATTI; Update on LGV 2 network

Journal du Chemin de Fer # 131 contains articles on: -

25kV electrification of the L'Athus - Meuse line completed, includes a short history; The end of SNCB series 16 on the Ostende to Cologne service; Rolling stock used on the Ostende to Cologne service; The end of the SNCB series 44 and 45 railcars; New international traffic by "classical" trains; Diesel motive power as at the end of 2002; Last of the steam "Mohicans", currently in Poland.

Oops

An unusual accident occurred at Lede [line 50 between Aalst and Gent] involving SNCB "Break" emu. A train consisting of no's: 388, 361, 358 & 371, [forming I'IC K 2237 Genk - Gent], inexplicably separated with no's 388 leaving the others behind. The automatic couplings did not actuate the braking system, and the driver continued to accelerate in 388 whilst the remaining coaches followed. The driver braked for the normal stop at Lede and shortly after the "free wheeling" 3 coaches ran into 388 with a violent shock at a speed of 60 km/h. Twenty people were injured, of which, one was serious.

Motive Power News

Withdrawals, the following engines have been withdrawn: 1505, 5527, 4407, 4410, 7605, 7622, 9108, 9112, 9121 & 9137.

Sold the following earlier withdrawn engines have been sold: 4403 to Maldeghem Museum, 4505, 5166 & 5917 to SNCB heritage Museum, 4506 to PFT preservation, and 9112 to MARCY International.

Electrics: Series 15, no's 1501 has been acquired by a Dutch preservation group "1501". This was seen in pristine condition on a special in Holland between Rotterdam and the Miljoenenlijn [Limburg], and alongside NS 1501 at Sittard

The remaining class 16 have lost their Ostende to Koln roster. There is a possibility that they will be maintained in running order in reserve up to 2005, until the delivery of the new multi voltage engines [class 14?]. Two of this series are scheduled for maintenance at Salzinnes, possibly to haul "lesser" international services, and semi fast services on 3 & 25 kV networks. 1605 was seen leaving Salzinnes in September, possibly the last overhaul of this series. 1608 featured in publicity for a "Belgian Kids Foundation" at Bruxelles Midi, somewhat spoilt as 1608 needed to be hauled by 8216.

A few series 18 still survive, although 1801 has been withdrawn still in operational condition after participating in the testing of the I10 coach modifications. 1803 is waiting movement to Ronet.

Connex is interested in buying a few of the series 22 [including some M2 coaches] for service with PKP in Poland. Few modifications seem necessary as the voltages are the same at 3000 V.

2503 of series 25 was seen at Verviers, freshly painted, in September hauling an inspection train.

Diesels: as from December series 51 in service have now been reduced to 15 engines, of which 9 have been fitted with new motor supports. The remaining 6 retain the old motor support. However a further 6 have been temporarily retained until the drivers at Mol and Leuven have completed their training for the new series 77. Four of those withdrawn have been maintained in working order as one of the Italian companies is interested in buying these, a further 10 seem likely to be exported to Gabon in Africa.

The engines of series 52, 53 & 54 which were used by TUC Rail are scheduled to be scrapped at Stockem and Schaerbeek.

Engines 5514 and 5512 of series 55 came to the rescue when the Eurostar units failed at Mouscron. The failed units were towed to the workshops at Bruxelles.

The last three of series 59 [5916/17/46] earlier used on TGV construction have been "saved" as an addition to the SNCB historical collection.

Series 71 no's 7102 & 7103 have been bought by the Italian company CLF.

Two series 76 [listed above] were withdrawn due to engine failure [cracked cylinders], the remaining series 76 are scheduled to be withdrawn by end 2002, 21 remain in working condition and are for sale. So far CFD - Locorem has shown interest in buying one.

Two Series 75 [7502 & 7503] earlier seen at Antwerp Nord have left for Italy.

Automotrices, just about all of the series 600 emu's have now been modernised. No. 706 of the 700 series is the first to be modernised.

The planned termination of the postal trains, series 961 - 975 for January has been postponed or even cancelled. This has resulted from strong federal Government pressure. These trains will continue in service during 2003.

The last two series 44 autorails [nos. 4407 & 4410] were withdrawn. Earlier interest from CLR [Rumanian] railways to buy some withdrawn units has disappeared. However there is a possibility that Connex may be interested in buying five, [four in service and one for spares] for the CFR network in Poland.

Rolling Stock

During the summer most of the K4 coaches on loan to the NS system have been returned and are now stored at Schaerbeek. These are being upgraded to replace the remaining type M2 coaches.

During August SNCB/NMBS lent wagons type Shimmns to the Swedish Society "Green Cargo" [their equivalent of "B Cargo].

Infrastructure

The Belgian Government has given approval for the express line [ 25N ] from Bruxelles airport to the main Bruxelles - Antwerp line. [As noted in NB 43, a part of this line will be in the central reservation of the E 19].

The "Athus-Meuse" line works are completed and the line is now fully electrified and operational. The first service was scheduled for end September using locomotives 1360 coupled to 5318 [in case of power failure?].

Renovations are planned for two stations: Charleroi Sud and Gembloux, [actually a new station].

The LGV-2 line construction is now completed between Louvain and Liege. Completion of the second stage between Liege and The German Border is scheduled for completion in 2005.

Operations

Students in the Gent area between 12 to 15 years will now have free rail travel to and from school.

DB engineers have added some fuel to the fire concerning the Rhin d'Acier by proposing to use the "classical" route via Montzen. This has truly irritated the NS management.

Test runs have been made on the completed sections of LGV-2 using SNCB/NMBS 1358 and 5515 hauling an I11 pilot coach.

The UK weed killing train has seen further service in Belgium. It was seen hauled by 5301 at Bruxelles Nord on its way to Namur, and by 5501 between Schaerbeek and Mons.

The Thalys service from Bruxelles to Geneva terminated early September.

SNCB have announced withdrawals and reductions in their international services. For instance the night Bruxelles to Milan service will no longer operate, as also the "Ardennes Express" [Amsterdam - Luxembourg]. And shorter trains for the "Etoile d'Europe" [Bruxelles - Luxembourg] and "Jean Monet" [Bruxelles - Strasbourg]. Following withdrawal of the night Milan service, CFL have introduced a "replacement" international service from Luxembourg at 22:00, unfortunately this only goes as far as Metz!

The ex SNCB/NMBS "Budd" Stainless emu's are now doing sterling service in Italy with SATTI. These have all been attractively painted and operate north of Turin.

CFL have extended their lease with Danish Railways for their two MK diesel shunters 602 & 603 for a further two years.

German enthusiasts enjoyed a "memory lane" trip in a preserved DR TEE from Rheyt to Liege. This was assisted up the steep climb to Gemmenich by a DB diesel BR 241.

As from August passenger services on Line 132 [Couvin - Charleroi] are now operated by series 41 railcars. Diesel 6243 with M 4 coaches and, appropriate farewell message, hauled the last locomotive service.

The Dutch ACTS are now operating ex SNCB/NMBS class 63 diesels, which have been repainted in ACTS colours.

The night car train from Denderleeuw to Innsbruck has been withdrawn.

Investments

CFL are looking at the implications of an increased population. As readers may be aware the CFL has a 270 Km electrified system, of which 240 Km is 25 kV, and 30 Km from Klienbettingen to Luxembourg, [i.e. ex Bruxelles] is 3 kV [compatible with the SNCB's system]. Near future measures are to: extend the electrified line from Bettembourg - Dudelange Usines to the French frontier, new lines between Luxembourg and Bettembourg & Esch-sur-Alzette to relieve the current system, quadrupling the line north of Luxembourg to Stadgrund [including a new viaduct], double the single line between Stadgrund and Oetrange [Wasserbillig line], upgrade the Petange - Luxembourg line and reroute the Petange - Esch line. In addition convert the existing 3 kV line to 25 KV, and procure 85 new double decker coaches. This will affect some current services: the daytime "Vaughban" [Bruxelles - Milan] will be diverted via the Athus Meuse line, [adding 20 minutes to the schedule]. The Trier/Wasserbillig services will now arrive and also depart to the South of Luxembourg station.

Belgian Railway News

Translated by Kjeld Spillett

Source: Het Openbaar Vervoer Railnieuws

Rolling Stock

Class 44

Stoom Centrum Maldeghem has bought 4403

 

Class 52/53/54

All the remaining locos from these classes that have been released by the electrification of the Athus - Meuse line have been moved to TUC-rail to join 5307, 5308, 5312 and 5313.

M6 coaches

From the beginning of November the first 2 sets of the new double-decker coaches entered service on the Brussels peak services running between two class 13s.

Steam Locos

At the end of August the sidings at Leuven where 29.279 and 44.022 resided, have been decommissioned owing to the poor condition of the track - which had not been maintained in 15 years.

Infrastructure

On 30 th September the first electric train ran over the Athus - Meuse line with loco 1360, which signalled the start of test trains over the route. Route learning trips for the majority of drivers has been using light diesel locos (Class 51 & 62) initially but from the beginning of November the Class 13's have also been used.

Timetables

As in the Netherlands, there have been many alterations to International services in Belgium. In October the NMBS discontinued all night trains to Italy.

Dutch Railway News

Translated by Kjeld Spillett

Source: Het Openbaar Vervoer Railnieuws

Autumn arrives in Holland

The bad storms of 27 th October brought chaos to the network with trees brought down, debris blown onto tracks and damage to overhead lines and masts. Large sections of the station roof at Amsterdam CS were damaged as well as at other stations. By midday the whole network had come to a standstill. NS Reizigers said at 20:00 that service would resume the following day. However, it was not to be. Several hours damp weather on a traffic-less railway and the rails became covered in leaves and when trains started running again leaf mulch began to form causing slipping and wheel damage. Many units particularly mat '64 stock and 'sprinters', which are not fitted with wheel slip protection suffered badly with 'flats'. In two days there were 350 vehicles out of service including 88 plan V, 9 plan T, 15 2 car sprinters and as many 3 cars. NS Reizigers decided to implement an emergency timetable utilising the reduced rolling stock resources. This included mixtures of ICR/BvK formations on stopping trains Venlo - Eindhoven, Sprinters between Alkmaar and Amsterdam and 10 coach ICR sets between two 2200 locos operating between Amsterdam and Breda. Wheel lathes and 5 depots were turning wheel sets continuously from 28 th October with the fleet not returning to full strength until 22 nd November. (It's sort of comforting to learn that it's not only the Brits who are totally unprepared to deal with nature. - Ed)

Rolling Stock

Accidents

On 15 th October train 718 was in collision with a lorry. 4073 sustained cab end damage while the trailing unit 4217 was damaged the whole length of one side.

On 31 st October EC105 "Berner Oberland" crashed into a car and a low loader on a level crossing between De Klomp and Ede. 1755 ended up on top of the low loader and the first coach of the train was derailed and the car was demolished. There is an allegation that the cause of the accident was an installation error in the level crossing equipment that meant that the crossing did not operate when the train approached. 1755 went to Tilburg works 16 November for repair. The crossing stayed closed until 2 November.

Plan U units

The recently modified DE3 number 147 was brought from Zwolle to Venlo for training trips. The last unit to be modified, 125 was delivered on 21 st October and came, in the first instance, to De Bokkeduinen but was pressed into service to relive the serious stock shortage caused by the autumn storms (see above). On 2 nd November it went with 117 from Zwolle to Eindhoven to release instruction units 116, 119 and 126, which returned to Zwolle for maintenance.

International coaches for sale

With most international traffic now being operated by ICE, Thalys and Benelux stock and the cessation of Alpen Expressen and Autoslaapexpres overnight services the NS have got a surplus of international vehicles. 6 couchette coaches (type Bcvmh) have gone to CityNightLine (CNL) as the NS contribution to the Amsterdam - München/Zürich CNL trains. These vehicles went to Berlin for repainting at the beginning of November. In addition two restaurant cars were delivered to CNL. All 16 couchette coaches (type Bcm) and 4 sleeping cars (type AB30 - silver coloured coaches) have been bought by Euro Express Treincharter the operator of Skitrein. The trains are operated under the operating license of NS Reizigers using their locos and train crew to comply with Dutch operating legislation (Holland's 'open access' is not as 'open' as in other countries). The remaining 13 couchette coaches (type Bcvmh) plus a restaurant have been bought by Stichting Nederlandse Bedevaarten for pilgrimage trains to Lourdes.

Class 2200

In addition to the list of locos operating is Zeeuws-Vlaanderen mentioned in Nieuwsbrief 40 number 2278 is also in service.

New deliveries for RaiLion

232 901 (the prototype) and 232 903 have been delivered to the Rotterdam dock complex for training trips. A total of 100 drivers are being trained to drive the locos. The delivery has not been without teething troubles and delivery has been delayed (which, in turn, is holding back the return of 1600s to NS Reizigers). 232 909 has had to return to the builders with traction motor problems.

New steel traffic

RaiLion has carried 60,000 tonnes of sheet steel from the Corus plant at Beverwijk to Salzgitter AG in Germany. The sheets were carried in trains of 32 wagons with a net total weight of 1750 tonnes running daily for 5 weeks. As a result of this partnership Corus and RaiLion are experimenting with the transport of rolled steel from Beverwijk to Wuppermann at Moerdijk. The plan is for a weekly train of 1500 tonnes.

ERS Railways

In January the youngest rail company will begin container trains to Mainz and Neuss. At the beginning of November two Porterbrook locos PB10 and PB11 were delivered to Tilburg Works. The company will own a total of 5 'class 66' locos. (See letter from Photo: Henk Hartsuiker in this issue. - Ed)

Infrastructure

Betuwe Route

From 19 - 26 October traffic between Tiel and Arnhem was replaced by buses to allow work on the West Betuwelijn. At IJzendoorn the track has been laid over a new bridge over the A15 motorway and the river de Linge. In time the A15 will have its own bridge over the Betuwelijn. On 14 th October a section of the Betuwelijn was brought into use in the form of a realignment of the Botlek-Europoort line over a new bridge over an under construction motorway.

Netherlands Railways News

By Paul Stoddart-van der Maaden

NS Reizigers

The NS is celebrating its 65 th year. On the 1 st January, it was 65 years ago that the Staatsspoorwegen (SS) and the Hollandsche IJzeren Spoorwegmaatschappij (HSM) merged to form the NV Nederlandsche Spoorwegen. Little known is the fact that these two companies already had close working relations since 1918, due to increased running costs after WWI, the increased cost of coal and the comparatively few available steam trains.

At the end of last year NS Reizigers took delivery of loc 1829 (originally 1629), and January saw the final loc-handover from RaiLion to NS Reizigers of 1632. Loc 1735 has finally been scrapped, after catching fire at Venlo and awaiting its destiny whilst idle in Tilburg.

It is expected that a number of the series Mat' 64 are on their way to be scrapped. It concerns units 401-438, which unlike the others have not undergone a major service. Those that were serviced are expected to remain in service until 2010.

To improve the appearance of many units, tests are currently been carried out with a special foil. This foil, which is supplied in NS house colours, supposedly protects the stock from corrosion and also aids the removal of graffiti. The four test beds are a Mat' 64, a Sprinter, an ICM and a modernised ICR. The hope is also that due to the foil, the trains will require less cleaning, and less repairs to the paintwork.

The policy of closing ticket-kiosks continues, with many of the smaller stations losing this facility. Over the course of this year, another 34 are expected to close. Instead, the newly designed automated ticket-machines will be installed.

The 1998 introduced 'Wizzl' shops are also to disappear this year. The most successful amongst them (those with more than 20 ticket transactions per hour) will be re-branded to 'ReizigersKiosk', combining a local convenience store and ticket-booth. It is clear that NS Reizigers is using this re-branding and closure policy to reduce its total workforce. It will be interesting to see if this increases the fear of 'security' among the travelling public, and how it will affect that all-important customer service.

The newly formed 'High Speed Alliance', a consortium including the NS, KLM and NMBS, has officially put out the tender for 16 doubledeck units destined for the high-speed lines. Firms approached included the usual names from Europe and Japan. The units are to be multi-current (1500, 3000 and 25kV), and will enter service on the Amsterdam Brussels route, travelling at speeds of 220 km/hr. It is envisaged these new units will completely replace the current Benelux sets. The NMBS Class 1100's will work out their remaining days in Belgium, and the Thalys will continue the Amsterdam Paris run.

December also saw the Sprinter SGM III 2838 go to Randers in Denmark for its major refit. RaiLion supplied the traction for the journey to Bad Bentheim, where the 2838 joined the three other Sprinters ready for the final leg to Randers.

Some thirty Sprinters are now out of action due to hairline fractures being found in the bogies. This is particularly the case with the 'Sprinter-threes', and hardly occurs with the 2-car units. The reduction in Sprinter rolling stock is offset by sufficient availability of Mat' 64's and DD-AR's.

NS Reizigers has also invited interested parties to offer their proposals for a new series Sprinters. Once these proposals have been reviewed, NS Reizigers will shortlist the appropriate manufacturers. NS Reizigers are looking for 110 new Sprinters type 'Light Train' by 2006. They will predominantly be used on short distances between the larger towns. Quick boarding is therefore of the essence, and thus wide entry/exit doors have been requested as part of the design. Large windows and air conditioning are further requirements. As with the Sprinters undergoing a major service in Randers, Denmark, the new Sprinters will be in the colours white/grey, yellow and blue (see picture in previous NB).

December also saw the first completely new six-car VIRM enter the Netherlands. In January the last of the current 'IRM threes' left from Bombardier in Aken, with the remaining seven units to be extended in 2004.

NS Reizigers has also decided to do away with the catering-trolley. It appears only 2% of passengers make regular use of this 'on-board' catering facility, making it an uneconomical venture. In fact, other railways including the DB are also taking similar steps.

The NS has suggested it is considering not increasing fares this coming July, as long as The State does not increase its rates for use of the network. It is however thought The State is unwilling to consider zero inflation. Furthermore, due to problems with the network and in particular the current state of the track, NS Reizigers is having to endure delays. To add salt to the wound, NS Reizigers is then bound to reimburse its passengers, leading to an ever-increasing downward spiral towards continued 'negative-profit'.

RaiLion

Not only has RaiLion been busy placing large logo-stickers onto their fleet of 6400's, but they have now also started to place the same on all 1600's. The new stickers, affixed by NedTrain in Maastricht, include the new name, website address and of course loc-number.

ERS Railways

The new kid on the block appears to be going from strength-to-strength. First of all, they have hired 38x lgns from RaiLion for use in Romania. In order to start their new service to Neuss and Mainz in January, they have also taken delivery of 32x Sgns 60's (new-builds by Thrall), 30x sgmrs 90's (new-builds by Fabryka Wagon SA) and another 8x sgmrs 90's (second-hand).

Launched in October of last year as a partnership between Maersk SeaLand and P&O, ERS is the only NL private transport company with an international license. Others such as ACTS and ShortLines are only able to run services on 'Netherlands' soil. ERS is currently running three container train services to Germersheim, Mainz and Neuss. Traction is being provided by leased locos from Porterbrook. The house-colours are blue, yellow and silver.

ProRail

This new name has appeared, with the aim to represent the three NS departments, namely RailInfraBeheer BV, RailNed BV and Railverkeersleiding BV. The new trading name remains a 100% subsidiary of Rail Infra Trust BV, which comes under the direct 'rule' of The Dept. of Transport. Although the companies still trade independently, they will eventually become one concern, trading as ProRail.

ConneXXion

ConneXXion has asked its regular passengers to come up with a new name for the Wadlopers 3101 and 3102. These units have recently started to run services on the Almelo Marienberg route, where the company did not find the name Wadloper fitting for the area. The name 'Veenexxpres' was ultimately chosen.

Strukton

The infrastructure specialist has reportedly taken delivery of their Vossloh type G1206. Delivered in the now familiar Strukton yellow livery, this particular loco is not yet fitted with ATB (as this is not required to run the Betuweroute), but curiously is fitted with the German 'Indusi' safety system.

ACTS

This service-provider is still experiencing major rolling-stock shortages, especially with their fleet of 6700's. As an interim measure, they are hiring class 55's from the NMBS, until their first class 58 arrives.

ICE International - The Facts!

•  Amsterdam Frankfurt 6x daily.

•  High Speed Line Koln Frankfurt now in use, attaining speeds of 300 km/h.

•  Amsterdam Frankfurt travel times 3 hrs 58 mins.

•  Travel ICE and enjoy: comfort, laptop, audio and video connections, self-service restaurant, speed and frequency, approximately 430 seats of which 98 first class and cockpit-view lounge.

•  ICE International is a partnership between NS International and DB Reise & Touristik.

•  For those modellers amongst you, Trix offers the NS-ICE under catalogue number 22300. It looks great and runs like a dream!

ICK's explained.

By Paul Stoddart-van der Maaden

In 2000, the NS placed an order with the Weiden based PFA (Partner fur Fahrzeug-Asstattung GmbH) to convert a total of 150 DB-type Bm 235 carriages for use on the Netherlands network. In fact, the work came just in time for the financially stricken PFA, who would otherwise not have survived.

NS decided to purchase and convert these 30-year-old carriages to combat their lack of rolling stock, and to dispose of the Belgian K4's as soon as possible. The NS has now added 150 carriages, equating to 10,000 extra seats. Total cost of this exercise came in at around €125m, providing the NS with some 6 - 8 years breathing space.

Known as the ICK-family (Intercity, Korte Termijn (Short Period) ), a total of 36 first-class (A), 96 second-class (B) and 18 second/luggage (BD) will join the network. In fact, the (BD) version also has areas for bikes, wheelchair users and toilets adapted for the handicapped.

Before the NS could use them, the ex DB-type Bm 235 had to undergo some technical changes. First of all, cables had to be fitted throughout so that a traction-loco could be placed either end of the train. The opening of windows has been restricted to 18 cm, and automatic opening/closing pneumatic doors have been installed 'top and tail' of each carriage. The exterior of all carriages have of course been repainted in the familiar blue/yellow livery. Door handles have been placed slightly higher, making it easier for the conductors to close the doors - interestingly; platforms are lower in Germany than in the Netherlands.

In summary, the ICK (A) offer 54 fixed seats and 3 folding, the ICK (B) offer 72 fixed seats and 3 folding, and the ICK (BD) offer 44 fixed seats, 10 folding a space for four bikes and an compartment for the head-conductor.

The NS have numbered the ICK's as follows:

36 (A): 50 84 12-37 001-036

96 (B): 50 84 22-37 901-996

18 (BD): 50 84 82-37 051-068

You will find these new ICK's on the network between Den Haag CS Venlo/Heerlen and Haarlem/Utrecht Eindhoven/Maastricht.

For those modellers amongst you, Marklin, Roco and Fleischmann have recently released their versions of the ICK's. If magazine reviews are to be believed, the Fleischmann version is the better one, albeit some €10 more expensive than Roco.

VIRM explained

By Paul Stoddart-van der Maaden

After extensive test programmes, the Verlengde (extended) IRM (VIRM) are now becoming commonplace across the network. The extended IRM's come in two forms, namely the extended 'threes' (making a four-car train) and extended 'fours' (making a six-car train).

Due to an increased demand for passenger traffic back in the 1990's, the NS commissioned Talbot of Aken to build 34 three-car and 47 four-car doubledeck units, known as the series IRM-1 (Inter Regio Modaal). The 'threes' are almost identical 'top and tail', each with traction and 2 nd class accommodation, and divided by a centre 1 st /2 nd class car. Numbers assigned to these are mBvk1 901, mBvk1 902 and ABv3 respectively. The 'fours' do not differ 'top and tail', but do have different centre-cars numbered, namely ABv4 905 and ABv5 910.

With demand for rail travel still increasing significantly, early in 2000 the NS placed a new order with Bombardier Aken (which by then had purchased Talbot) to deliver another 128 doubledeck cars costing the grand sum of € 680m. The contract involved extending all 'threes' to four-car an all 'fours' to six-car units. Over and the above, the order also included an extra 13 four-car and 12 six-car units type IRM2 and 21 six-car units type IRM3. One major fact of the new order was that NS Reizigers wanted all units to be ready for high-speed line services, thus requiring the ability to run on 25,000 Volt ac as well as the current 1,500 volts dc.

The rebuild also included new diagnostic systems, which are also to be found on the current SM'90, DM'90 and ICE.

The exterior of the rebuilds and new units is no different to the original units, apart from the 25kV installations. Interior-wise there is little change either, although the seating layout will become more 'coach-like' and therefore less opportunity to sit opposite one another. NS Reizigers expects to take delivery of the last VIRM by 2005, creating an additional 37,500 seats in total.

For those of you travelling to the Netherlands now, you should now be able to view these VIRM's on services from Amsterdam CS to Den Haag, Dordrecht and Vlissingen.

Dutch Tramway and Light Railway News

Translated by Kjeld Spillett

Source: Het Openbaar Vervoer Railnieuws

New fares from 1 st January 2003

New fares for have been introduced for Nationale Strippenkaart public transport tickets reflecting a rise of approx. 5.5%.

2-strip (single one zone trip) €1,60; 3-strip (single two zone trip) €2,40; 8-strip/day ticket €6,40

15-strip €6,20; 45-strip €18,30

Beneluxlijn opens

On 2 nd November the €740m Beneluxlijn officially opened. The opening ceremony took place with two 4-car sets running simultaneously side-by-side between Tussenwater and Schiedam Centrum stations carry various dignitaries. The new line is 11,8 km long of which 7,6 km is on viaduct, 2,8 km in underground tunnels and 1,4 km in the new Benelux tunnel. There are 6 new stations each with it's own architectural identity. The line has been renamed the Calandlijn as it is, in fact, an extension of the existing line to Capelle a/d IJssel. Passenger services began on 4 th November in conjunction with the new bus network. Early days, however, were not without problems. There were delays on both RET metro lines as the busy section between Tussenwater and Spijkenisse became congested with trains from both lines arriving together. Delays continued through the week especially near De Akkers with delayed crews insisting on full physical needs breaks adding to the late running.

GVB - Amsterdam

NoordZuid Lijn On 21 October work began on De Ruijterkade behind Amsterdam CS. Once finished the area will include new cycle paths, walkways and a bus station forming and interchange with the NoordZuid lijn.

Storm in the Netherlands 27 th October All tram traffic was suspended because of the storms of 27 th October. At various locations the overhead lines broke free or were brought down by falling trees. Metro and Sneltram ran all day although with heavy delays. GVB advised people not to travel.

Electrical failure Trams were still again on 6 th November when a power cut occurred in the evening. Routes east of Weteringcircuit were terminated short. The Metro was not running between Amsterdam CS and Amsterdam Amstel stations.

Last day of Circletramlijn 20 Sunday 22 September was the last day of this route. The last journey left Amsterdam CS at 18.00 with tram 810. There was a small demonstration against the ending of the service and trams bore a black flag while some drivers and conductors wore black armbands.

Rolling stock On 1 st October Combino cars came into use on Route 9. Combino cars have been delivered up to nr. 2050. Cars up to 2047 are in service (except 2001, 2002, 2045 & 2046). Four of the 2200 series (double ended) cars have been delivered although none have entered service yet as further software changes have to be made as well as platform clearance tests on route 5.

HTM - Den Haag

Storm in the Netherlands 27 th October In Den Haag storms interrupted tram traffic from about midday with falling trees damaging overhead lines. Various cars were trapped including 3111 on route 10 which had to be rescued by a Unimog on Statenlaan. At 15.10 all HTM vehicles were ordered off the road as winds approached force 11 bringing down overhead lines all over the city trapping several other cars. By 19.00 all stranded cars had returned to depot. Trams began running again at about 21.00 on routes 1 (terminating at Nieuwe Parklaan), 2,6,8 and 15. The following morning things were slow to improve with heavy delays. The Noorderstrand was unusable until 12.45 because of the amount of sand across the track. A near normal service was running by 16.15.

Winter timetable introduced From 15 December 2002 route 9 runs only between Vrederust and Den Haag CS with a peak service 1K running between Scheveningen and CS. Route 10 has returned to its original route in the Rijswijkseweg, however along Laakweg temporary track is still in place. Rout 15 has a 10-minute service all day.

Ex-Hannover trams arrive The trams which have arrived are 6037 (15/10); 6055 (24/09); 6057 (17/09); 6058 (28/08); 6064 (20/08); 6098 (03/08); 5099 (31/07).

RET - Rotterdam

Citadis tram delivered The first new Citadis tram was delivered to the Helledijk on 15 th November from Alsthom. This was followed by 10 weeks of testing to iron out any problem before driver training could commence. The second car should arrive in March 2003 then delivery should be at the rate of one every 2 weeks. In readiness for the new trams work began in October on constructing the platforms at stops on TramPlus route 20 over which the new trams will run. These will enable direct same-level access for wheelchairs and pushchairs.

Introduction of conductors for revenue protection From 25 th November conductors were introduced on Route 1 (De Esch - Schiedam). This follows a successful experiment on route 7 which saw an 80% reduction in ticketless travel since April as well as a feeling of general security. As routes 1 and 7 run in parallel to each other the ticketless travellers have simply moved from one route to the other. A total of 105 conductors have been hired.

Snerttram On 19 th October the 'Snerttram' season begins. Car 1628 has had a special themed livery applied and until the middle of April 2003 will run tours every Saturday and Sunday (except 13 April) around Rotterdam with an accordionist and hot soup on board. Tickets cost €15. For more details visit http://www.snerttram.nl/snerttram_en/halte_en.html

Storm in the Netherlands 27 th October In Rotterdam the weather affected most routes causing damage to overhead lines and in some cases pantographs. By 13.00 the fire brigade required all RET service to be suspended until 23 30 when cars went out again on route examination runs. The Erasmuslijn of the metro also suffered disruption between Rhoon and Portugaal with fallen trees while at Rijnhaven two metro units collided.

Dutch Tram News

By Paul Stoddart-van der Maaden

Amsterdam GVB (or ' G een V ette B etrekking' as it used to be known as)

The current level of staff sickness is cited as one of the main reasons for the GVB's continuing financial woes. The organisation hopes to attain positive numbers in 2003 to the tune of €3.1 million, which is in fact €8.3m less than planned. The result ... there are not sufficient funds to place a conductor in every tram.

The Combino honeymoon-period has come to an end, with political parties including the PvdA getting involved. Supply of new units ended temporarily, and thus older units continued in service. The new Combino's are experiencing some technical teething problems, and the supply of spare parts is also at a slower rate than planned. There are too many technical problems to mention, but units are breaking down left right and centre. For some time, the GVB refused to take delivery of new units, which ended up at the 'van der Vlist' storage yard, in-between all the containers and rubbish. It appears a solution has now been found, and the supply of new units has now resumed. Combino's have now also entered service on line 4.

Amsterdam want to introduce a public transport police to combat aggression in trams, metros and busses. The idea is popular with regular travellers, who have had to endure over 3000 incidents within the last nine months.

Mid-December saw the new timetable introduced, with Line 6's route altered. It will now run from the Leidseplein, Marnixstraat, Rozengracht, and Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal to Centraal Station.

The GVB, together with RET and HTM have been awarded €18m by The State to introduce more conductors. The direct result is the introduction of conductors on lines 16, 24 and 2.

The GVB was recently fined to the tune of €180,000 due to dirty and unsafe metro units. The fine is a result of the 'KwaliteitKoersMeter', a questionnaire held among the public transport users of Amsterdam.

January saw the extension of Line 16 to the VU-Hospital complex. With track already placed along the Amstelveenseweg, work is now concentrated from De Boelelaan to the Gustav Mahlerlaan. It is intended that the extended route will be ready in the autumn whereupon the track in the Stadionstraat will be removed.

A stay of execution for the Amsterdams Openbaar Vervoer Museum (aom) and Museumbusstiching (musa), as local judge indefinitely postpones their enforced move (by Amsterdam authorities) from the Tollenstraat service facility.

Den Haag HTM.

The proposed policy of free public transport in Den Haag remains a dream, as this would cost the local authority an estimated €100m, and thus concluded as too expensive. The plan was put forward after the town of Hasselt (Belgium) and Apeldoom successfully introduced such an initiative to prevent car traffic coming to a grinding halt.

Den Haag is to receive the sum of €128m from State coffers in order to upgrade the Central Station to a truly interregional traffic centre. Named the 'Sleutel' project, another five authorities have put up their hand, hoping for similar funds. The project includes extending the station complex, and making it 'simple' to reach bus, train and tram lines from one central point. The new plans will however mean that certain parts of track (train) will have to be moved and all current station-hall shops be demolished.

The 15 th December saw the introduction of a new timetable. This timetable mimics the yearly timetables of both the NS and ConneXXion. Line 1 and 1K will run with increased frequency between Scheveningen Noorderstand and CS. Lines 2, 3 and 6 with increased capacity during rush hour and line 11 sees the introduction of the Hannover trams. Since mid-December the newly acquired Hannover trams (TW6000 series) have been introduced on Line 11. Although now in service, tram stops are still to undergo adjustments to accommodate the Hannovers, as these are some five cm's wider that the GTL trams. To see where problems may occur (e.g. colliding with signs etc. en route), a 'profile measurement car' has been built. Other characteristics include: bi-directional trams, a closed drivers cabin and thus no opportunity to purchase tickets, and less seating with 50 seats and 100 standing places. The TW6000's have already acquired a number of nicknames, including 'Camel' and 'Bananas' (because of their all-over yellow colour scheme). Apparently the nickname 'Camel' is derived from 'Teh-Weh', which in Hungarian means camel. You will also see the TW6000 around the Houten area in NS livery, as the HTM runs a short service there on behalf of the NS. The last of the TW6000's, namely 6053 was delivered in December.

Rotterdam RET

November saw the arrival of the first new Citadis tram the RET.

It has finally been agreed to re-juggle the RET zones, apparently starting in July. The reorganisation is needed to reduce the current financial shortages, which are estimated to be around the €13.5 to €20m this year. For the average passenger the re-zoning will simply mean higher fares by around 6%.

24 million, yes a staggering 13% of all RET passengers are currently 'zwartrijders' (fare dodgers). This has been established by recognised 'national measurement' methods. Additional controls are required to combat the current level of 'zwartrijders'. Line 7 has therefore seen the return of conductors, with good results. It is also planned to design a 'closed' entry system into the trams within 1-2 years and introduce tourniquets (ticket-barriers) at all metro stations. In the meantime, the RET has approached The State to raise the fine for fare dodging, which currently stands at € 29.10.

Belgian Tram & Light Railway News

Translated by Kjeld Spillett

Source: Het Openbaar Vervoer Railnieuws

De Lijn

Antwerpen

In the middle of August 2002 35 PCC cars from the 7000-7060 series were modernised. Increased passenger numbers means that there is an increase in multiple workings for cars in the city.

Brussel

The plan to modernise the 8 axle double-ended cars of 7900 series has been abandoned on cost grounds. The position at the end of December 2002 was that a decision was yet to be made over which new trams to purchase. The choices are: the Siemens Combino, the Alsthom Citadis or the Bombardier (BN-Brugge) Cityrunner. The hot favourite is the home built Cityrunner.

Gent

Sixteen of the chosen 22 PCC cars have been modernised by the end of September 2002. The general increase in ridership means that De Lijn are considering modernising the rest of the fleet. Another idea is to make one articulated tram by taking 2 single cars and joining them together with a low floor middle section!

Oostende

By the middle of August, 10 trams have had low floor middle sections added at Bombardier at Brugge. A further six cars went to Brugge in October to have the middle section added.

Rail/Tram Walks

By Ralph Hanley

Two walks which may be of interest to members are: -

CFL Goebelsmuhle to Kautenbach in Luxembourg

This walk is about 8 Km and should take around 2 hours. The whole area is surrounded by wooded hills and is an attractive area for walking. The walk provides scenic views of the railway, tunnel and bridges. Goebelsmuhle can be reached by CFL from Luxembourg station. Trains in the direction of Clerveaux leave 13 minutes past the hour. [The journey can be made using a €4.40 day ticket]. After alighting at Goebelsmuhle follow the main road N27 northbound as far as the junction of the rivers Wiltz and Sure. Do not cross the bridge, but follow the footpath "Sentier du Nord" keeping the river Wiltz on your left. This footpath parallels the railway for about 3 Km; the path crosses the "Girschterbaach" over a footbridge to the right. Follow this stream uphill, [away from the railway], and after 800m arrives at a junction. Turn left and walk uphill along the slopes of the "Henschelt" to the "Hockslay". From this point the "Sentier du Nord" goes downhill parallel with the railway to Kautenbach. In Kautenbach, after passing or stopping at a cafe, turn south crossing the river Wiltz towards the station. Trains depart for Luxembourg at 10 minutes past the hour.

STIB Ban Eik to Tervuren near Bruxelles

This is quite a short walk of about 2 Km and is along the old bed of the Bruxelles to Tervuren railway. This went from Bruxelles Quartier Leopold to Tervuren. The line was opened in the late nineteenth century and closed in the 1950's. The route from Bruxelles was via: Etterbeek, Auderghem, Stockel and Wezembeek with a journey time of 25 minutes. Two car emu's generally worked the line with the running sheds at Tervuren. To reach the line take a no. 39 tram from Square Montgomery to the terminus at Ban Eik. The tram ride closely follows the original railway from Stockel. Alight at Ban Eik, [there is no other choice!] and walk straight along a continuation of the line past the end of the reversing loop. This leads on to the old track bed. On approaching Tervuren a section of the old goods sheds are on the right and have recently been converted into a cafe. [This apparently is well worth a visit, either to replenish ones thirst or to view all the railway memorabilia]. The footpath ends at the busy Chaussee de Louvain, here turn right and a short walk leads to the terminus of tram # 44. This runs back to Square Montgomery partly through the Foret de Soignes. During summer weekends the STIB run a vintage tram on this service. During the return trip a visit is recommended to the Tram museum at Woluwe stop. An additional agenda item is to visit the excellent African Museum at Tervuren before returning. This is nearly straight opposite the footpath end, and requires a quick dash over the nearby pedestrian crossing. [For anyone concerned, under Belgian law, compensations are much higher for injuries on pedestrian crossings].

Model News

By Ralph Hanley

We are grateful to Train Miniature as a source of much of this information . Readers may be interested to know, Train Miniature [or Modelspoor in Flemish] is available from Meta Media, Wettersestraat 64, B-9260 - Schebelle, Belgium at € 49 for 6 copies.

Congratulations to our Southampton member Martin Petch for his article in TM on constructing a series 44/45 SNCB / NMBS autorail using mainly kits from our member Alan Marlow of Caravelle Models.

The major news is that Lima group [Rivarossi/Arnold/Jouef] have gone bust. This will cause problems with spare parts, as many of the dies and manufacturing parts etc. were shipped to China. In addition there will now be restrictions on the scope of models available.

Ferivan have introduced a limited [25] number of Bruxelles single unit tram series 7000. These form part of the "Sint Peterburgs" tram collection.

Trix have released a type 26 Belgian steam locomotive in "N" gauge. [These were the heavy steam 2-10-0 locomotives]

Klein Modellbahn has announced a "B-Cargo" flat bed wagon for container traffic.

In addition to the "Belgian Station", Kibri now have other "Belgian" kits, these are: Shop - 8366, two terrace houses - 8365, town hotel - 8367 and Chinese restaurant - 8706.

OsKar now has three M 4 [Bordeaux] coaches, pilot, 1 st class and 2 nd class.

The 2003 Roco and Kibri catalogues are now available.

Train Miniature # 21 contains articles on: -

Constructing an automotrice 44/45; Building a coal yard; Houses from wood and cardboard; HO layout "St Laurent en Ardennes"; Designing a "service access" to a layout; "Populating" the interior of a railcar; Enhancing the Kibri kit for a Belgian station; Type 29 Belgian steam engine; Hoeseltse model club; UK Metcalfe model kits.

Books published by Train Miniature which may be of interest are: -

"Architecture des Gares en Belgique" vol 1[1835 - 1914]

"Les Chemins de fer Belges en miniature" €75

"De Antwerpse Tram revolutie" €20

"Bruxelles hors voies" €24.50

Journal du Chemin de Fer # 131, main items: -

Electrification [25 kV] completion of the L'Athus - Meuse line; A short history of the L'Athus - Meuse line; The end of SNCB series 16 on the Ostende to Cologne service; Rolling stock used on the IC Ostende to Cologne service; The end of the SNCB series 44 and 45 railcars; New International traffic by "classical" trains; Diesel motive power as at the end of 2002; Last of the steam "Mohicans", [currently in Poland].

Late News

The Lima situation seems to be ever-changing, probably following an Italian pattern, in they will continue, no they wont etc. Although Lima was present at Nuremberg, they offered no new stock and the consensus is still that they will probably not survive.

There is a "new kid on the block" Heris who are planning to market "speciality" items. Their catalogue lists several SNCB/CFL and NS items [such as the Class 3000 and 1300 electrics] - but more next month.

Peter [from Winco] visited Nuremberg and felt that it was much quieter with many of the earlier smaller companies absent. It seemed that many of the "majors" had reduced their range of models. In addition Peter reported that over 700 German model shops had closed within the last 6 months. More news of Nuremberg in the next issue.

Model News from Neurenberg, for those with

Netherlands-based layouts

By Paul Stoddart-van der Maaden

Mehano are to launch the Belgian Vossloh HLD 77 diesel loc, which has also been hired by NS-Cargo to run on the 'IJzeren Rijn'. This model will be available in both ac and dc and digital/sound. The model will initially be launched in Belgian livery, but it will also be available 'blank' with transfers (inc. Netherlands).

Kato has announced the Thalys in n-gauge. It is planning a standard 6 unit set, which can be added to with another 4 carriages.

Brawa is to produce an 'HSM' beer wagon in Heineken livery Epoch I.

Heris is said to produce the NS P1600. Apparently this loc was in service with the NS as 'test loc'. Colours are to be yellow/grey, and available in both ac and dc. This manufacturer also 'plans a NS Type P with TEN logo, a NS Type P without TEN Logo, the NS 'Andante', 'Allegro and 'Alegretto' restaurant cars, a set of two NS sleepers (ex BCM of the DB), another NS sleeper in original DB colours, and a T2 NS sleeper.

It has also been announced that for the time being, the planned Gutzold BR346 (in service with ACTS and ShortLines) is to be shelved due to lack of interest.

Reviews

Video Reviews

By Ralph Hanley

"Vu de Loco Bruxelles - Arlon" this is released by PFT at €25 plus postage. The video is about 2 hours and is solely the view from the cab of the journey Bruxelles Nord to Arlon. No commentary is included but the passing station names are identified. Parts of the video are a little dark, but it gives an interesting record of the journey to Arlon. The video would have been enhanced by some commentary and identifying the SNCB series 20 motive power at the start. PFT also issue fifteen other SNCB "Vu de Loco" videos, all at €25.

"Rail Away" consists of 5 videos issued by the Dutch TV at €25 each. Each video consists of four rail journeys from different countries [worldwide], with each journey about 25 minutes. Commentary is in Dutch. In addition to the rail journey there are views of the infrastructure and local historical items.

Model Review

Kibri Belgian Station 9529. This is one of a series of Kibri models specifically made for the SNCB/NMBS network; it is typical of many of the Belgian stations. Being Kibri it is easy to assemble and the finished result is realistic. It can be enhanced by adding "station accessories" from Vollmer or Kibri. One small comment, it is not necessary to include the guttering on the left hand side of the furthest right apex roof, as this has later to be cut off. PB Messing Modelbouw [of Ranst] has produced enhancements such as veranda and changed door and window finishes.

Stamps

The Belgian PFT have issued 3 commemorative stamps for the 50 years of Bruxelles Gare du Midi - Nord. These depict: Thalys €1.0, Series 1300 €5.0 and Eurostar €2.0.

VIDEO REVIEW

By Mike Pringle

EUROPEAN RAILWAYS Issue 7, Lineside Video Productions £11.95, 60 minutes.

This ongoing series features various European countries, in this latest issue including France, Germany, Austria, Italy and Portugal. Of particular interest to Society members is a 5-minute feature on Rodange, Luxembourg. Here in the station & freight yard we see class 250 & 2000 emu's on local services, the rare class 3600`s on freight & passenger workings & class 900 diesel shunters shunting goods trains. A further 8-minute feature focuses on Roosendaal in the Netherlands. Here we see various Plan V & IRM emu's plus the Benelux sets hauled by the Belgian class 1100 electrics. The numerous stored class 2200 diesels adjacent to the station can be glimpsed as well as two active members in operation in their Strukton livery. Electric class 1700's feature as well as varied liveried class 6400 diesels. Commentary on the video is informative & the tape would interest any member with a wide interest in the current European railway scene.

A visit to Jack

By Ralph Hanley

Biancanigi [white anemones] is not a place easily found on a map of Italy. It is a village of some 10 houses and a church perched 450m on top of a hill. The village is in Lombardia, approximately 80 Km south of Milan. For many years we have exchanged Christmas cards with Jack in Biancanigi. [Jack was formally a Field Engineer with Esso in the '70's]. This year, following Jack's kind invitation, we made plans to visit. Being retired the thought of driving or flying was not particularly attractive, particularly having spent many hours flying and driving whilst with Exxon, so we opted for leisurely travel by normal service train. The nearest station being Vohgera, some 12 km from Biancanigi.

There is a daily service from Bruxelles to Milan, but has a somewhat early start at 07:16 [i.e. one misses breakfast]. So on the outward trip we decided to break our journey in Luxembourg, [catching the same train at 10:00 - allowing time for breakfast!] and Brig in Switzerland. One of the members of a club to which I belong is a travel agent, so we got the "best deal" in rail fares. We received a wad of tickets, which needed some study, as firstly they were in German and secondly each ticket was from frontier to frontier, usually some obscure small village station. Our departure date arrived, and I persuaded my son to drive us into Southampton to catch the 05.53 to Waterloo. Travelling up took me back to my earlier [1971] commuting experience to Victoria Street. One was reminded of Oscar Wilde's quote "Silence is conversation with an Englishman". We comfortably caught the 08.27 Eurostar to Bruxelles with an on time arrival. The only diversion being a very vocal African lady being refused admission at the Belgian immigration. We had 15 minutes connection time to the Luxembourg train, which allowed time to visit the news kiosk. Sitting comfortably, [just before departure], in the train we realised that we were in the portion terminating at Namur, [with no connection to the other section]. A quick dash to the other section was followed by an even quicker dash to retrieve a forgotten item of luggage. Once leaving Namur the ride is very scenic as it passes through the Ardennes with forest interspersed by meadows and rivers.

Luxembourg gave the opportunity to visit a Model shop just behind the station, leaving Carolyn to "watch the world go by". The main entertainment was observing various people washing their clothes in the platform drinking fountain. For those interested, Carolyn who is no mean authority on these matters, rates the toilets at Luxembourg station very highly - probably five star. In what other toilet would one see champagne and strawberries! A short taxi ride took us to our accommodation. On retrieving our luggage I noticed some good broad beans in the boot. I observed that his beans were more advanced than mine, to receive a handful. A rare occasion of a gift from a taxi.

Next day we caught the 10:00 Milan train. For some reason a substantial posse of French Gendarmes and Douane patrol the train, in each direction, between Luxembourg and Thionville. I am not really sure, what anyone would want to smuggle into Luxembourg. After leaving Metz, the ride again from Reding to Saverne is very scenic, following a river amongst wooden hills. From Strasbourg to Basel the landscape is rather flat with distant views of hills and vineyards. Bern from the railway was quite disappointing with acres of graffiti alongside the tracks. Once leaving Bern the scenery is spectacular with the Alps as a backdrop. As the trip progressed we were aware of two Chinese back packers at the end of the coach. One spent most of the time slumbering, whilst the other was an avid photographer, exposing acres of film from inside and outside the carriage. After leaving Spietz the train climbs quite high and stops at some fairly remote mountain stations. These stops could be described as "brief". As we got close to Brig I noticed that there was only one Chinese person in the coach, still slumbering. At Brig he woke up with a start to find his companion missing, and having quickly to disembark with all their belongings. His companion meanwhile was stranded at one of the remote stations just in Tee shirt and jeans, but able to get an excellent 'photo of the departing train. All ended well as I saw them reunited a couple of hours later.

Brig is a good central location for local alpine trips: Zermatt [a tourist trap] but is the start of the rack and pinion to Gornegrat at over 3,000 m with spectacular views to the Matterhorn; or along the "Glacier Express" route to Chur. We stayed in Brig two nights and having "done" Gornegrat before, decided to try and find a very scenic Swiss village with all wooden chalets, we had seen before whilst travelling to Andermatt. Not knowing its name I decided to get a return to a further station, and then "hop off" when we came to this village. Surprisingly there is not too much English spoken in this part of Switzerland. The predominate language being German. The lady at the station spoke no English, understood I wanted two returns but could not understand where. I asked for "Oberwald" several times, before realising that the "W" is pronounced as a "V". This route is operated by the "FO" on metre gauge and is very scenic. The line is single track quite heavily used with part being rack and pinion. Everything ran to time and we wondered what sort of performance there would be from South West trains and Railtrack. We found "our" scenic village and spent a delightful hour exploring its wooden chalets and covered bridge before returning to Brig. The owner of the hotel was opening a new "Buvette" facility and invited us to join his publicity B.B.Q. Not surprisingly we did not know any of the other guests, but were able to freely sample the local wine.

From Brig to Milan we were booked on the morning "Cispalino" - a high speed "tilting" train. The platforms at Brig are quite long and we were not sure where we should stand. The train arrived and stopped alongside us with carriage 1, whilst we were in carriage 8. As these stops are quite short, we had a speedy walk along the platform. [Internal transfer would have been difficult on the crowded train]. By now Carolyn was quite used to the adverb "Quick!" Our arrival in Italy was marked by numerous Italian customs and immigration officials examining passports and some luggage. Due to somewhat extensive track maintenance we arrive in Milan just late enough to see our connection to Voghera depart.

As a courtesy I tried to contact Jack on my "Mobile" with no result. Then I tried a local phone card, again with no result, not realising one has to remove a corner, which I kept straightening out. [Being Italy buying a card with the corner not removed means that the card is valid]. After some "conversations" with local staff, we eventually identified our next connection. Things were going fine until the Inspector collared us for €15 at Pavia for inadvertently travelling "Pimera" on "Secondo" class tickets. Be warned, there is little indication of being in first class on Italian trains. All ended well and we arrived in Biancanigi. Jack was not too concerned at our late arrival, as it gave him more time to "enjoy" the local cafe.

It was not our aim to tour all the historic sites, but more to enjoy the countryside and local life. Biancanigi is not exactly busy; one day I counted 4 cars which passed outside. The main traffic being the post lady and tractors. Deer, pheasants and sometimes wild boar roam through Jack's land. Deer were more prevalent, as there was generally evidence of their spoors each morning. The Italians adopt a less sporting attitude to pheasant shooting, or to put it another way, the guns have a much greater chance of success. Pheasants are taken out of their rearing cages, whirled around and put under a cover to ensure disorientation. They are then placed in cages, and released on command from the "guns". This ensures a somewhat high "score" rate! Prices are high at €15 - 20 per pheasant.

One day we visited the local super store outside Casteggio - Iper to buy supplies. We were both very impressed; firstly the open car park has wooden covers over the cars to protect from the sun. Inside was very clean with a superb range of food, clothing, tools and electrical goods. Random comparisons seemed to indicate that £1 in England cost €1 in Iper. Later we visited Castrorama a B&Q/Homebase type store. Luckily I did not have a car, as I saw those tools I did not know existed, but realised were essential to have!!

We took one trip to Pavia and toured its medieval streets and saw the Michelangelo covered bridge. One problem in Pavia was parking payment. We found a place in a side street requiring payment - however no sign anywhere of a ticket machine. Eventually we discovered one has to buy a "scratch" type card ticket at the local news kiosk and "scratch out" the: year, month, day, hour and minute. Sunday we visited the local market in Casteggio, where Carolyn was able to marvel at all the shoes and their low cost. A reminder was made; that all thinks bought would have to be hand carried back! During Sunday afternoon we decided to attend the one Mass at the local church. Italians are noted for fast driving, another fast attribute is the length of their Mass. It took 32 minutes for the entire Mass, which included a sermon.

One of Jack's neighbours - Stefano- owned the local Chateau built in the 1200's, and was happy to show us around. Stefano was quite a character being in his 80's riding a small old moped followed by his dog - Bobo. Unfortunately conversation was difficult with both of us having virtually no knowledge of the others language. Before our tour we partook of the local "digestive" to help us on the climb up to the chateau. The tour was very interesting and included the dungeons and their formal Italian garden. Whilst having dinner with Jack afterwards, Stafano arrived with a bottle of his best wine for us as a keepsake.

Before leaving we all went out to dinner one evening, but being a Monday we had to search to find a restaurant open. Local restaurants do not have printed menus, so all is verbal. I was quite impressed with Carolyn, as she nodded her head wisely at the right times as the head waiter told her the menu selection - and further more got what she wanted.

All too soon our stay came to an end. Jack would not trust the local train from Voghera getting us to Milan for a 08:10 departure to Bruxelles. Thus we left at an early hour and drove into the city. This gave us the opportunity to see the city, two early accidents at traffic lights, and also the splendid facade of Milan Central station.

During our return trip we shared our compartment with an Italian family going to a wedding in Switzerland. With sign language and key words we seemed to understand each other. One thing we noticed was the smoothness of the European rail tracks - very little movement - when compared with the journey to Waterloo. An on time arrival in Bruxelles gave us sufficient time to have a leisurely meal. One tip when eating in Bruxelles, avoid the restaurants in the attractive Rue de Bouchers. All are essentially "tourist traps" with poor value for the prices charged. We found a quiet one run by a Portuguese owner close to the Grand Place, with good value.

We allowed a one-day stop over in Bruxelles, so decided to visit Antwerp. Being over 65 I was able to take advantage of the SNCB ticket pricing of €2.50 return for any station in Belgium. The only requirement being to travel after 09:00 weekdays, and not use any TGV services. All that is required is evidence of ones age - generally a passport.

Saturday we caught the 13:00 Eurostar to London, again arriving on time, and back indoors in time for dinner - plus unpacking! In all it was a most enjoyable vacation, and we both appreciated Jack and Maria Pia's hospitality and kindness.

 

Back to Nieuwsbrief Index

Back to Top