26th May 2000

Mercia Charters
The Corvallen Freighter

Locos Used SNCB : 5216, 5303 & 5401

The third tour run by Mercia Charters in Belgium. This should've seen the two carriages marshalled into a freight train but, alas, a member of SNCB management prevented it from happening. Who says railtour farces only happen in the UK?

Locos Route
5401 Namur - Ronet ATD (depot visit)
5216 + 5303 (1) Ronet ATD - Namur - Dinant - Houyet -Bertrix
5303 Bertrix - Florenville - Virton - Aubange Jn - Athus - Aarlon - Stockem (staff platform, by depot) (2)
5303 Stockem - Libramont (3)

Notes :
(1) We should have been marshalled into freight train 47961 for the run to Virton but some SNCB "jobsworth" on the morning of the tour decided it wasn't permissible to allow passenger coaches in a freight train. His solution - cancel the freight! We then set off with two coaches and a pair of Nohabs in the path of the freight. We lost the class 52 at Bertrix here it was used as the "taxi" to get the crew to the depot where they were booking off.
(2) Loco change was attempted at Stockem but, although it was agreed, a lack of qualified shunter (to do the brake test on a passenger train) scuppered that plan and we set off again with the same loco!
(3) Due to late running and the drivers hours being up the tour was terminated at Libramont rather than continuing to Namur as booked. We made it back to Namur (and beyond)  thanks to SNCB arranging a special stop for train EC96 "Iris" at Libramont.

Source : Gary Thornton.
(on the train throughout)

Tour Review :
(By Gary Thornton)

A tour that promised so much....

Advertised as starting in Namur, a shunter would take the two passenger coaches to Ronet yard where they would be marshalled into a freight train headed by (most probably) a pair of "Nohabs". The tour would then journey via Dinant to Viton in the freight train at which point the coaches would be removed to return to Namur via Athus, Stockem and Libramont with a "Nohab" Class 54 in charge.

.....or at least, that was the plan....

Most of us arrived into Namur off a "plug" unit (AM96) from Charleroi, having sampled 2626 on the last INT332 (10.05 Namur to Paris). Credit where its due - the use of a 26 on the last INT332 was as a result of negotiations between Mercia Charters and SNCB. Thanks chaps!

In good railtour tradition, departure time came and went with little sign of activity. Our coaches were spotted outside the station but with a Class 54 fussing over them - no sign of the booked shunter.

A little after noon and the Nohab set off for the station and those with better eyesight soon identified the loco as 5401. Good, at least a required haulage! Departure was at 12.06 (against booked 11.55). No worries though as we had almost two and a half hours scheduled at Ronet to get the coaches into the freight train.

Nine minutes later and we reached our first port of call, Ronet depot. I noticed we rolled up to the shed building on road 13.... a portent of things to come, I hoped not.

After a few minutes if was confirmed that we could get off the train and wander round. An announcement was also made that the depot canteen and bar would remain open until 1pm. Bar??? This just had to be explored further. Sure enough, upstairs in the office block was the canteen and bar. Some of the staff were tucking into their lunches with a bottle of beer to wash it down. Just imagine what would be made of that in the UK!!

Staying strictly in character, most of us on the tour rose to the challenge and, by closing time, we'd run the bar out of beer :-)

Off then for a wander round the scrap line behind the depot - a chance to photograph the remains of quite a few diesels. Electrics 2801 and 2802 were also in the scrapline. A very large pile of scrap metal was identified as the remains of several shunters but alas, no numbers to be seen!

Back to the train and it soon became clear all was not well - various stories going around but all with the same conclusion, the freight train we were to travel in was not going to run today! After negotiation between Mercia Charters and SNCB however it had been agreed to run our two coach train in the booked path using the two diagrammed freight train locomotives. A 54 was due to take over at Virton and this was still intended to happen.

At 14.00 we set off from Ronet depot with 5216 and 5303 in charge of our massive two coach consist - a stiff challenge? I think not....

Nine minutes out from Namur to Ronet, thirty-four minutes back - it seems the SNCB signallers were determined to hold us in our booked path as a freight train! On the run south we did get some thrash from the Nohabs - but not much as any application of the power handle was soon accompanied by some very fast acceleration.

An hours stop at Bertrix gave time for some photos of the remarkably busy goings on - various DMU's and a Nohab or three. One of our locos, 5216, became the taxi to get our driver to the depot! For some this break was time to restock on the beer supply! We departed at 17.24 with 5303 on its own. About 45km's later we approached Virton where we were booked to loose our freight and "freight" loco(s) in favour of a Class 54 which would also be our motive power home. 5407 had been requested.

We shot through Virton at 18.19, no sign of stopping... or 5407....

At Athus we basically swung through 180 degrees and began to head back towards Namur. We slowed through Aarlon then at Stockem were routed into the yard. Loco change here then? Nope - seems 5407 had failed in the morning and, as our requested loco was not available, SNCB so no reason to change locos on the train. Looks like they don't yet understand our hobby and what keeps us happy bunnies!

After some negotiation an agreement was reached for a loco change to take place, but this was soon abandoned again as we were informed that none of the staff were "qualified" to undertake the required brake test on a passenger train! Also about this time the driver apparently pointed out that his hours would be up well before we reached Namur.

So here we were, in the middle of a yard, 40 minutes late and with a fair chance of not making Namur - or making it but being bowled for a train back to Brussels. Certainly the intended move back to Brussels on EC96 "Iris". Mind you, it and the last train back to Brussels, were due to run on the same line as us to Namur....

We staggered to the end of Stockem Yard but then were held for about 10 minutes to allow the passage of L5890, the Arlon to Libramont all-shacks local cart!! We finally got the road onto the mainline, now running between the all-stop service and EC96 - but how far would we get before being looped to allow EC96 past us....?

The answer soon came - as a result of the driver being up to his maximum hours of working it had been decided to terminate the tour at Libramont. That would put us "in position" for the last train back to Brussels, IC2143, at 21.19 off Libramont and to watch EC96 thunder through! An announcement from Mercia Charters stewards however told us that our train home would actually be EC96 as SNCB had arranged an additional stop at Libramont so we could catch it! Some compensation for the days events perhaps?

So there we were, about 9pm, something around 100 of us all stood on Libramont station as 2010 approached on EC96. It approached very fast and some of were beginning to wonder if we would indeed be on it when the driver threw on the brakes and ground to a halt.

On we all lept for the journey to Namur, Brussels (and for some, beyond). Lots of discussion on the way home about the days events. Although we'd missed out on our journey in the freight train, at least we covered the route and it was in the end quite an interesting day out. Shame about the late tour farce at Stockem.

The following comments are from Denzil Morgan, Publicity Officer for Mercia Charters, to explain the problems that occurred on the day :

1. No class 73 locomotive - there is only one 73 out based at Ronet, at the time of our departure from Namur this locomotive was working a local trip and returned to the depot shortly after our own arrival!

2. The freight train - As we arrived at Ronet someone in Bruxelles within the SNCB freight side decided that passenger vehicles complete with passengers were not allowed on freight trains, it was pointed out that this had happened previously but he would not change his mind! The freight train was cancelled and we ran in it's path.

3. No loco change - The driver was expecting to have a locomotive change at Stockem. We were subsequently told that 5407 was 'for repairs' and would not be available. Staff at Stockem were willing to do the loco change but the person responsible for the brake test on a passenger train was in Arlon and could not come to Stockem for whatever reason.

4. Termination of train - The train was terminated at Libramont because it was unclear whether we would actually reach Namur in time for the last trains to Bruxelles and for forwarding connections, also the driver would have been 'out of time' on reaching Ciney and no one could ascertain if we had a forwarding driver. We had managed to have EC96 stopped there to pick up all our passengers.

Tomorrow would be, as they say, another day...and in our case, another railtour!

Gary Thornton.

Footnote : I've just noticed that this railtour was, in fact, my 13th of the year....

Route, Distances and Timing's (Booked & Actual)
(by Gary Thornton)

Z18746 : Namur - Ronet depot
47961 : Ronet depot - Virton
Z18747 : Virton - Namur

KM's Location Booked Actual
00.00 Namur 11.55d 12.06
03.30 Ronet formation 12.05a 12.15
00.00 Ronet formation 14.35d 14.00
03.30 Namur ??.?? 14.34a
- - ??.?? 14.42d
19.00 Godinne ??.?? ??.??
30.50 Dinant ??.?? 15.16a
- - ??.?? 15.21d
31.70 Y Neffe ??.?? 15/23
45.50 Houyet ??.?? 15/36
102.10 Bertrix ??.?? 16.32a
- - ??.?? 17.24d
122.30 Florenville ??.?? 17.43a
- - ??.?? 17.53d
147.30 Virton 17L57a 18/19
00.00 - 18L22d --.--
23.70 Y Aubange ??.?? 18/42
23.90 Athus 18/41 18/45
34.20 Y Autelbas ??.?? 18/53
39.30 Arlon 18/50 18/58
42.60 Stockem 18.57a 19.03
- - 19.20d 19.59
85.70 Libramont 20/00 19.44a
118.10 Jemelle ??.?? -
146.70 Ciney 20/50 -
173.20 Jambes-Est ??.?? -
175.50 Namur 21.15a -

a : arrival time
d : departure time
L : loco change
/ : passing time

All distances, in kilometres, are taken from the timing sheet given out on the train. No attempt has been made to verify the mileages given.

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