Model railway station - Expo Brussels 1935

Model railway station at the Exhibition Expo Brussels 1935
© E. Sergysels
Architect(s) : V. Bourgeois

Designed by the architect Jos. Van Neck, the Main Hall of the Grands Palais was converted into a Model Station by the architect Victor Bourgeois.

Around a vast Salle des Pas-Perdus, all the services required for the operation of a railway station were arranged, as well as the facilities that could contribute to the comfort of passengers.

On entering this room, one found, opposite the entrance, a tourist information office concerning Belgium; on the right, a post office, telegraph and telephone office, equipped with the most sophisticated equipment and, in particular, an automatic switchboard in action; the ticket offices of the National Company of Belgian Railways, equipped with machines that instantly print tickets; a travel agency; a bureau de change; an office for the dispatch and distribution of small packages. Also on the right was a cinema, on whose screen were shown, throughout the Exhibition, current events, Belgian and foreign films of a tourist propaganda or technical nature.

To the left of the Salle des Pas-Perdus, there was a buffet-restaurant; a bookshop; a pharmacy; a photography workshop; shops selling travel articles, stationery and postcards. A day hotel with washbasins, bathrooms, hairdressing salons and boot-shine parlours completed this installation.

Finally, in an adjoining room, there were counters occupied by the main travel agencies and
travel agencies and tourist propaganda agencies.

All these services were available to the public.

In order to gain access to the quays, visitors had to buy tickets for 0.50 fr. which were raffle tickets: some of these tickets were specially marked and gave the right to a free trip on the Belgian network or on the excursion boats of the Ostend-Dover line.

From 27 April to 3 November, 1,595,329 paying entries were registered; 12,932 free rail travel premiums were distributed, which represents 2 million 586,400 kilometres or 64 times around the world. 1,887 sea excursion premiums were also distributed among the visitors.

Once the entrance to the docks was crossed, there were twelve 85-metre long tracks, occupied by Belgian and foreign rolling stock.

On track 12 were the cars of the Belgian Vicinal Railways; on track 11, a train of the Swedish Railways. Tracks 9 and 10 were devoted to the most beautiful types of carriages presented by the manufacturers. On tracks 7 and 8, the most modern wagons were on display, including an electrified locomotive belonging to the Belgian National Railways. On the central platform, the first train of 1835 had been reconstructed: the old locomotive "le Belge", the 2nd and 3rd class carriages, occupied by mannequins in costumes of the time, had been faithfully reproduced.

Tracks 3, 4, 5 and 6 were reserved for the French Railways, which exhibited several types of railcars. Finally, on tracks 1 and 2, the electrified equipment of the Italian Railways was parked.

The interior decoration of the Grand Palais also included a large fountain statue, representing a mermaid, by the sculptor H. Puvrez. The back wall evoked the Allée Verte station in 1885; in the middle of the hall, a gigantic illuminated map of Belgium constantly indicated the situation of the trains in circulation.

A large 48 m2 stained glass window (based on the cartoons of the painter Anto-Carte) depicted :
"Brussels, a hub of international communications'.

Along the side walls, between the arches supporting the building, were stands dedicated to tourist propaganda and to Belgian manufacturers of accessory equipment for the railway industry.

The Railway Administration had set up a retrospective outside, between the Grand Palais and the side halls, with samples of rails, sleepers, ballast and a reproduction of a fully equipped section of track, with all the signals and equipment in use on the Belgian railway.

In the evening, all the resources of electricity were used to illuminate the Great Hall with a fairy-like brightness.

By devoting its participation to electric locomotives and thermal railcars, Italy was keen to show the importance it attaches to the electrification and motorisation of its network. The economic situation of this country, and in particular, the fundamental question of the import of coal, is certainly one of the determining causes.

France, while making a large contribution to electric equipment, had not neglected steam traction.

It exhibited a Mountain 241-101 locomotive (the first unit acquired by the French State to tow direct trains from Paris to Cherbourg and which gave an impression of formidable mechanical power) as well as a Compagnie du Nord locomotive used to pull suburban trains. This engine was not placed on rails, but on grooved wheels, a device that allowed the visitor to follow the mechanism of the engine.

The Chemins de fer Paris-Orléans et du Midi showed the electric locomotive E. 530, which belongs to a series of 35 recently built machines and is a marvel of electro-mechanism; it can reach 125 km. per hour, with peaks of 140 km. sustained over a distance of several kilometres.

The French participation also included self-propelled vehicles, the shapes and colours of which were in the best possible taste.
As for Sweden, the equipment it exhibited showed the greatest comfort that can be conceived, meeting the needs of the most perfected technique.

In the Belgian section, the visitor could first admire a synthesis of the composition of an international train, composed of a Pacific type locomotive, a second class carriage for fast trains, a carriage of the Compagnie des Wagons-Lits and a postal wagon.

The eighth track was occupied by an electric train from Brussels to Antwerp, the ninth being reserved for the Belgian industrialists who had collaborated in the construction of the new metal carriages of the Société Nationale.

In the Belgian section, the Franco locomotive, a new omnibus coach and a steam engine of the "Sentinel" type could still be seen.

Finally, several of our trams and trolleybuses, and various urban and local vehicle chassis completed the national participation.
By dedicating the Grand Palais to the representation of a Model Railway Station, the organisers of the Exhibition, as we have said, wanted to celebrate the centenary of the first railway to run on the continent between Brussels and Malines.

It was in fact on 15 May 1835 that the capital celebrated the inauguration of this railway with the pomp and circumstance that accompanies the most important events in the life of a nation.

Today's Belgium can look back on this event with pride. It was the first railway to be built on the European Continent, and the initiative was followed with great attention by neighbouring nations, as evidenced by the laudatory comments of the European press. Here are the thoughts that the inauguration of the first continental railway suggested to the newspaper "Le Temps":
An interesting event has taken place in Belgium: the opening of the Brussels to Mechelen railway.

However familiar we may be with the marvels of modern civilisation, it is not without emotion that we can contemplate the spectacle of a young and hard-working people, eagerly seizing one of the boldest inventions of the human spirit.
The Brussels Exhibition of 1935 had to mark the centenary of this event; for this purpose, it had one of the first Belgian trains of 1835 reconstructed.

Thus it was possible to measure at a single glance, and by the contrast of dimensions alone, how far we have come in the past century. In this respect, it is interesting to compare the essential characteristics of the first and last Belgian steam locomotives that were on display at the 1935 Exhibition.

Belgium is at the forefront of the various aspects of rail traffic. Many countries have called on Belgian manufacturers and engineers to equip their networks: the export of locomotives, rails, cars and wagons is one of the most abundant sources of our foreign trade. The Belgians were not content with just making these supplies, they spread out to many countries in Europe and overseas to build and even manage the operation of railways: in Austria, Spain, Greece, Italy, and even in France, where our engineers played a leading role in the construction of the Paris Metropolitan railway; in Lower Egypt, Colombia, Brazil, India, China, etc., etc.

In the Belgian Congo, our compatriots have already established more than 4,000 km of railways.

A visit to the Model Railway Station taught us the following:
Alongside steam traction, electric traction is becoming more and more important, without however supplanting the former. Each of these modes of locomotion has a field of action determined by the economic and technical needs of each network.
In steam traction, we can note the search for ways to increase superheating, a method that allows the steam to be brought to a temperature that gives the machine a better performance. In addition, there is a tendency to apply aerodynamics to steam trains.
In electric traction, it seems that technicians have abandoned the use of alternating current in favour of direct current of 1,500 or 3,000 volts.

Another important trend in the construction of electric locomotives is the abandonment of connecting rods for the transmission of the driving force to the wheels, and the use of gears with the insertion of elastic parts to absorb shocks.

Current recovery devices have also been adopted, obtained by slowing down the train.

The heavy oil engine seems to be favoured by the manufacturers. Finally, the cars on display, all of which are metal, show that the wooden chassis has been abandoned in favour of the metal chassis, which offers appreciable guarantees of safety for the public.

Comfort has not been forgotten either: the seats are designed for two or three people; even some of the cars are equipped with individual seats.

On the tramway side, there was an increase in engine power, better comfort and the use of metal bodies, as in the case of the railways.

On 25 July, the Model Railway Station was visited by LL. King Leopold and Queen Astrid, who, led by Count Adrien van der Burch, Government Commissioner General, and Count de Liedekerke, took a keen interest in this synthesis of national and international activity in the field of rail transport.

© Le Livre d'Or de l'Exposition Universelle de Bruxelles 1935