On Friday, Danny, Scott and I did something silly. Everyone asked “why?”, we responded “why not?”. We toured Belgium and the Netherlands by train, in one day, taking twelve hours.
It all started at a cosy dinner party. We discussed trains. Well yes, that is what we as train guards do (sometimes). It turned out we we wanted to explore train lines we never encounter when working. So we quickly planned an itinerary.
We would travel from
- Antwerp-Central to Mechelen (Malines);
- Mechelen via Hofstade to Vilvoorde (Vilvorde);
- Vilvoorde via Bockstael to Aalst (Alost);
- Aalst to Geraardsbergen (Grammont);
- Geraardsbergen to Mons (Bergen);
- Mons to Liège-Guillemins (Luik);
- Liège to Maastricht;
- Maastricht to ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Bois-le-Duc);
- ‘s-Hertogenbosch to Roosendaal;
- Roosendaal to Antwerp.
This is a small tour of Belgium and the Netherlands as we travelled through eight provinces. We covered according the check-in app Swarm 294 miles or approximately 470 km. We left Antwerp at 7.48 AM and twelve hours later we were back in Antwerp-Central.
The provinces we travelled through are
- Antwerp (B);
- Flemish Brabant (B);
- East Flanders (B);
- Hainaut (B);
- Namur (B);
- Liège (B);
- Limburg (NL);
- North Brabant (NL).
Points of interest
There were two main points of interests which motived our train day trip.
The first being the S4Brussels regional area train from Vilvoorde to Aalst. It passes a cloverleaf interchange of rail lines. The S4 is the only train calling the Merode, Delta, Etterbeek, Brussels-Luxembourg, Brussels-Schuman and Bockstael stations in one service.
The second point of interest is the so called ‘Dorsale wallonne‘, which you could translate as the ‘Spine of Wallonia‘. It links Mons to Liège. We boarded the 3812 train in Mons.
Not only is it an (in)famous route, it is also scenic as it follows the Sambre and Meuse rivers.
On the route, we saw the boat lifts of the Canal du Centre and the infamous Strépy-Thieu boat lift. Which is a prime example of Belgian ‘waffle iron politics‘, where major infrastructure works in one region had / have to be matched in another region.
Further, we noticed the negative Tamines sign. Usually, NMBS / SNCB stations signs are blue with white letters. Tamines was white with blue letters.
Bonus: the Netherlands
Since we were in Liège, we decided not to return to Antwerp via Hasselt or Brussels, but to head to Maastricht across the border.
We then took a train to ‘s-Hertogenbosch. There we boarded a train to Roosendaal. Due to infrastructure issues we had to take a replacement coach to Essen in Belgium. There we took the intercity heading Charleroi and disembarked at Antwerp.
As such we actually we roamed the historic lands of the Prince-Bishopric of Liège, the Duchy of Limbourg, the Duchy of Brabant, the County of Flanders, the County of Hainaut and the County of Namur.
If you are a train and rail aficionado, I highly recommend this Tour of Belgium and the Netherlands. You will discover places and lines which aren’t obvious destinations. If you like to leave digital breadcrumbs everywhere, this is a day to plan.
As there is no catering on board, remember to bring snacks and drinks.