… some believing that for the last four and a half years I’ve been flogging myself through the back-breaking, if not heart-breaking labyrinth that is the bowels of the Gare Montparnasse.
Let me give you the background to this.
The Gare Montparnasse is not the original site of the station. That site, where the legendary Granville train of 100-odd years ago failed to stop at the buffers and crashed into the street below is now the site of the Tour Montparnasse.
They moved the station back about 500 metres or so but they didn’t move the metro station, so you have to descent about 10 flights of stairs into the bowels of the station, walk 500 metres along a dingy corridor, and then climb and descend a succession of steps that take you over other metro lines, sewage pipes, water pipes and just about everything.
As I said, I’ve been doing this for four and a half years, sometimes even with some really heavy luggage and in my state of health and it’s been a nightmare.
But not any more.
Before I came away, I had a look at a street map and then at one of these live camera sites and I’ve had a change.
Today, I just went down one flight of stairs, outside the railway station into the open air for a walk of 400 metres down the Rue de Départ on the level to the corner of the Boulevard Montparnasse.
There, I went down an escalator, then down one flight of steps and I was on the platform. As easy as that, after all of this struggling for all of these years.
While I was doing it all, I was keeping an eye on the times and I reckoned that I’d arrived at the Gare du Nord 2 trains earlier than usual too.
So this morning I was up at 06:00 after another bad night’s sleep but I was hard at it from the start, making my sandwiches, cleaning up the place, disinfecting the drains and even washing the floor. I must be feeling better.
Plenty of stuff on the dictaphone too. I was with Nerina last night and We’d been out for a meal. I’d been somewhere, the bathroom probably, and when I came back the meal was ready. The waiter gave me a warning about the bottle of wine. When I looked at it, it was €24:00. I thought that Nerina had been pushing the boat out a little. We had a lengthy chat about this and that, with Nerina working on the taxis and everything. We were talking about old times here and there, mostly about her old times, not very much about mine. I’d received a card from someone whom I thought at first was her but she handed me another one. I asked about this 1st card. We had a look at it but couldn’t identify anything. She had some fun trying to guess then I had to go to take some papers over to someone to check because it was about a job abroad. I asked about it and the subject of these people came up. I asked him about them but he didn’t know them very well either and didn’t understand what this card was all about. At some point I’d gone to the vehicle wholesalers. They had a Vanden Plas, a big 4.0 litre one and I wanted some parts for it. I wondered if my parts account was still valid after all these years.
I’d been skiing with a ski club, that one with Terry Large, I think. We’d been skiing in that mountain pass about which I dream occasionally. But when they were showing the films there wasn’t any snow there. There were a couple of army tanks going past. Someone went past in a big 4×4 pulling an enormous boat and managed to get it stuck. Everyone had to help it around this corner. I went up to see the film in the lounge after we had all come back and I couldn’t see very much of it because they had already shown it. We were only getting near the end. Then I had to pack and there were all kinds of things like oil cans, things like that that I had to fit into my suitcase. Then I thought that my bag, with all of my ski clothes in it, wasn’t there. I had to ask where it was but I couldn’t find the people to ask. Someone gave me a couple of e-mail addresses but I couldn’t understand them and they sighed with exasperation. In the end I copied them down. One of them said to tell one of these people who your sister is because he knows here and she was here a minute ago. I still didn’t have everything ready and I was worried about all of these cans leaking out in my suitcase and everything. While I was there someone talked to me about this pass. I said that I knew it very well because I only live 9 miles the other side at one time.
On my way out of the apartment, I was glad that I actually had my camera at the ready because the refuse lorry was there.
As well as the bins for the household waste, the glass and plastic etc, there’s also a big bin for the waste paper. This morning the lorry was there to collect it just as I was leaving the building.
Had I been 2 minutes earlier I would have seen him dropping the lot into the back of his lorry but instead this morning I just managed to catch him dropping the bin back onto the ground.
That was an exciting start to the morning. I set off to the station with a bounce in my step.
Not that I went very far, trying to negotiate the pavement in the dark without falling over a bollard.
What caught my eye was the Fish Processing Plant, and what a hive of activity that was this morning. There has obviously been a good catch overnight because not only do we have 3 refrigerated lorries there this morning there is also quite a collection of other vehicles.
Continuing on my way through town towards the station, I reflected that taking a bigger suitcase with me, even though I’ve lightened the load, was a good idea. It was easier to pull and its bigger wheels were easier to manoeuvre. I actually made it to the station only stopping three times for breath.
When I arrivd at the railway station, my train hadn’t yet come in.
But we did have a visitor in there today, a locomotive that we haven’t seen here before. She’s 267455, one of the SNCF’s 228 Class BB67400 diesel locomotives.
Introduced between 1969 and 1975, they were the final evolution of the old Class BB67000s dating from the early 60s to replace what remained of the SNCF’s steam locomotives. For a great many years they were the mainstay of the heavy freight and passenger trains on the French non-electrified railway network.
But as for what she and her friend are doing here, that’s a mystery because we aren’t ever likely to see the kind of freight train coming here that needs a double-headed pair of locomotives like these.
Before I could go and inspect the rear locomotive, my train to Paris turned up so I wandered off and clambered aboard. I was ready for a good sit-down.
My seat today was one in a four-seat place. While two of the seats were occupied, the one next to me wasn’t so once I’d updated the laptop I could have a decent sleep for a while.
The rest of the journey was spent reading an E-book about Polar explorers. One of these days, I’m going to make up my own map of the Frosen North and indicate thereupon all of the places of interest that the Polar Explorers of the Golden Age of Polar Exploration had visited.
To my surprise, and everyone else’s, the train pulled in bang on time at Montparnasse, as you can tell by the clock.
From the platform I descended the flight of steps to the lower concourse and headed off into the wild blue yonder, boldly going where no man had gone before.
As I mentioned earlier, the journey was so much easier than going down into the bowels of the earth and fighting my way through the labyrinth to the metro station. I shall be doing this part of the journey again on a regular basis and I wish that I had done it before. I felt much more relaxed when I arrived on the platform.
Arriving earlier than usual at the Gare du Nord I had plenty of time to relax. I had a quiet sit-down on one of the benches to wait.
And that’s one thing that annoys me intensely – the waiting arrangements at the Gare du Nord. There isn’t a waiting room that I have found, in the traditional meaning of the words, and for one of the busiest stations in Europe the seating arrangements for people waiting for a train are really poor.
There can’t be more than 50 seats all told, and that is really sad. I remember how I was feeling after fighting the good fight through the underground and then finding that there was nowhere to sit to recover.
But one of the very few advantages about Covid is that because of all of the new procedures on long-distance trains, they are opening the gates early. I was one of the first on board.
Today’s train is, as expected, one of the TGV Reseau Duplex “double deckers” that are quite common on the French TGV network. They are starting to show their age now, which is probably why they are slowly being relegated to running the shuttle between Paris and Lille.
My first journey on one was years ago from Lyon to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport when I was on my way to Montreal and I wish that I was on my way to Montreal again right now.
The other end of our two-unit train was another TGV Reseau Duplex, as I found out when we pulled into Lille Flandres railway station.
And then I had the walk across town and up the hill to Lille Europe Railway Station and that wasn’t as difficult as it has been of late either with my different suitcase.
But what I don’t understand is why the train actually goes into Lille Flandres and not Lille Europe. They share the same track up as far as the approach to the stations and then split off to go their separate ways. And what you have is a relentless stream of people swarming out of the one station and up the road into the other
at Lille Europe I didn’t have long to wait at all for the train to arrive from the Midi.
The train, at least, my end, was one of the POS units that used to work the lines out to Eastern France until they were replaced by more modern stock a couple of years ago.
That’s something else that has always puzzled me because the Rhone Valley TGVs are the ones that probably have the highest use of all of the TGV network and certainly the route from Brussles (and sometimes Amsterdam) to Marseille is the longest route that the SNCF runs.
Consequently I would have expected that to have to most modern, up-to-date equipment.
But anyway that’s another story. Continuing with this story, there was no-one sitting beside me on the train to Brussels either so I could sit and eat my sandwiches in peace. My stomach was thinking that my throat had been cut.
The train that I was on was another two-trainset ones, and it was something of a hybrid, as I discovered at Brussels-Midi.
The front end is one of the Reseau 38000 PBA (Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam) trainsets that seem to have cascaded down onto this line recently from their more habitual route.
Leaving the platform at Brussels Gare du Midi was a nightmare though. We arrived on the platform that is on the same island as the Eurostar to London so most of it is closed off and there is only one exit working.
As a result As a result I missed my usual 15:34 train and had to wait until 15:56. There are four expresses per hour to Leuven but strangely, they don’t run every 15 minutes. Three of them come in at 10-minute-or-so intervals and then you have to wait for ages for the fourth.
The train that came in was the one that goes to Eupen and that’s one of these push-me-pull-yous, basically because there is no run-round for the locomotive at the railway station at Oostende.
And I’m still unconvinced by the wisdom of the heavy locomotive at the rear pushing the lightweight front of the train forward at high speed, especially over points and junctions. But then it works for the SNCB so why not?
For a change just recently we took the old low-level line out of Brussels which means that we go past the scrapyard at Haren.
The next few photos show locomotives that were formerly in store at Charleroi and were moved here a while back. Someone had photographed them at Charleroi and wondered subsequently where they had gone, so I had been hoping for an opportunity to photograph them.
Unfortunately, it’s not an easy thing to do from a moving train, but I did my best and I’ll be uploading them to this Social Networking page in due course.
These are SNCB Class 55 diesel locomotives, the “second generation” of mainline diesels introduced by the SNCB in the early 1960s.
There were 42 of them built for the SNCB and they were the mainstay of the Belgian mainline network on the non-electrified lines and the international network until the early years of this century, when they were relegated to minor duties.
The bodywork of these machines was built by the Belgian company BN, now a part of Alstom, but the engines are real diesel engines, all 16 cylinders of them, built by General Motors
They are now being withdrawn from service and scrapped but their 60 years of service is a testimony to their reliability.
Compare this to the British equivalent of these machines built by the North British Railway Company. The “Buy British” campaign in that period led to a company with very little experience of building diesels trying to build an equivalent machine “under licence”.
Because the loading gauge on British Railways is smaller than in Europe, the engines had to be mounted upside-down which meant that to perform even a simple maintenance task like to change an oil filter, the engine had to come out, so the downtime was enormous.
With the substandard design, substandard materials and substandard assembly procedures the project was a dismal failure. Breakdowns were common and even led to a fatal accident as a train gave out on busy main lines and was hit in the rear by a following train
The result was that not one of the British equivalents lasted any longer than 10 years.
When we arrived in Leuven I waited on the platform for the train to depart so that I could see what was pushing it along.
No prizes for guessing, of course. It’s one of the Class 18 electric locomotives, complete with recruitment posted for locomotive drivers. Business must be booming on the SNCB.
Here at Leuven I tried something else new. With plenty of space inside my suitcase I went to the supermarket at the back of the station and bought my drink there. It fitted nicely into my suitcase to bring down here, and it was at that point that I discovered that my laptop will also fit in there.
As a result it was a much easier walk down to my little room than it has been of late.
A little later on, having recovered my breath, I wandered off down to the supermarket for the supplies. And seeing as I’d already bought the drink and that I don’t need any fruit as I have an early start tomorrow, the walk back with a much lighter load than usual was much easier.
So having been fed and watered, I can no go off to bed and have a good sleep. Tomorrow I have no fewer than 3 appointments at the hospital as they continue to probe my case.