|The rural tramway discovery centre (Centre de
découverte du Vicinal)
A living museum retracing the history of the «
Vicinal » Light Railways.
A brief history of the museum
||The museum is on the site of
the old Thuin West railway station, on the former Belgian State Railways
line 109, which ran from Mons to Chimay. The passenger service was
discontinued in 1964, but the line was kept open for goods traffic to the
sugar factory at Donstienne. In the 1980s all traffic ceased and the line
was abandoned. However, some special trains were run, for example, on the
occasions of ASVi festivals, using a class 46 diesel railcar and “Vicinal”
standard gauge steam tramway locomotive 808. In 1992 it was intended to lift
the track, but the ASVi organised a last trip by railcar. Then, in February
1993, the ASVi started to re-gauge the line from standard to the “Vicinal”
metre gauge (most of the “Vicinal” lines were metre gauge).
| The railway
line used metal sleepers and it proved possible to move one rail to give
metre gauge. A point was then added to connect the existing metre gauge
“Vicinal” electric tramway in Thuin to the re-gauged railway line. Further
points to give access to the future workshop and museum were obtained from
various old Vicinal lines (for example the loop built for the 1958 Brussels
Exhibition, a mixed-gauge point from Marcinelle Hauchies and others from the
former Vicinal network in the Charleroi and Centre areas).
||The works for the new depot
were started in 1996. It was built as a workshop, but in the beginning
served as a museum. Due to financial constraints the main work on the
building was not finished until 1997. The further works to complete the
building, maintenance pits for the trams, rails and the concrete floor, were
completed in 1999. June 1999 saw a lot of activity in order to prepare
everything for the arrival of the main exhibition items – the trams! The PCC
car arrived first, followed quickly by 9073, steam tram 303 and trailer
1853. The public opening was planned for the 4 July 1999, but there was
still a lot of work to do. More tracks were needed, electricity at 600 Volt
had to be provided for the trams.
of an electric sub-station began in February 2000. The electric part of the
sub-station was ordered from AEG, whilst other parts were recovered from an
old sub-station in Binche (Ex Vicinal route 90). The electrification of the
site was also started in February 2000. The overhead can be used by trams
with trolley poles or pantographs.
||Thanks to a
subsidy of 1.1 million Euros, the second building of the “Vicinal discovery
centre” could be built. The ASVi had to pay the balance of the building
costs, some 110,000 Euros, which would be obtained through donations and
income. The construction of this building started at the end of 2001 and
finished at the end of 2002. Then it was time to lay tracks and provide
electricity, so that trials with electric trams could begin. The 1st of June
2003 was the first day of electric traction. Winters were used to complete
the museum display, then the vehicles were transferred from the museum/workshop
to the new museum. The workshop was then available for the restoration of
other trams and for the maintenance of those already in service. It was
finally possible to undertake the transport of trams stored in other places
to the Thuin site.
Vehicles already restored took their place
in the museum, a number which only needed limited repairs went through the
workshops. This ensured that 25 more trams were safely under cover. In 2004
we were first able to run electric tram services, the museum was officially
opened, the majority of the track works in front of the museum were complete
and the 15th August festival was a success.
In 2010 is a 3km extension along the
right-of-way of a former Belgian National Railway's branch to a terminus at
Biesme-sous-Thuin. Worked by diesel autorails this attractive run offers a
contrast to the Museum's existing roadside and street operations to Lobbes
and Thuin (Basse Ville), and reminds us that the Vicinal once ran on private
rights-of-way through lovely countryside.
Discovering the museum
|During your visit
to our museum you will be able to discover 100 years of “Vicinal” trams.
From the steam tram locomotive with its mixed train of passenger coaches and
goods wagons, typical of the 1920s, to the last trams built for the SNCV,
but not forgetting the big “standard” bogie cars and the diesel railcars
with their goods trains. Walking through the museum you will be able to
study the vehicles on display and even admire the interior of some of them,
to judge the “comfort” offered when they were built. Small exhibits, such as
controller handles, timetables, tickets, and dioramas of typical vicinal
scenes, are displayed around the museum. There is also a display of
electrical equipment, a plan of an electric sub-station, and a tram
controller, opened to show how it works.
|At a higher level
you will see numerous photos and destination blinds. Posters with a red
background give the main stages in the history of the vicinal tramways, from
their creation to their abandonment. Before looking at the shop, take the
stairs to the mezzanine, from where you have a view over the whole museum. A
unique chance to see the roofs of the trams! You can also admire the superb
1/87th scale diorama representing the Brussels Vicinal scene, starting
alongside the canal and finishing on the square of a Brabant village.
Before you leave the museum be sure to
visit the shop, where there is a large selection of books, films and
souvenirs about the Vicinal tramways.
To complete your visit, you can experience a
Vicinal tram in action, by taking a ride on one of our restored trams to the
centre of Thuin and to Biesme-sous-Thuin.