This week we step inside the train driver's cabin and signal box centre to see how complex of a task it is to manage the scheduling of the country's railway network.
RTL Today has teamed up with PISA, the Luxembourgish science magazine, to reproduce their original videos in English for our site. Presenter Olivier Catani takes you for a ride this week on Luxembourg's rail tracks, provides some historical context and explains why a problem on the network in the south can lead to delays in the north.
This video is part of the PISA series for RTL Today. Watch all English videos on RTL Play, or discover the wide range of subjects previously covered in Luxembourgish here (there are 13 seasons, mind you! We'll try and catch up...). Our previous episodes covered the history of the tram, Luxembourg airport, explained how the coronavirus vaccine works, asked why traffic lights always seem to be red and investigated where our tap water comes from.
Rail transport for over 160 years
Luxembourg's first railway line was built over 160 years ago. Prior to 1859, there weren’t many accessible roads in the country. People travelled by carriage. In fact, going from Clervaux to Luxembourg City would be a journey of ten hours. Taking the train was five times faster...and cheaper.
Before World War II broke out, Luxembourg saw many railway lines criss-cross the country. The train enabled people to leave their villages and bring them together. And by doing so, it contributed to the country's transformation into a nation. Events such as the dancing procession or the Octave became national celebrations - all impossible without mobility.
And when Luxembourg celebrated its 100th year of independence in 1939, the common folk did not drive to the capital in their private cars. They came by train from all corners of the country to celebrate their Grand Duchess.
The train also helped develop the country’s steel industry. Some years later it would go on to transport tourists and business people in and around the country. It was, quite literally, the locomotive that drove the economy. But there was a problem: At the start of the railway age, Europe was still divided into many different time zones. For the transportation of passengers and goods across the continent, the time differences became really chaotic - after all, time is money. In 1884, the International Meridian Conference in Washington, D.C. introduced time zones.
All trains connected
Every train travelling across Luxembourg has to pass through the capital's railway station. No matter if they come from the north, east, south, or west. So, it can get a bit crowded. However, to ensure that the trains can enter and exit the station in an orderly fashion, the workers at Luxembourg's newest and biggest signal box have to be highly focussed on their jobs.
At the PDL, the Poste Directeur Luxembourg, rail traffic around the capital's railway station is managed. Even though the signal box is right next to the rails, workers here are not looking out the window, but staring at their computer screens. On them, signal operators see on which section of the route individual trains currently are, the state of the signals, and which direction the switches are pointed. As long as all the trains are punctual according to the timetable, everything here runs automatically. However, you cannot just let the computer do everything by itself.
The capital's railway station is busy, and here the team has to interfere practically all the time. About 1,000 trains pass through the Gare every day. It certainly is an art to coordinate these narrow passages in a way that everything goes smoothly. This morning, there are problems in the south. There's something wrong with the barrier in Dippach and trains can only pass through very slowly. And even though our train is not even travelling on the Dippach route, it's still delayed. After all, on the train network, everything is somehow connected…
Clock tower of Luxembourg Gare
In 1912, when the construction of the clock tower was completed, it had a different significance than today. It was a time when not everyone had their own personal watch and they relied on church clocks, for example, to orient themselves. This one at the station allowed people to check whether they still had to wait for their train or whether they had missed it.
Something else you may not have noticed yet is that this tower is located exactly on the axis of Avenue de la Liberté. And this is not a coincidence. The idea was that wherever you are on the Avenue you should have a clear view of the capital's railway station. This building was practically a gateway to the capital, a lighthouse of the city. This is still the case today and it is to remain like that. When the tram's track layout was planned, it was done in such a way that nothing would obstruct the clear view of the station's tower.