Tag Archives: SNCB

SNCB at Brussels Midi 22 Years Ago!

Upon arrival from Köln, Germany On this day, 25 May 1996, my father and I made photographs in the rain at Brussels Midi.

I’ve since returned to Brussels on many occasions when the weather has been more hospitable.

Brussels is among the cities profiles in my new book Brian Solomon’s Railway Guide to Europe, now available from Kalmbach Books/Kalmbach Hobby Store.

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I Visited SNCB’s Antwerp Central Station on this day in 2016.

 

It was on this day, 25 April 2016, almost, 20 years after my first visit to Antwerp Central, I made the opportunity to revisit this amazing European railway palace.

SNCB’s (Belgian National Railway) Antwerp Central had been completely transformed since my 1996 visit (while traveling from Brussels to Amsterdam with my dad).

It now features tracks on three levels, including a through line at the lowest level.

Steel and glass train shed at Antwerp Central Station on 25 April 2016. Lumix LX7 photo.

 

Lowest level of Antwerp Central.

 

A through Amsterdam to Brussels train arrives on the lowest of three levels. Photo adjusted in Lightroom to compensate for contrast and colour saturation.

In my railway travels across Belgium, I’ve photographed at Antwerp Central on a half dozen occasions over the years, and the station remains one of my favorite.

These photographs were exposed digitally with my Lumix LX7, which is an ideal tool for making urban images.

Antwerp is among the cities featured in my new Railway Guide to Europe published by Kalmbach Publishing.

Click here to order Brian Solomon’s Railway Guide to Europe.

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I exposed the cover photo in Germany’s Rhein Valley using my FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm lens.

 

 

 

Bruxelles Central/Brussel Centraal (Brussels Central Station)

Brussels Central Station features six tracks below ground, with an art deco styled station building above ground.

It lies between Brussels two main termini; Nord/Noord (North) and Midi/Zuid (South).

The incongruity in names and spellings is a function of Belgium’s two primary languages (French and Flemish) combined with the tendency of the English language to rename places without consideration for local spelling or pronunciation.

During my most recent visit to Belgium I made a couple of visits to Belgium’s main stations. While not strictly photographic ventures, I always plan to make photographs during the course of my travels.

Opportunity taken on site can save a lot of running around later on.

If you are interested in railway stations consider my book: Railway Depots, Stations and Terminals published by Voyageur Press.

SNCB is a very busy railway and Brussels Central handles a tide of trains at rushour.

This sign represents the Flemish spelling for the station.

Photos exposed using my Panasonic Lumix LX7.

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Belgium’s Train World.

Located adjacent to the SNCB lines at Schaarbeek (on the north side of Brussels), Train World is Belgium’s premier railway museum.

I visited last week, having arrived by train from the Brussels suburbs. I’d bought my museum ticket in conjunction with my SNCB fare.

City trams also serve the museum.

You enter Train World from the old railway station building, which has been beautifully restored. Beyond are a series of train halls, that display the history of Belgian railways using real equipment: locomotives, railway rolling stock, signals, literature, signage, etc.

It’s well worth a visit.

Photos exposed using my Lumix LX7

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Hidden Treasures: Preserved Locomotives at Saint Ghislain, Belgium; Don’t miss Brian’s Exposure Guide for old Locomotive sheds.

Locked away in an old locomotive shed at Saint Ghislain, Belgium are a wonderful collection of historic SNCB locomotives maintained by Patrimoine Ferroviare et Tourisme. See: http://www.pfttsp.be/index.php/fr/

Mauno Pajunen organized a visit to this collection and provided translation while Rousman Phillippe offered a guided tour.

I was most impressed by the semi-streamlined stainless-steel clad electric (SNCB 1805) that formerly worked TEE international services and by the Baldwin diesel locomotive built under license.

Until my visit the to the shed at Saint Guislain, I'd only seen this class of locomotive in old photos. The pitched cab profile and stainless-steel side panels are very pleasing. They just don't style locomotives like this anymore!
Until my visit the to the shed at Saint Guislain, I’d only seen this class of locomotive in old photos. The pitched cab profile and stainless-steel side panels are very pleasing. They just don’t style locomotives like this anymore!

SNCB_historic_loco_Saint_Ghislain_DSCF6294

Photographing in a locomotive shed such as this one requires special technique.

If you just let the in-camera meter do the work you will get under-exposed (dark) images such as this. Why? Because the camera meter is trying to balance the scene for the window which leads to overall under-exposure. Action on the photographer is necessary on-site to avoid this problem.
If you just let the in-camera meter do the work you will get under-exposed (dark) images such as this. Why? Because the camera meter is trying to balance the scene for the window which leads to overall under-exposure. Action on the photographer is necessary on-site to avoid this problem.

Direct and indirect lighting from skylights in the roof and large side windows results in extreme contrast with lower regions of the locomotives bathed in darkness that tends to confuse the in-camera light meter. (A meter doesn’t know what your subject is and only provides a balanced reading and doesn’t work in this situation.)

If you are not careful you may end up with an unacceptably dark result. (see above).

By manually controlling the exposure you can compensate for the effect of windows and skylights, thus creating a more pleasing exposure inside the shed.
By manually controlling the exposure you can compensate for the effect of windows and skylights, thus creating a more pleasing exposure inside the shed.

My solution is relatively simple: manually over-expose in range of 2/3s of a stop to 1 stop, and then control highlight detail in post processing.

The easiest way to do this with a digital camera is used a manual mode and then watch the suggested exposure settings offered by the built in meter and then add 2/3s to 1 stop to the recommended value. Thus if the meter suggests exposing a f2.8 at 1/60th of second, open up the aperture to nearly f2.0 without changing the shutter speed.

Another way of doing this is by adjusting the meter to over expose by 2/3 or 1 full stop. Each camera has its own means of doing this.

In my case, I set the ISO to 400, so my average exposure was f4.5 1/60 of a second (camera meter was recommending f5.6 to f6.3, which would have resulted in an unacceptably dark image).

SNCB_historic_loco_Saint_Ghislain_DSCF6338

I adjusted my exposure from scene to scene, while tending toward overexposure based on the meter setting and carefully gauging the histogram to avoid loosing data in the shadow areas.

SNCB_historic_loco_Saint_Ghislain_DSCF6316

Since the highlights of the outside windows and skylights are not important to the overall scene, it isn’t a problem to allow for a loss of detail in these areas.

After exposure, I adjusted the files in post-processing to bring the mid-tones and shadow areas to an expected level.

SNCB_historic_loco_Saint_Ghislain_DSCF6319

This was one of my favorites: a Baldwin diesel built under license. Careful exposure allowed for adequate detail of the trucks and underbody.
This was one of my favorites: a Baldwin diesel built under license. Careful exposure allowed for adequate detail of the trucks and underbody.

SNCB_Baldwin_historic_loco_Saint_Ghislain_DSCF6300

The boiler was outside.
The boiler was outside.
Wide angle close up of Walschearts valve gear. Old Egide was a Belgian after all!
Wide angle close up of Walschearts valve gear. Old Egide was a Belgian after all!

SNCB_historic_loco_Saint_Ghislain_DSCF6314

Another trick is working in confined spaces. For these images I used a super wide-angle lens, specifically a Zeiss 12mm Touit, which I purchased specifically for photography in settings such engine sheds, signal towers and locomotive cabs.

 

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The end of the line for SNCB! A Dozen photos at Quiévrain.

International borders are often bad for railways.

An invisible political boundary (the dashed line on a map) can prove a greater obstacle than a towering mountain range when it comes to impeding railway operations.

In mid-April, my Irish friends and I explored the Gotthard Pass, where massive investment will soon make the old line over the mountain redundant as the new 35.5 mile Basistunnel beneath the Alps will divert most of the through traffic.

A week later I was exploring the border area between northern France and Belgian Wallonia with Mauno Pajunen.

This is in an area of relatively dense population that was once the center of a thriving coal mining community. Quiévrain, Belgium is a town located an hour or so from Brussels and is relatively near to large French cities of Lille and Paris.

The tree growing out of the roof of the old station is indicative the sad state of the railway here.
The tree growing out of the roof of the old station is indicative the sad state of the railway here.
Despite the poor state of the facilities, SNCB continues to provide a relatively frequent passenger service to Quiévrain. Electric trains offer an inexpensive and comfortable way to travel to Mons and Brussels where connections are available to many other cities across the country.
Despite the poor state of the facilities, SNCB continues to provide a relatively frequent passenger service to Quiévrain. Electric trains offer an inexpensive and comfortable way to travel to Mons and Brussels where connections are available to many other cities across the country.

Generally speaking SNCB (Belgian National Railways) provides an excellent service across Belgium, with most stations seeing at least an hourly passenger service and many lines operating with an even greater frequency.

Lumix LX7 photo.
Lumix LX7 photo.

At one time a through railway line connected Belgian cities of Brussels and Mons with the French city of Valenciennes via Quiévrain . Today, SNCB continues to operate a regular interval passenger service from Brussels to Mons with some trains continuing south to Saint Ghislain and Quiévrain.

But Quiévrain is the end of the line and the state of the station area is a sad reflection of better times now long gone.

This was once a handsome station.
This was once a handsome station.

 

Evidence of the old line remains and the tracks are still in place (although no longer connected).

The town is divided between Belgium and France, with the French town being called Quiéverchain. Differences in the price of tabacco and alcohol between the two countries has led to a thriving business on the Belgian side of the border.

Here we are at the French-Belgian frontier which divides the town of Quiéverchain/Quiévrain. Good luck getting through the place by rail!
Here we are at the French-Belgian frontier which divides the town of Quiéverchain/Quiévrain. Good luck getting through the place by rail!
Oh dear! The connecting stink buggy has arrived.
Oh dear! The connecting stink buggy has arrived.
SNCB provides excellent signage at stations.
SNCB provides excellent signage at stations.

It had been many years since you could take a train directly from Mons to Valencienes.

In theory, you can ride from Brussels to Valenciennes via a change of trains at Lille, but this is the long way around and impractical for regular travelers.

The end of the line for SNCB! (but the tracks once continued into France.)
The end of the line for SNCB! (but the tracks once continued into France.)

SNCB_Quievrain_P1450197

Elsewhere in Europe cross-border services have flourished, yet the end of track at Quiévrain clearly demonstrates how borders create barriers between population centers that need not exist.

Soon you will be able to travel faster than ever before from Zurich to Milan, but not by rail from Mons to Valenciennes!

Only a short walk from the end of track will reveal the old line that once continued across the border. A ghost from another era.
Only a short walk from the end of track will reveal evidence of the old line that once continued across the border. A ghost from another era.
I find disused railways sad, yet fascinating. Like discovering evidence of a forgotten empire.
I find disused railways sad, yet fascinating. Like discovering evidence of a forgotten empire.

Mons to Monson and Back (via Virtual Time Machine).

On October 1st, 2015, I arrived at Mons, Belgium by SNCB Train from Brussels. It was my first time in this southwestern Belgian City, and my impressions were skewed by the fact that the entire railway station was a construction zone.

Mons was only a brief layover for me, as I was traveling to Valenciennes, France (just over the frontier) to give my talk on railway photography to the European Railway Agency.

My host Mauno Pajunen explained that the Mons station had been under construction for several years and that the classic old station building had been demolished to make way for a modern facility.

Since I had a few minutes, I made a few photos of the railway at Mons, but with very little context to guide me; it seemed to be just a jumble of catentary masts, wires, temporary platforms, cranes, cables, concrete and steel.

Looking west at Mons, Belgium. Construction everywhere! Nice bright day though. Lumix LX7 photo.
Looking west at Mons, Belgium. Construction everywhere! Nice bright day though. Lumix LX7 photo.
A Seimens electric at Mons with an SNCB passenger train. Belgian railways provide an excellent service with trains operating every few minutes. Sadly, there's no direct cross boarder service with France.
A Seimens electric at Mons with an SNCB passenger train. Belgian railways provide an excellent service with trains operating every few minutes. Sadly, there’s no direct cross border service to France.
An antique in modern dress!
An antique in modern dress!
AnSNCB 300 series EMU pauses at Mons. Lumix LX7 photo.
An SNCB 300 series EMU pauses at Mons. Lumix LX7 photo.
All the brightness and construction somehow reminded me of California in the 1990s.
All the brightness and construction somehow reminded me of California in the 1990s.

A week later I was back in Monson, Massachusetts, after some complex and intensive travel involving four countries, a half dozen trains, a fair few trams, two aeroplanes, several buses, and a bit of driving.

55 years earlier my father and Jack May had visited Mons on their wanders around Europe. On arrival back in Monson, I searched the slide collection for some context. Here is one of the slides my father exposed on Kodachrome.

My father, Richard Jay Solomon exposed this view at Mons of SNCV trams near the railway station using a Kodak Retina 3C and Kodachrome slide film. Mons doesn't look like this any more. The trams are long gone, and place is a construction site. Back then you could also get a train across the border!
My father, Richard Jay Solomon exposed this view at Mons of SNCV trams near the railway station using a Kodak Retina 3C and Kodachrome slide film. Mons doesn’t look like this any more. The trams are long gone, and place is a construction site. Back then you could also get a train across the border!

Well, at least on my visit the sun was out!

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SNCB at Villers Abbey, 2 October 2015

Riding in the eerie glow of dusk from Charleroi to Ottignies, my SNCB (Belgian Railways) train passes the romantic ruins of a medieval abbey.

I looked this location up on line and learned that it was called the Villers Abbey, and is a popular attraction in the Wallonia region of Belgium.

The next day, I returned by road with some friends who lived nearby to expose these photographs.

The old abbey makes for a fascinating subject, while the railway provides added interest.

Villers Abbey, FujiFilm X-T1 photo.
Villers Abbey, FujiFilm X-T1 photo.
Villers Abbey, FujiFilm X-T1 photo.
Villers Abbey, FujiFilm X-T1 photo.
Villers Abbey, FujiFilm X-T1 photo.
Villers Abbey, FujiFilm X-T1 photo.

Perhaps I’d been living under a rock, but I’d never heard of this place before. It’s certainly one of the more interesting places to photograph trains in Belgium.

Elevation is available on the east side.

Low evening sun suited the environment. Yet, I think a foggy morning might offer an even more evocative atmosphere. Someday, I’ll have to try it again!

Villers Abbey, FujiFilm X-T1 photo.
Villers Abbey, FujiFilm X-T1 photo
Which is a more compelling image? The train in distance, or up close?
Which is a more compelling image? The train in the distance, or up close?

SNCB_train_Railway_Line_Villers_Abbey_2_DSCF3457

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Charleroi—40 Minutes of Nice Light

I’ve passed through Charleroi, Belgium at various occasions over the years. For me it is a place similar to Newark, New Jersey.

Like Newark: Charleroi offers connections between transportation modes and is the location of an important secondary airport and  has a light rail-subway that blends an historic network with modern construction.
Also, both city’s environments are characterized by post-industrial backdrops.

On Thursday, October 1st, a change of trains at Charleroi afforded me a 40-minute window to make photos. Rich polarized sun at the end of the day made for some nice lighting to capture the city’s trams and SNCB trains.

SNCB station at  Charleroi  Sud. Lumix LX7 photo.
SNCB station at Charleroi Sud. Lumix LX7 photo.
TEX Tram at Charleroi Sud. Lumix LX7 photo.
TEX Tram at Charleroi Sud. Lumix LX7 photo.
TEC tram catches a wink of sun on 1 October 2015. FujiFilm X-T1 photo.
TEC tram catches a wink of sun on 1 October 2015. FujiFilm X-T1 photo.
SNCB station at Charleroi Sud. Lumix LX7 photo.
SNCB station at Charleroi Sud. Lumix LX7 photo.
SNCB station at Charleroi Sud. Lumix LX7 photo.
SNCB station at Charleroi Sud. Lumix LX7 photo.
My train to Ottignie at the SNCB station at Charleroi Sud. Lumix LX7 photo.
My train to Ottignie at the SNCB station at Charleroi Sud. Lumix LX7 photo.

Low sun offers contrast and rich lighting that is well suited to making dramatic railway images.

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A Visit to the European Railway Agency—October 1, 2015.

Yesterday I traveled by SNCB (Belgian Railways) train from La Hulpe in suburban Brussels to Mons near the French frontier where I was collected by Mauno Pajunen. We drove to the European Railway Agency’s HQ at Valenciennes where I presented my illustrated talk on railway photography.

I made a few final adjustments to my program in Power Point on the train to Mons. Lumix LX7 photo (Photo on the computer is an image of the Southern Pacific on Donner Pass exposed with my old Leica M2).
I made a few final adjustments to my program in Power Point while traveling on the train to Mons. Lumix LX7 photo (Photo on the computer is an image of the Southern Pacific on Donner Pass exposed with my old Leica M2).
ERA's offices at Valenciennes.
ERA’s offices at Valenciennes.
Here I am at the ERA in Valenciennes, France.
Here I am at the ERA in Valenciennes, France. Photo by Mauno Pajunen with my Lumix LX7.

I had an enthusiastic and receptive audience. In addition to displaying about 90 images from my lap top using a digital projection system, I showed off the demonstration copy of my new book Railway Depots, Stations and Terminals and explained the virtues of my three primary cameras.

My audience had some excellent questions, which I did my best to answer.

It was a bright clear afternoon, and after the talk my host  Mauno Pajunen gave me a tour of railways in Valenciennes.

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SNCB at Schaerbeek—Film and Digital.

Why limit yourself to one media, when you can use two? Enjoy the best of both, go nuts.

Or, as the case maybe, slip across the street for a glass of Jupiler at the Le Cheval de Fer (The Iron Horse).

That was my call any way. I visited Schaarbeek/Schaerbeek at the end of March.

Restored railway station at Schaerbeek/Schaarbeek in Brussels, Belgium. Exposed with a Lumix LX7.
Restored railway station at Schaerbeek/Schaarbeek in Brussels, Belgium. Exposed with a Lumix LX7.

Schaerbeek is a large station in suburban Brussels. Out front is a tram terminus where modern Flexity trams gather between runs. The station building is a classic, and just recently restored. The railway themed pub is nearby and in sight of the station.

This bizarrely adorned tram was paused at the Schaerbeek tram terminus. Where was it going? I jumped on and went for a spin. An hour later I was a Lancaster. Didn't look like Pennsylvania to me, but hey! (By the way, that's Le Cheval de Fer to the right of the tram.) Lumix LX7 photo.
This bizarrely adorned tram was paused at the Schaerbeek tram terminus. Where was it going? I jumped on and went for a spin. An hour later I was at Lancaster. Didn’t look like Pennsylvania to me, but hey! (By the way, that’s Le Cheval de Fer to the right of the tram.) Lumix LX7 photo.

SNCB is the Belgian national railway and it runs a lot of trains. While most trains don’t stop at Schaerbeek, there’s no shortage of action. In just a few minutes, I’d caught a variety of equipment passing.

Since I had three cameras and sunlight, I made the most of my brief time at this railway nexus.

Before long, pictures exposed and beer consumed, I was rolling along through cobble stone streets on one of the aforementioned Flexity trams.

Schaerbeek/Schaarbeek station exposed on Provia 100F with a Canon EOS 3 fitted with 40mm pancake lens.
Schaerbeek/Schaarbeek station exposed on Provia 100F with a Canon EOS 3 fitted with 40mm pancake lens. Slide digitized with a Epson V600 flatbed scanner.
Detail view of the station exposed with my Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera.
Detail view of the station exposed with my Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera.
Detail made with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera.
Detail made with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera.
At the north end of a station platform I exposed this classic view of a Class 27 SNCB electric leading a passenger train. exposed on Provia 100F with a Canon EOS 3 fitted with 40mm pancake lens. Slide digitized with a Epson V600 flatbed scanner.
At the north end of a station platform I exposed this classic view of a Class 27 SNCB electric leading a passenger train. exposed on Provia 100F with a Canon EOS 3 fitted with 40mm pancake lens. Slide digitized with a Epson V600 flatbed scanner.
Trailing view exposed digitally using my Fujifilm X-T1 camera.
Trailing view exposed digitally using my Fujifilm X-T1 camera.
Where are we again? Fujifilm X-T1 photo.
Where are we again? Fujifilm X-T1 photo.
Another Class 27, this viewed from under the old station canopies. Fuji X-T1 photo.
Another Class 27, this viewed from under the old station canopies. Fuji X-T1 photo.

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A Dozen New Photos: Antwerpen Centraal‑Part 2.

Fuji X-T1 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Fuji X-T1 photo.

Among my recent book projects is an illustrated examination of railway station architecture to be published by Voyageur Press later this year. This is an excerpt of my text:

Today’s Antwerpen-Centraal is a blend of architect Louis de la Censerie’s elaborate and elegantly adorned station building and spacious balloon-style shed with two modern new levels. The lowest level provides through connections to the north. The original station opened in 1898, while the improved and expanded modern terminal reopened in 2007.

I revisited this railway wonder of the modern world at the end of March 2015. Yesterday I presented a few interpretive images, today I present an more literal collection of images.

Antwerp Central Station—Fuji X-T1 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Fuji X-T1 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Fuji X-T1 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Fuji X-T1 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Fuji X-T1 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Fuji X-T1 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Fuji X-T1 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Fuji X-T1 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Lumix LX7 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Lumix LX7 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Lumix LX7 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Lumix LX7 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Lumix LX7 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Lumix LX7 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Lumix LX7 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Lumix LX7 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Fuji X-T1 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Fuji X-T1 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Lumix LX7 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Lumix LX7 photo.

Antwerpen_Centraal_station_325_DSCF4687

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Antwerpen Centraal—Reflections March 2015.

Both in the literal and the metaphorical: these photos depict my recent visit to one of Europe’s most elegant railway terminals.

Exposed in Antwerp, Belgium with a Fuji Film X-T1 digital camera.
Exposed in Antwerp, Belgium with a Fuji Film X-T1 digital camera.
Exposed in Antwerp, Belgium with a Fuji Film X-T1 digital camera.
Exposed in Antwerp, Belgium with a Fuji Film X-T1 digital camera.
Exposed in Antwerp, Belgium with a Fuji Film X-T1 digital camera.
Exposed in Antwerp, Belgium with a Fuji Film X-T1 digital camera.
Exposed in Antwerp, Belgium with a Fuji Film X-T1 digital camera.
Exposed in Antwerp, Belgium with a Fuji Film X-T1 digital camera.

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La Hulpe Station at Night, March 2015.

On an evening last week, using my Lumix LX-7, I exposed this time exposure of Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Belges’s (Belgian National Railways or SNCB) Gare de La Hulpe.

This railway line is being transformed from double track mainline line to a quad track line to facilitate an improved suburban service akin to the Paris RER.

Exposed using a Panasonic Lumix LX7 set at ISO 80 at f1.7 for 5 seconds.
Exposed using a Panasonic Lumix LX7 set at ISO 80 at f1.7 for 5 seconds.

To make this image, I rested the camera on the bridge railing, exposed a pair of trial exposures to gauge the lighting conditions, then set the camera (shutter speed and aperture) manually to allow for sufficient exposure of the sky and shadow areas.

As previously mentioned on Tracking the Light, to make successful night photos it is important to give the scene sufficient exposure (usually 2/3s of a stop more than allocated by many built-in camera meter settings), while keep the camera steady for the duration of the exposure. Keeping flare to a minimum is also helpful.

See related articles:

Charleroi to La Hulpe. 

Lumix LX-3—part 2: Existing Light Digital Night Shots.

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Ottignies—13 Minutes to Change Trains

Making the Most of It.

Belgium’s Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Belges (Belgian National Railways or SNCB) operates a top-notch passenger network with interval frequencies on most routes. This works on a hub and spoke system, where planned changes allow passengers a great variety of destinations.

New EMUs bask in the sun at Ottignies on an August 2014 evening. Lumix LX7 photo with the 'Vivid' colour profile.
New EMUs bask in the sun at Ottignies on an August 2014 evening. Lumix LX7 photo with the ‘Vivid’ colour profile.

On an August 2014 evening, I arrived at Ottignies from Charleroi on my way to La Hulpe in the Brussels suburbs. My journey itinerary gave me 13 minutes to change from one train to another.

Ottignies is an old school station with traditional platforms and canopies. While this can’t last forever, I’ll take its situation as a blessing. Refurbished stations are fine for passenger utility, but offer less in the way visual character.

Since I’d changed here previously, I had a sense for where the light would be.

That’s right! I had precisely 13-minutes to make photographs, and I was prepared to make the most of it! (And yes, I exposed some colour slides too. You know, for the record.)

My Lumix has an HDR (high dynamic range) feature that takes a rapid fire sequence of three images and blends them in camera. This increases highlight and shadow definition and produces more even contrast. The subject(s) need to be static however or the feature doesn't work so well.
My Lumix has an HDR (high dynamic range) feature that takes a rapid fire sequence of three images and blends them in camera. This increases highlight and shadow definition and produces more even contrast. The subject(s) need to be static however or the feature doesn’t work so well.
New sign with old canopies and platforms, a good compromise. An old General Motors powered diesel lurks in the yard beyond. Lumix LX7 photo.
New sign with old canopies and platforms, a good compromise. An old General Motors powered diesel lurks in the yard beyond. Lumix LX7 photo.
Well now this is a bonus. An old SNCB class 55 diesel with a Colas ballast cleaner. Lumix LX7 photo.
Well now this is a bonus. An old SNCB class 55 diesel with a Colas ballast cleaner. Lumix LX7 photo.
Colas is a company with a hand in many businesses. They run trains in the UK too.
Colas is a company with a hand in many businesses. They run trains in the UK too.
This high contrast scene made for a perfect opportunity to test the capabilities of the HDR feature. I think it did a respectable job of holding detail while balancing contrast. Lumix LX7 in HDR 'scene mode'.
This high contrast scene made for a perfect opportunity to test the capabilities of the HDR feature. I think it did a respectable job of holding detail while balancing contrast. Lumix LX7 in HDR ‘scene mode’.
Ottignies is a busy station. As I was focused on the ballast cleaning train, a southward InterCity train arrived. I made a colour slide of it as it glided to a stop then repositioned for this view with my Lumix in HDR 'scene mode'.
Ottignies is a busy station. As I was focused on the ballast cleaning train, a southward InterCity train arrived. I made a colour slide of it as it glided to a stop then repositioned for this view with my Lumix in HDR ‘scene mode’.
I reverted to the Vivid colour profile without the benefit of HDR for this low angle view of this SNCB class 18. This is a Siemens Vectron and the same basic locomotive design that Amtrak is now using on the North East Corridor. Lumix LX7 photo.
I reverted to the Vivid colour profile without the benefit of HDR for this low angle view of this SNCB class 18. This is a Siemens Vectron — the same basic locomotive design that Amtrak is now using on the North East Corridor. Lumix LX7 photo.
My train arrived and I took a seat on the upper deck. This was a contrast from the old single-level electric that I'd traveled on up from Charleroi. I was heading toward Brussels in the rush hour, so I was moving counter flow. Lumix LX7 photo at Ottignies, Belgium.
My train arrived and I took a seat on the upper deck. This was a contrast from the old single-level electric that I’d traveled on up from Charleroi. I was heading toward Brussels in the rush hour, so I was moving counter flow. Lumix LX7 photo at Ottignies, Belgium.

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Take a Ride on the SNCB

Charleroi to La Hulpe.

My time in Charleroi had come to a close. My next destination was La Hulpe in the suburbs south of Brussels. While I anticipated taking an Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Belges (Belgian National Railways or SNCB) train to Brussels and changing trains there, the ticket seller convinced me to try another option.

“It’s cheaper and faster to travel to Ottignies.” Ok, why not.

When I went up to platform 3A at Charleroi Sud, what appeared to be the oldest train in Belgium rattled in to collect me. I ended up riding a line I previously didn’t even have on my map (this turns out to be line 140).

While the train’s inside was nicely refurbished, it retained openable windows, a rare treat in today’s world of train travel.

No sooner than I boarded the train and the rain began, again. But after a while the sun came out and so I made a series of images using my Lumix LX7, which I was able to hold out the window at arms-length  while keeping a sharp eye on the rear display screen.

Exposed with a Lumix LX7 with built in neutral density filter engaged, 1/3 second at f8, 80 ISO. Handheld with aid of built in image stabilizer. Looking away from the direction of travel.
Exposed with a Lumix LX7 with built in neutral density filter engaged, 1/3 second at f8, 80 ISO. Handheld with aid of built in image stabilizer. Looking away from the direction of travel.

Among the Lumix LX7s features are a built in neutral density filter and image stabilizer. This allowed me to make relatively long exposures in bright daylight while keeping the camera steady.

SNCB’s track is flawless, and the heavy aged train provided a solid, nearly vibration-free ride, allowing me to expose a series photos using long shutter speeds intended to blur the tracks and countryside while keeping the train sharp.

Hooray for old trains on good track!

Exposed for 1/8 second at f8, 80 ISO with neutral density filter. The ND filter cuts the exposure by two full stops, so without it my exposure time would have been about 1/30 of a second. Enough for a bit of blur, but not enough for the appropriate effect.
Exposed for 1/8 second at f8, 80 ISO with neutral density filter. The ND filter cuts the exposure by two full stops, so without it my exposure time would have been about 1/30 of a second. Enough for a bit of blur, but not enough for the appropriate effect.

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Brian’s Belgian Rail Marathon, Liege and Beyond

Getting the most from My SNCB ‘Railpass’.

At Leige (Liège-Guillemins) I boarded an InterCity train for Brussels and glided along in comfort along perfectly maintained track. At Bruxelles-Nord/Brussel-Noord (French and Flemish names appear randomly applied to Brussels stations—so far as I can tell) I changed to another express, this one destined for Antwerp.

View from the train, Belgium.
Gazing east from a westward SNCB InterCity train bound for Brussels. Lumix LX3 photo.

I was aiming for Antwerpen Noorderdokken, a location I explored in March, where freight trains access the port of Antwerp. Another change of trains at Antwerp Central brought me to this station. As I walked toward my desired photo angle, I noticed a dark wall of clouds rolling in off the North Sea. (It had been clear and cloudless at Liege!)

Yet, I managed to photograph six freights before the sun vanished—mission accomplished. Boarding my eighth train of the day, I aimed to ride around Antwerp and then back toward Brussels.

By the end of the day, I’d visited eight locations and traveled on ten trains. Not too shabby for the first day of my August visit to Belgium.

Freight train.
A French freight diesel leads a container train from the Port of Antwerp near Antwerpen Noorderdokken. Canon EOS 7D photo.
Electric freight train, Belgium.
Belgian Class 13 electrics crawl along with an empty freight train near Antwerpen Noorderdokken. Canon EOS 7D photo.
Electric freight.
SNCB class 28 electrics lead a train of tanks from the Port of Antwerpen. Canon EOS 7D.
Train with dark clouds.
Dark clouds rolling off the North Sea signal the time to head back toward the station. Canon 7D photo.

 

SNCB passenger train.
Departing Antwerpen Noorderdokken on a local train, another SNCB passenger train was rolling along on an adjacent track. Lumix LX3 photo.
SNCB Class 27 electric at speed.
Many SNCB passenger trains work with locomotives at both ends. Here a class 27 electric works the back of a train accelerating toward Antwerp Central. I’m on a local that will run around Antwerp on a different route. Lumix LX3.

 

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Magnificent Modern Railway Station at Liege, Belgium.

 

Calatrava’s Railway Masterpiece.

Calatrava's Liege Station.
Calatrava’s magnificent railway station at Liege is one of the finest modern structures in Europe. Lumix LX3 photo.

To my total surprise and delight, Liege (Liège-Guillemins) has been completely transformed since my last visit  in August of 1998— when I paused to change trains from Bonn, Germany to Charleroi. I remember a dreary, tired and uninspired railway station and it was this facility I was expecting.

I admit, the new station had completely escaped my notice until that moment when I got off the train last week. I must have missed the memos, the parades and fireworks that certainly must have announced the opening of such a spectacular railway facility back in September 2009.

Calatrava designed station at Liege.
Liege station in August 2013. This graceful canopy was opened in September 2009. Lumix LX3 photo.

The station largely consists of modern vaulted canopy spanning five railway platforms. Designed by prolific Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava it is constructed of steel, concrete and glass, and makes for a very positive railway experience.

The canopy softens the sun while maintaining a bright environment to watch and photograph the passage of trains. Exposures must be made carefully, because the large white structure tends to fool camera meters in the same way of a bright snowy day.

I found it necessary to overexpose (add more light) by about 2/3s of a stop above what the camera meter had recommended.

Incidentally, Calatrava also designed two Dublin bridges over the Liffey; the Joyce Bridge near Heuston Station, and the Samuel Becket Bridge in the Docklands, both of which I’ve often photographed.

Liege Station
The new SNCB Station at Liege is a total contrast with the dreary postwar facility it replaced. LX3 photo.
Calatrava designed station at Liege, Belgium.
This memorizing structure compels photography from every angle. Yet, exposures must be calculated carefully or the proliferation of white and skylight can result in an underexposed (dark) image). LX3 photo.
Calatrava designed station at Liege, Belgium.
When exposing for trains under the canopy, I found it necessary to manually override the camera meter by dialing in a 2/3s stop over exposure compensation or make manual equivalent based on the in-camera meter. Canon EOS  7D photo.
Calatrava designed station at Liege, Belgium.
I had just half an hour to wander around this amazing station. I was impressed, and hope to return some evening to photograph it in a post sunset glow. Lumix LX3 photo.
Liège-Guillemins
SNCB InerCity train arriving at Liège-Guillemins. LX3 photo.

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Brian’s Belgian Rail Marathon—August 2013.

 

Making Use of an SNCB ‘Railpass’ Ticket.

Does Belgium offer one western Europe’s best-kept secret railway experiences?

Belgian passenger train
Interior of the upper level on a double-deck SNCB train. Exposed with my Lumix LX3.
Railway station.
SNCB station entrance at Ottignies, Belgium in August 2013. Lumix LX3 photo.

In 1835, Belgium was first on the Continent to adopt the steam railway. It subsequently developed one of the densest railway networks in Europe. Today, (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Belges—Belgian National Railways) operates one of the best national networks.

Although, often overlooked in favor of more scenic countries, Belgium is a great place to ride trains. I’ll be honest, while I’d made a few trips to Belgium in the 1990s, in recent years I’d generally ignored it in favor of other places. Recently, I’ve been stunned to find what a pleasant place it is to ride trains.

The railway is well integrated with other modes. Services run frequently on regular intervals across the network. On most routes there’s a good mix of local and express trains. The equipment is varied and generally comfortable, and the staff are very professional, courteous, helpful, and smartly dressed.

On the downside, I found that some stations, especially un-staffed smaller ones, were neglected and in a poor state and this tended to detract from the overall experience. By contrast, other stations were in very nice shape.

I’ve made two trips to Belgium this year. Last week (August 2013), I made good use of a 10-ride ‘Railpass’ ticket that I purchased for 76 Euro back in March.

This is an open-ended ticket where you write in your starting station and destination with date of travel for each journey. From my experience its an excellent value, and especially valuable for wandering.

My goal was to make a circular trip to explore potential photographic locations while traveling lines I’d not previously experienced.

SNCB class 18 electric.
Platform level view of an SNCB class 18 electric at Ottignies, Belgium. Lumix LX3 photo.

Beginning in a southern Brussels suburb, I rode south via Ottignies (see yesterday’s post) and Namur to Marloie, and then eastward over a scenic secondary line to a small station called Esneux, where I spent an hour making photos.

From Esneux, I rode northward to Leige, where I found a stunning surprise . . .

(To be continued . . .)

SNCB electric passenger train.
My train to Esneux arriving at Marloie, a small station in southern Belgium. I appear to be on the wrong platform! (Its a good thing SNCB makes prolonged station stops). LX3 photo.
Train interior.
SNCB electric multiple unit interior. Large windows and spacious comfortable seat compensate for a basic functional design. Lumix LX3 photo.

 

Railway station in Belgium.
SNCB station at Esneux, Belgium, August 2013. Lumix LX3 photo.

 

SNCB station at Esneux, Belgium, August 2013. Lumix LX3 photo.
SNCB station at Esneux, Belgium, August 2013. Lumix LX3 photo.

 

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SNCB at Ottignies, Belgium, August 16, 2013

 Compare Two Views of a Northward Express Train.

On the morning of August 16, 2013, I was changing trains at Ottignies, a suburban station south of Brussels on the line toward Luxembourg. I had just under an hour to explore and make photos.

For many ordinary passengers, I expect that changing trains is a purgatorial experience, but I’ve always found that is a great time to make photos and helps break up the journey. Such was the case this day.

The sky was bright and blue, and Ottignies was entirely new to me. The station has several platforms, and at regular intervals trains converge to allow passengers to change from one train to another. In addition it serves the local population.

I made this pair of photographs of a northward express train led by a SNCB (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Belges—Belgian National Railways) class 13 electric. What impressed me about this location was the slight jog in the track on approach to the station and the immense proportions of the overhead footbridge, which combined give the image greater depth.

SNCB Ottignies.

A SNCB class 13 electric leads a Brussels-bound express passenger train through the station at Ottignies, Belgium on August 16, 2013. Exposed with a Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 100mm telephoto. Both images required nominal contrast adjustment in post processing.
A SNCB class 13 electric leads a Brussels-bound express passenger train through the station at Ottignies, Belgium on August 16, 2013. Exposed with a Canon EOS 7D with f2.8 100mm telephoto. Both images required nominal contrast adjustment in post processing.

My quandary in editing is deciding which of the two photos I prefer. The first offers a view with signals and more of the footbridge, while the second is more focused on the locomotive and train.

Both were exposed digitally with my Canon EOS 7D and 100mm lens. The train was moving swiftly and I had only moments to make my composition before it blitzed the platforms.

 

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Railway Cathedral Antwerpen Centraal, March 22, 2013

 

Belgium’s jewel is among Europe’s most magnificent railway terminals.

Antwerpen Centraal, Belgium on March 22, 2013. Lumix LX-3.
Antwerpen Centraal, Belgium on March 22, 2013. Author Carroll Meeks (The Railroad Station, 1956), credits architect Louis de la Censerie with the station’s Art Nouveau style. Censerie’s ornate decoration and exceptional use of light makes Antwerpten Centraal one of Europe’s finest railway terminals. Photo exposed with a Panasonic Lumix LX-3.

 

On the morning of Friday March 22, 2013, I rode an SNCB (Société National des Chemins de fer Belges—Belgian National Railways) train from Brussels to Antwerpen Centraal (Antwerp Central Station). It was bright and sunny, a real contrast to my experience in Dublin on the previous day where it was cloudy, windy and raining.

I first visited Antwerpen Centraal in May 1996. Since that time this classic stub-end terminal has been transformed into a three-level railway intermodal center. Tracks on the lowest level permit through services without the need for trains to reverse direction as was previously required.

Looking straight up at the domed roof in Antwerpen Centraal, Belgium on March 22, 2013. Lumix LX-3.
Looking straight up at the domed roof in Antwerpen Centraal, Belgium on March 22, 2013. Lumix LX-3.

The station head-house is among the most opulent and best kept anywhere in Europe, while the steeply pitched balloon train shed makes for a wonderful venue to photograph trains, its glass windows acting as enormous soft-box.

On Friday March 22nd, I had about 45 minutes at Antwerpen Centraal between trains. I used my time to good advantage and exposed a variety of digital images with my Lumix LX-3, and some Fuji Provia 100F with my Canon EOS-3. The film will be processed at a later time.

New SNCB electric multple-unit at Antwerpen Centraal, Belgium on March 22, 2013. Lumix LX-3.
New SNCB electric multple-unit at Antwerpen Centraal, Belgium on March 22, 2013. Lumix LX-3.
Station at Antwerp, Belgium.
New SNCB electric multple-unit at Antwerpen Centraal, Belgium on March 22, 2013. Lumix LX-3.

The terminal is well-suited to the city center and connected to myriad destinations through an excellent public transport system operated by De Lijn. This includes a 1000mm gauge tram network that still hosts vintage President Conference Committee (PCC) streetcars.

PCC Streetcar near Antwerpen Centraal on March 22, 2013.
PCC Streetcar near Antwerpen Centraal on March 22, 2013.

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