Charleroi Metro—Part 1

A Tale of Two Tram Cities.

Having explored Manchester’s modern Metrolink tram system, I traveled by heavy-rail directly to Manchester Airport (which will soon enjoy a Metrolink extension as well), and flew via Ryan Air to Charleroi in Belgium.

Charleroi, like Manchester, is a city that once dependant on heavy industry that suffered from industrial declines. Another similarity is Charleroi’s approach toward rail transit. Like Manchester, it had grand plans for a modern tram network.

However, where Manchester’s Metrolink is a shining example of a modern tram system; Charleroi’s ‘pre-metro ‘doesn’t get top marks for progress, but it has moved slowly forward with expansion plans, and was interesting to ride and photograph.

Planning for the Charleroi Metro began in the 1970s, and while construction has been very slow, in the last few years it has finally opened extensions and now operates nearly 22 miles of light rail/pre-metro.

I was unfortunate to arrive at Charleroi too late to properly avail of public transport (of the rubber tired variety) and resorted to a taxi to my hotel in Charleroi Sud. However, I was lucky to have a room in the Ibis Hotel that faced the railway station and looked out on a portion of the tram loop through the city center. This allowed me to get an early start to my photography, despite my late arrival.

Room with a view! I awoke at the Ibis Hotel in Charleroi with a splendid view of the Charleroi Sub station and tram lines. Canon EOS 7D with 200mm lens.
Room with a view! I awoke on clear August 2014 morning at the Ibis Hotel in Charleroi with a splendid view of the Charleroi Sub station and tram lines. Canon EOS 7D with 200mm lens.
An inbound TEC tram glides along a shipping canal in Charleroi, Belgium as viewed from my hotel window.  Canon EOS 7D with 200mm lens.
An inbound TEC tram glides along a shipping canal in Charleroi, Belgium as viewed from my hotel window. Canon EOS 7D with 200mm lens.
Tirou Station is one of the few above ground stations on the city center metro loop. No matter where you go, you come back here. LX7 photo.
Tirou Station is one of the few above ground stations on the city center metro loop. No matter where you go, you come back here. LX7 photo.
New terminal at Soleimont, Belgium. This line has just recently opened. Trams run every 10-15 minutes midday. Lumix LX7 photo.
New terminal at Soleimont, Belgium. This line has just recently opened. Trams run every 10-15 minutes midday. Lumix LX7 photo.
In central Charleroi, the trams serve a modern subway. A central loop operates in both directions, which can be a bit disorienting, since trams will use the loop as a balloon, and often you can go in either direction and find yourself back where you started and pointed in the opposite direction.
In central Charleroi, the trams serve a modern subway. A central loop operates in both directions, which can be a bit disorienting, since trams will use the loop as a balloon, and often you can go in either direction and find yourself back where you started and pointed in the opposite direction.
Old trams on display at Beaux Arts metro station. Lumix LX7 photo.
Old trams on display at Beaux Arts metro station. Lumix LX7 photo.
Old trams on display at Beaux Arts metro station. Lumix LX7 photo.
Old trams on display at Beaux Arts metro station. Lumix LX7 photo.

Compared with Manchester Metrolink’s slick very modern trams and stations. Charleroi’s pre-metro reminded me more of contemporary transit efforts I’ve found in the old Eastern Bloc; it is characterized by Spartan boxy-looking trams and cavernous underground stations with vast amounts of poured concrete. Above ground things are brighter.

While functional and enjoyable to ride, it lacks the glitz and polish of many modern tram systems, especially those in France, and on a whole the system seemed a bit rough around the edges (as is the city and its suburbs.) On the plus side many of the stations are decorated with commissioned modern art, which adds a bit of charm.

Yet, photographically, Charleroi offered fascinating contrasts, making it far more interesting to me than I’d though it would be. Definitely worth a return visit someday!

TEC tram interior. Photographed with a Lumix LX7.
TEC tram interior. Photographed with a Lumix LX7.
Artwork at the transit transfer station in Madelein. Lumix LX7 photo.
Artwork at the transit transfer station in Madelein. Lumix LX7 photo.
Artwork at the transit transfer station in Madelein. Lumix LX7 photo.
Artwork at the transit transfer station in Madelein. Lumix LX7 photo.
An extension to the Charleroi suburb of  Gosselies features lots of street running. Lumix LX7 photo.
An extension to the Charleroi suburb of Gosselies features lots of street running. Lumix LX7 photo.
Waterloo Station, Charleroi, Belgium in August 2014.
Waterloo Station, Charleroi, Belgium in August 2014.

I’m saving the best for last: stay tuned tomorrow for street running and a photographic foray on old interurban trackage to Anderlues!

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