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TGV B chef de service

The man in charge of all railway electrical and mechanical work on the HST Eastern Branch of the track, chef de service Jean Paul Brasseur, is passionate about avoiding damage to the new rails from Brussels to the German border.

Meticulous attention to the care of these steel ribbons and the minimisation of any degradation during their installation is his major concern. Ride quality of trains running at 300km/h and more depends on ensuring nothing is accidentally overloaded in the hustle to get the track in place.

That is why any rail end trafficked by works trains has to be trimmed off for scrap before the lines are finally welded up insitu.

Special items such as the high-speed crossovers are so fragile that no risks can be taken: 'We don't run heavy trains with ballast over the (new) switches - it's stupid, ' says Brasseur.

Temporary crossovers are being put in instead. They will remain until very late in the track lifting and alignment process when their replacements cannot be pounded by the heavy ballast trains now building up the base of the permanent way.

Civil engineer Brasseur has lived with the project from its earliest conception. He joined SNCB Belgian Railways in 1977 after his 15 months' national army service, then transferred to TUC Rail in 1992 when it was formed to drive forward the three new high-speed lines in Belgium.

The western branch linking Brussels to near Lille was finished and open to traffic in five years.

Brasseur recalls the thrill of riding the commissioning train.

The first runs were at 160km/h. After successive meetings to discuss all the data collected, the speed was upped successively by 20km/h increments.

On the final run the train crossed the border at 354km/h, setting a new Belgian record. 'The helicopter filming the train couldn't keep up with us, ' Brasseur enthuses.

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