Rare 100-Year-Old Train Carriage Found Buried in Belgium

The wooden LNER train wagon was a “removals truck” used to move people’s belongings between residences

Researchers found the train car during excavations in northern Antwerp. London North Eastern Railway

Archaeologists in Belgium have unearthed a century-old train carriage marked with the logo of the London North Eastern Railway (LNER). Nobody knows how the rare model ended up underground in the metropolis of Antwerp, 500 miles from the rail company’s English headquarters.

The old train car was found during excavations of a 19th-century fortress known as the Northern Citadel, according to a statement from LNER. Made of wood and painted dark red with yellow lettering, the wagon is a “removals” car, used for moving people’s belongings from residence to residence.

“The wooden removals truck is thought to be around 100 years old,” says archaeologist Femke Martens in the statement. “It’s a mystery as to how the carriage came to be in Antwerp, and unfortunately there’s very little left of the relic, as it disintegrated while being excavated.”

The train car fell apart when archaeologists attempted to excavate it. London North Eastern Railway

Based on physical examinations and internal research, LNER officials think the car is one of the first models in the company’s removal fleet, which operated for a brief period around 1930, per BBC News’ Rachel Russell.

Martens says that the car was identifiable only by its painted inscriptions: “Furniture removal to house,” “Enquire at any station,” “LNER” and “BK769” (“B” specifies the wagon’s size class, while “K” indicates it was used to carry furniture).

The railway company, originally called the London and North Eastern Railway, began operations in 1923. It was the second largest of the “Big Four” railway companies formed by Britain’s 1921 Railways Act, also known as the Grouping Act.

The act came soon after the end of World War I, which had damaged the United Kingdom’s railway systems. By the early 1920s, 120 companies were operating its 20,000 miles of track. The government took action to organize the system, splitting the railways into four regional companies.

full car
The car was an early model in the company's fleet of trucks used to transport customers' belongings from home to home. London North Eastern Railway

By the early 1930s, LNER was servicing people moving houses by transporting their belongings in “simple square boxes” on the railroad, reports the Brussels Times’ Lauren Walker. The first editions of these cars were painted reddish-brown, just like the recently excavated model. However, a few years later, the company switched to a blue model, which was manufactured on a larger scale—making the discovery of the earlier red design “all the rarer and more unique,” per the statement.

Archaeologists are excavating the site ahead of the construction of the Oosterweel Link, a new motorway that will encircle the city. How the train reached this site is a mystery, though city officials think it could have once been used as a storage space, according to the Brussels Times. As company officials tell BBC News, it’s “highly unlikely” the discovery will be returned to England due to its “very fragile state.”

“We’re fascinated by the history of our brand,” says Stuart Thomas, LNER’s communications director, in a statement. “Just last year, we celebrated 100 years since the LNER came into being in 1923. In our 101st year, it is incredible to discover more of LNER history has been buried in a field in Belgium for so many decades.”

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