A brief look in history of the railways in the region.
Already in 1816, before the independence of Belgium, just after the fall of Napoleon, there were for the first time ideas of making a railway. The idea developed by a certain Thomas Gray (who has given his name to the Gray street in Etterbeek) with John Cockerill envisioned the creation of a railway (animal traction) for the transport of coal between Belgium and the Netherlands. In the early 1830s, some railway lines (still animal traction) were built in the backyard of the coalmines or between the coalmine and the nearest channel. (Bois du Luc, Grand Hornu, Haut and Bas Flénu…). In 1835 horse traction was replaced by machines.
The 5th May 1835, Belgium had it’s first railway line, steam traction, for the transport of passengers between Brussels and Mechelen. While in Great Brittain the first public railway dates from 1825. Still we had to wait for Germany till 7 December 1835, France 1837 and in 1839 the United States and Italy followed.
Starting in 1835 the Belgian gouvernement made a study of the possibility for a railway in the region between Sambre and Meuse. In fact, this undulated and wooded region was rich on iron ore, quarries, slate quarries, sawmills and had metallurgical industry. A railway line would make it possible to transport all the various goods to Charleroi.
In 1845 a limited liability company was founded: « Chemin de fer l’Entre Sambre et Meuse » (Railway between Sambre and Meuse), Under the regime of concessions. It was a British company (W. P. Richards Co.) who had the contract. This company builds and operates the railway in this region and the inauguration of new tracks followed quickly. Thus, the line Charleroi – Walcourt is inaugurated on 27 November 1848, Walcourt – Silenrieux 6 November 1853, Cerfontaine – Mariembourg 8 June 1854,, and finally 15 June 1854 the section which interests us most directly : Mariembourg – Vireux. In Vireux, a listed line 148 (Brussels – Charleville) joined the French network.
In 1854, the track between Sambre and Meuse merged with the track Antwerp – Rotterdam. This unity was called « Grand Central Belge ». On the 1st of January 1897, the line Mariembourg – Vireux was taken over by the Belgian State.
Because Vireux was in France, a borderstation was built in Vierves on grounds offered by the earl of Vierves. Treignes had only one stop and it was later on (1902) that a borderstation was built. Because the traintraffic was growing, it became bigger and bigger. In the past the station had 7 railtracks and a turn-table. The stationbuilding is still impressive today with its two high parts ( On the first floor appartments and downstairs the custom house). It’s the widness of these precious times.
Around 1925, the Belgian railways wanted to double the railtrack between Mariembourg and Treignes. Today you still can see some bizarre spots like the piece of a bridge next to the railway crossing at Olloy and the beginning of the perforation of the tunnel at Abannets. Nowadays nature has reclamed its rights and covers the entrance with vegetation.
The track that we use now is called track 132 in the archives of the SNCB, this track was used until 29 September 1963 for public use. The transportation of goods on the section Mariembourg – Nismes was totally eliminated on 12 October 1977. Only the Mariembourg – Nismes section was double-tracked.
From Mariembourg to Treignes – track 132 D.
Track 132, Mariembourg – Treignes goes trough the valleys of « La Brouffe », « l’Eau Blanche », « l’Eau Noire » and » Viroin ». The name « Three Valleys» comes from the last 3 rivers. The railway goes trough following villages : Nismes, Olloy sur Viroin, Vierves and Treignes.
This track of 14km goes trough the landscape of the river Viroin and passes 3 different geographical regions.
The Fagne (Don’t confuse with « les Hautes Fagnes ») is a great clay sinking with slate underneath. This region has a low population density and is covered with woods and prairies. Mariembourg is situated in this region.
The Calestienne is the region crossed by the track between Mariembourg and Olloy. Between Olloy and Treignes, you can see the Calestienne on your left site. The characteristics of this region are a succession of lime ridges and valleys rich of silt. The hills remained stripped until the beginning of the XXnd century, they were reserved as meadow for the goats and sheep. The nature of the ground and the orientation of the hillsides make it possible to observe a hot and dry microclimate. A particularly rich flora and fauna can be found here. Moreover, the calcareous nature of the ground makes it possible to observe many collapses and the presence of several caves. These caves allowed the habitation since the ancient times.
In the valleys, cereal agriculture has developed.
Last comment, the presence of iron ore made it possible to develop the iron and steel industry.
The Ardenne. The solid ardennes massif is present here, in the south of the Meuse. The first buttresses are visible in the south of the line starting from Olloy sur Viroin. (On the right while going towards Treignes). The important forest solid mass, primarily of the leafy trees, represents and represented an important activity for the area. The exploitation of the forest solid mass brought to the inhabitants a whole series of activities related to wood (Wood of furnishing, frame, heating, of mine, clog factories, cooperage, charcoal….)
If one observes a little bit the area and if you put it in a broader context, we can observe that the zone of the l’Eau Blanche and the Viroin constitutes an economic axis which was important a few decades ago. Not only of the important richness was exploited, but moreover the valleys allowed the evacuation of it. Nothing astonishing thus so that the railroad settles and gives a great economic advancement to the area. The richnesses being is exhausted or regarded as economically nonprofitable; the rail transport was abandoned. This corridor of communication in addition caused certain covetousnesses. Thus during the war 14-18, the railway line allowed an easy communication towards Charleville and Verdun…
In 1546, under the reign of Marie of Hungary, sister of Charles Quint, a fortress is set up which takes the name of Mariembourg. This fortress of plain protected the south from the Netherlands of Charles the Fifth of France. Marie of Hungary chooses the ground of Vérofle to realise her project of construction. These grounds belonged, as of the IXe century to various religious communities; abbey of Lobbes, principality of Liege, brood of Norbertines (Floreffe). In 1554, the fortress was conquered by Henri II of France and was restored in 1559.
In 1659 Mariembourg becomes French again (Louis XIV – treaty of the Pyrenees) in 1815 to be included with the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Belgian independence in 1830 restored the places for the Kingdom of Belgium.
Small anecdote, did you know that Mariembourg was the last Belgian city under Napoleonean administration after the battle of Waterloo and that Givet, which is located a few kilometers away (in France), resisted some time after the abdication of Napoleon I ?
When you visit Mariembourg observe the plan of the streets. They are traced out like a star around the center place, a circular boulevard (old fortifications) enclosing the city. This layout is typically related to the military history of XVIth century… it allowed canon shooting!
With the visit of Louis XIV in the city, there remains a typical piece of music, the swing of Mariembourg or dance of the bouquet, carried out in 1692. During the long French period (1659 – 1825), Mariembourg provided a number of soldiers, and the Napoleonean time is still present in the memories.
In 1830, after the departure of the Dutch troops, the population would have liked being a part of France.
The fortifications were dismantled in 1855 (Convention of the fortresses – London 1831).
The development of the city was supported by the creation of the railroad and the dismantling of the fortifications. Nearly 200 railwaymen lived in the city with the apogee of the railroad and the habitat was extended, no longer surrounded by the shackles of the fortifications.
The station was an important junction of railways, it assembled five lines, towards Charleroi, Hastière, Vireux (Reims – Charleville), Couvin and Chimay (Momignies – Anor). Today, the « RAVEL » has replaced the railway line connecting Mariembourg to Hastière.
It is tourism which makes the city live today ….
The installations of the CFV3V in Mariembourg.
The installations of the CFV3V are completely separated from those of the SNCB. Indeed, the difference in regulation does not authorize a common exploitation on the site of the SNCB.
The installations of the CFV3V are easily accessible by foot from the SNCB station… but don’t follow the railtrack!
The deposit of Mariembourg (LMG) is built out of red bricks, the roof being made of concrete. The architecture of the deposit is rather particular, just like in Florennes, the building is in rotunda.
The rotunda of Mariembourg is the last in service and it shelters a part of the material of the association. Originally, 6 railtracks were in this building. Currently, 5 tracks are in service. Under track 2, we find a pit which must allow the inspection and the maintenance of the machines.
The rotunda was never served by a turntable. Triple switches make it possible to reach the various railtracks.
On the site, we find, in service, a water tower and a water crane which are used for the provisioning of the steam engines. Next to the water crane, a second inspection pit can be found.
Nearby also we find the coal stockyard and a loading crane going from 1910. Opposite the coal stockyard is the wood reserve. On the other side of the rail track of the SNCB, we find a little barrier guard house, nowadays private property.
The departure of the train is from one of the platforms. On the site, to finish, we find the reception building. A great parking place for visitors can be found at the back of the rotunda, near the water tower.
From Mariembourg to Nismes.
This first section of the course is rather short. The first road that we cross carries out to the RAVel track. The latter carries out to Hastière on the site of the old railroad. We cross the Fagne and the first meadow on the right names the « Meadow of the Huts ». In XVIème century, an epidemic of plague devastated the area and it is in this place that the huts intended for the patients were built. Here also, the corpses were cremated.
From this period we go back to the worship Saint Roch, very present in the area. The tradition wants that Saint Roch looks after the patients until he catches their plague. He isolated himself in the forest, a dog came to supply him, an angel came to look after him and cures the saint. This history explains why, in all the area the worship of Saint Roch is still living and there are many little chapels where the saint is represented, accompanied by his dog. Let us be lenient, we find the same legend elsewhere and more particularly in France.
The railroad crosses perpendicularly the calcareous grounds by going right towards the hill of the “Rock à Lomme”. At the foot of this rock the l’Eau Noire (Black Water) and the l’Eau Blanche (White Water) meet each other to form the Viroin river. A little further, we arrive at Nismes, first station.
On the left side of the track we find the « Mountain of the Boxwood ». It acts as one of the first natural reserves created by Ardenne and Gaume in October 1947. These boxwood solid masses (buxaie), which develop on the limestones slopes, are characteristic for the vegetation of the area. This plant sub meditarian benefits from an excellent exposure to the sun finds here its establishment most septentrional. The boxwood combined with the oaks and form at certain places an excessively dense thickness.
In the dry lawns, one finds a rare flower immortalized by the famous Belgian painter Redouté (born in Saint Hubert in 1759), the pink pimpernel also named the « rose tree of Mariembourg ».
The station of Nismes was built in 1868. This superb gray stone of the country building is located a little apart from the village. The building of the station became a private housing. At the beginning, the road of Dourbes did not cut the platform…. The protection of the PN (level crossing) had not to be ensured by a member holding up a disc 21 (prohibition to cross) like currently!!
Today, Nismes became the center of the entity of Viroinval. The village is one of the oldest of the area. Human traces of occupation go up at 35.000 years before JC (Perforated Rock at Nismes, hole of the Badgers in Vaucelles, hole of the Abyss in Couvin). Certain traces go up even at -70.000 years! (flint of Gimnée).
The first historical information of which we can be certain goes up to the Xth century, Nismes belonged to the abbey of Saint Germain des Prés. The king of France, Robert the Piles received this abbey, the grounds of Nismes (like those of Boussu, Couvin, Pesche and Frasnes). Thereafter, he gave the grounds to his sister Hedwige, which married Régnier IV of Hainaut. In 1096, Baudouin II of Hainaut sold these grounds to the episcopate of Liege.
During more than 3000 years, the prosperity of the country is related to the iron and steel industry. Indeed, the iron ore is present and the forests abound. The iron and steel industry made fortune in the XVIII and XIXth centuries of the Licot family. Their castle, old convent cistercian, transformed, is today the seat of the municipal authorities of Viroinval. The foundry was located in the back of the park of the castle and used the ore extracted from Abannets and Fondrys.
The foundries also used many waste of the foundries of the gallo Roman time. This raw material was called « buckwheat Crayats ». The nickname of Crayats designated a long time in the popular speech of the inhabitants of Nismes.
With the decline of the low hearths, the crayats are dispatched towards the forges of Providence in Charleroi, of which Mr. Licot was one of the founders.
The site of the low hearths was transformed into sawmill, still active today.
At the beginning of the XXth century, the clog industry developed in Nismes.
In Nismes, it is advisable to visit the farm of Maladrerie, place where in 1527 the people with the plague were treated (Try Saint Roch) as well as the House of the Baillis.
Another attraction, “Fondry aux chiens”, spectacular site of an old exploitation of extraction of the iron ore.
From Nismes to Olloy sur Viroin.
We are now in the valley of the Viroin. We will remain in this valley untill the end of the line (Treignes).
Shortly after leaving the station of Nismes, we notice the very impressive industrial buildings. It is the old tannery ( Houben tannery ). We are at the foot of the Roche à Lomme.
The tannery, of which the buildings will be restorated ( there are plans to make 16 apartments in there ), reached its peak in the 19th century. The tannin was, at that time, extracted from the oak bark, very present in the region.
Regarding to the « Roche à Lomme », sometimes also spelled as « Roche à l’Homme » makes people think of a legend of a knight fallen from his mountain. Nothing like this, the so-called rock was in fact the southern limit of « Pagus Lommensis ». This land of Lomme has taken the name of the river with the same name, a tributary of the Lesse. The Lomme was the northeastern border of this « country ».
From the top of the Roche à Lomme we have a magnificient view over the region. The summit, nowadays surmounted by a cross has been occupied since the neolithic time. A square tower of roman origin inclined for a long time the spot. A roman garrison occupied the site, allowing the surveillance of the road leaving Saint Quentin and crossing the Sambre and Meuse.
Soon after the tannery, the railway enters the tunnel of the Abannets which is about 500 meters long. The Viroin revolves the boulder and finds the railway at the exit.
The name « Abannets » is derived from the obsolete word « abannir »= « to forbid ». A decree of the bishop of Liege forbidded to have cattle graze in these areas full of truffle holes. One of the most popular Abannets is the « Fondry aux chiens »
Shortly after the tunnel we see at our left a very important quarry. The exploitations intended to extract shale, sandstone or limestone were very numerous in this region. Most of the houses in the region are built out of landstones, grey and sometimes pink. A lot of the quarries have been exploited for the construction of local houses.
Once the quarry passed, the track reaches a railway crossing (with automatic barriers) cutting the N99, to enter the station of Olloy sur Viroin. Just before the crossing, the train slows sensibly to control the crossing. A functional pallet signal controls the passage.
Olloy sur Viroin.
The station of Olloy sur Viroin is currently owned by the municipal administration of Viroinval. The building is fully restored in 2014.
Various projects to do something with it are currently being studied.
The station was built in 1901, constructed with red bricks and with a magnificant glass roof to protect the travellers of platform 1 against bad weather. For several years, when the SNCB operated the line, the station was awarded in the contest of the most beautiful flowered stations. It was also many times used as a film scenery. Several episodes of « Maigret » were shooted at this station.
At the exit of the station a pallet signal, relatively old, is still working these days.
In 1909, a vicinal line permitted to join Olloy with Oignies en Thiérache. So the Olloy station allowed the exchange of passengers and goods (slates, sandstones, wood) between the railways of the SNCB and SNCV.
In 2004 excavations took place on the municipal territory and a protohistoric fortification was updated (Celtic period). Olloy became part of the Seigneury of Hierges, vassal of the Duchy of Bouillon and the Principality of Liege. For a long time the forges and quarries gave work to the inhabitants. Today they are for the most part living from tourism.
From Olloy sur Viroin to Vierves.
Leaving the station, the track infiltrates the center of the village, between the houses, next to the church (reconstructed recently) to reach the foot of the Rolinveaux hill. From Mariembourg to Treignes, the railway is continually descending, except for this hill. At the summit of this little steep path we find an optional stop at a hotel restaurant. Just shake the red flag stuck in the fence !
The village of Vierves sur Viroin is listed in the inventory of the most beautifull villages of Wallonia.
The village is built around the majestic castle. In the 15th century, the lordship became a barony. Nowadays, the castle has retained the appearance which it had in the 18th century, after its reconstruction after a fire.
The village is known for its traditions. It is said that Robert II of Vierves, in the 17th century, jealous of the prosperity of the bourgeois Johan Simons made him a bad trial and had him burned alive after taking him for a walk through the whole village.
This little episode of local life is repeated annually during the carnival !
In Vierves there is the Marie-Victorin Center, whose activities are focused on the education of the nature.
The station of Vierves, which was a border station for many years, remained abandoned for a certain period of time. The building is recently restored and now provides the housing facilities of the Center Marie-Victorin.
Do you know that along the National Highway 99, we can find a vineyard, producing a red wine ?
From Vierves to Treignes.
The railway line twists along the Viroin in a beautiful valley, we are approaching the end of our course.
The village of Treignes has been denominated for many years the «village of the museums». We find here among others :
– museum of agricultural machinery
– museum of Malgré Tout
– railway museum
Beside these, we have the opportunity to visit the ruins of a gallo-roman villa, but above all, Treignes owes its celebrity to the character created by Arthur Masson : Toine Culot, mayor of Trignolles. in the mainstreet of the village, a place is dedicated to this person well Walloon. The novel by Arthur Masson, « Thanasse and Casimir » is put in scene.
The station of Treignes.
The station of Treignes has been acquired in 1972 by the Université Libre de Bruxelles to create an environmental study laboratory for the study of aquatic and terrestrial faune of the region. We have described the building earlier in this story. When the station of Treignes still operated as a border station, we found on the site some wooden watchtowers. These helped the customs officers to inspect the convoys.
It is no coincidence that one of the museums has the nice name of « Musée du Malgré-Tout »(despite of everything). This museum is located a few hundred meters from the train station.
The CFV3V in Treignes.
A few steps away from the station, you can see important buildings looking like hangars. You find yourself in front of one of the places the most important of the CFV3V. These buildings are the museum, the cafeteria and especially a workshop.
We will talk about the museum a little later. In the cafeteria, a friendly staff will welcome you with pleasure. We have to talk about the workshop.
It is in this one that the acquisitions of the association are maintained and restored. Two tracks, quite long (45 meters, each) and a pit for a visit allow members of the CFV3V and the Training Center Treignes (CFT) to perform a number of works on locomotives, railcars, cars and wagons.
A rolling crane of 20 tons and lots of machinery and tools allow the association to troubleshoot, repair and restore these old engines. Remember that for these « old » engines, it regularly happens that we have to recreate completely some parts. They are found very rarely in the trade!
On the site of Treignes, there are some interresting discoveries to make.
In the first place, in front of the station, at the back of the site there is a turning table. It is working on manpower, you could say that the volonteers to make it turn are not legion. For the curious amongst us, in the slide of the bridge you can find traces of a machine-gun from Worldwar 2.
Also at the back of the site there is a typical water tower. It is not standing at the CFV3V site, but it’s a part of the surroundings of the railway.
At the entrance of the site, there is a control cabinet that made it possible at the time to serve the railway-switches on the site.
On the site again, you can notice two pallet signals, functional as well as a waterhoisting crane(on the platform), which is not connected. Next to the crane there is the old building of the lamp chamber lodging, now houses certain pieces belonging to the rural life museum.
This is where the track ends after 14 km. Not far after the bridge over the Viroin, the track goes into France where it is derailed. In old times this track went through the tunnel of Najauge, which was used to grow mushrooms in it …