This is not a finished project. Not even nearly. But I think it’s about time I shared what I have, and now is the perfect time since it’s the topic for this week’s Chit Chat Across The Pond segment on the Nosilla Cast.

It all started with a photo of a small pile of bricks, all that remains of a second railway bridge across the river Nete in my home town of Duffel (yes, the place the coats and bags are named after) in Belgium. On the small pile of bricks was a small sign with a potted history of the former bridge. It mentioned that it was Line 25A, intended as a faster express route between Brussels & Antwerp. The existing line between Brussels and Antwerp (two really, Lines 25 & 27 which run parallel most of the way) is the oldest railway line in continental Europe. I find it somewhat ironic that the line which was once considered too slow now hosts high-speed international trains to Cologne, Paris & Amsterdam. But perhaps it’s fitting that a large section of the bedding was used to build the E19 motorway between Brussels 7 Antwerp. It was not the kind of high-speed traffic the line was built for, but it does definitely facilitate some serious speed between the two cities now!

The Remains of the Bridge Across the Nete for Line 25A

Having taken the photo, and read the notice, I fired up Google Earth, and was shocked to see that although there was no trace of the line to be seen at ground level, the story was quite different from the sky! The course of the old line is exceptionally clear on Google Earth. At the time this excited me enough to blog about it, so rather than repeating myself, you can read my original post for more details and some pictures and screen-shots.

After having seen the outline of the line on Google Earth, I hit the Googles and started looking for more information on it. I stumbled across a Flemish site which lists the route of all the former and current railway lines in Belgium. It was just a list of stations for each line, but that was enough to get me going. Soon I realised that just about all the lines could be found with the help of Google Earth, so I started mapping them by adding paths in Google Earth. Then I started adding in the stations I could find as place marks too, and before I knew it I was documenting all if Belgium’s railway history using Google Earth. Initially I had a hard time finding all the stations, but, with the help of and the route diagrams they have of most of the past and present lines in Belgium I’m really starting to nail things down (e.g. the diagram for Line 125A which I’m currently mapping). I’m not done yet, but I’m making very good progress now.

I’d probably be Finished with Belgium by now, were it not for the fact that I got somewhat distracted by Irish railway history, and started mapping the former Irish lines too! I’ve been at this for about a year and a half now, it could well take me another year to finish, but, I’m going to share what I have so far, the download links are at the end of this post.

Just some notes on the files for download. They are KMZ files, which means you need to open them with Google Earth. The Belgian one in particular has been very carefully broken in to logical nested folders. You can use the check-boxes next to the folders to filter what you see to prevent information over-load. There is a LOT of information in these files! It also makes things a lot clearer if you turn off “Roads” in the “Layers” tab on the bottom-left of the interface.

Also, the colours have meaning. Blue and purple mean current lines and stations, the darker the blue, the more sure I am of the exact positioning, and purple means I’m not sure of the numbering. In some places, particularly the very large yards and the massive harbour complex in Antwerp, it’s very hard to match the lines that I know are there with the maze of track-work seen on the ground. The more I work on it the more sure I get, and the amount of purple is constantly decreasing. I hope to get rid of it all before I’m done.

The two other colours you’ll see most are green and yellow. They both refer to past tracks and stations, with green being for ones I am sure of, and yellow for ones I’m less sure of. There is also orange, which means it’s a former line or station and that it’s location on the map is a total guess.

Finally, there is white/grey, this is for future lines that do not exist yet, or can not be seen yet on Google Earth because the images are always at least a few months behind, often even a few years.

There are also a few places where the imagery has been updated to a much higher resolution since I mapped the lines, so the lines are still in light blue, and not perfectly positioned.

The Irish one is much more of a work in progress, and I haven’t yet decided on the best folder structure to use so, it’s much harder to filter the data meaningfully at the moment. Because Belgium nationalised it’s line much earlier on the system has a much more defined structure with all the lines having numbers, and all having belonged to the NMBS/SNCB. In Ireland the lines were not nationalised until much later, and there were many companies in existence, constantly merging and being taken over and renamed. A single station could easily have belonged to 5 or 6 companies, particularly in Northern Ireland.