La Douce - 12.004

In the 1930s, speed became an essential factor for big railway companies. Technical advances enable heavier trains to be hauled and to reach increasing speeds. This is due, in part, to the new revolution in the perception of machines. Aerodynamics enables air to penetrate more easily, and thus to save time becomes more and more valuable. This attitude towards faster trains is the same with cars, boats, and planes, modifying the overall appearance of moving machines. The manufacturers of locomotives benefit from the talents of new designers. In the United States, Raymond Loewy impresses with his creations. And Europe is not to be outdone: factories create machines that capture the imagination of passengers.


The purity of the forms, linked to the apparition of colors, harkens back to the ages of traditional steam locomotives. These new forms embody modernity and speed. From the start, the graphic arts very quickly grab onto this new dimension of transport: the cinema, photography, advertising amplifies this dramatic evolution. It is during this period that Frenchman André Huet develops a new type of streamlined body for locomotives. He designs an open stem, a median vent equipped with vertical fins in order to ensure the optimal deviation of air at high speed. This innovation saves power and saves a non-negligible amount coal consumption. The streamlined body is also equipped with large openings in the lateral skirts, which facilitate the access to the crankshaft and enable the air to circulate perfectly while avoiding any overheating of the mechanism.

French locomotives, like the Pacific Etat 1325, benefit from this revolutionary design: it is the ancestor of the Type 12. Thereafter, André Huet looks to the Belgian railways to continue to develop his ideas. At that time, the SNCB needed new and rapid locomotives able to reach 140 km/h. Since electrical traction was making enormous progress, it was important for steam trains to innovate to heighten their performances. André’s meeting with engineer Raoul Notesse gave rise to the Type 12 Atlantic locomotive. A brilliant engineer and a tireless worker, he had already expanded on the Type 1 Pacific. The Type 12 had to be a machine of pure speed. Its two large coupled engine wheels each measured 2m10 in diameter. It had to leave its mark with its aerodynamic streamlined body. The six Type 12 locomotives are produced by the Belgian Consortium of Locomotive Construction, by Cockerill, located near Liege.


They are delivered between April and July in 1939. In May of that year, the 12.002 will spike at 165 km/h at the head of a five-car train. These machines are capable of reaching a speed of 140 km/h in three minutes. The teams of drivers at the time are stunned. The locomotive is granted the worldwide blue ribbon in speed for a steam train, becoming a symbol of the fastest speed carried out on regular routes with commercial service.

Alas, the war would perturb the destiny of these engines, whose evolution had started under the best auspices. Three trains were evacuated during the first days of the German invasion, in France, in May 1940. Others were bombed in the Schaerbeek depot in Brussels. But the rest were returned to service thereafter. Moreover, the 12.002 participated in an act of heroism, on the 2nd and 3rd of September 1944, during the last days of the occupation. Thanks to the intelligence and the courage of the engineer and the driver, the train—whose duty was to deliver 1,370 political prisoners to Germany—instead “goes for a ride” in a twenty or so kilometer radius around Brussels. These railroaders thus succeed in sparing the passengers of this “ghost train” the horrors of the concentration camps. After the war, the six Type 12s are successfully adapted for heavy traffic. After the war, steam locomotives are yanked from production. A series of 300 locomotives are imported from Canada and the United States. The machines that Germany had commissioned during the war are also used. The beginning of the ‘60s marks the end of the steam train era. Electrical traction, in addition to the locomotives and diesel railcars, definitively turned the page of this extraordinary story. The Type 12s conclude their brilliant career with the Lille-Brussels train carried out by the 12.004 on July 29, 1962. Then, very quickly, nearly all of the steam locomotives are scrapped. The 12.004, the last of this kind, miraculously escapes this sad fate. Legend has it that it was saved at the last minute by traction workers who, seeing it head for a demolition center, discretely detach it from the convoy, and thus are able to save it by parking it in the back of a depot. In 1985, it is restored for the 150th anniversary of the Belgian Railways. Amongst the various special trains, it always leaves an impression. It would soon become one of the central features of the Railway Museum, which comes into being in Brussels the following year.


The magic of technology

Dassault Systèmes breathes life back into an icon of the industrial patrimony

The 12.004 locomotive, the main hero of the comic book, really existed during the 1930s. Built by the Belgian company Cockerill, it was the fastest steam locomotive of its time with a fully streamlined body. Of the 6 locomotives produced in the Type 12 series, only the 12.004 was preserved. Unfortunately, the blueprints for this locomotive were, for the most part, either lost or rendered illegible with age. Today, there are almost no traces of the savoir-faire that gave rise to this pure breed of the railway.

In the framework of its patrimonial preservation program, Dassault Systèmes decided to recreate this savoir-faire and to resurrect this mechanical marvel, thanks to its 3D technologies dedicated to the world of industry. Basing the endeavor on the very few usable blueprints, and on a digitization of the real 12.004, a group of enthusiasts work on creating a digital 3D mock-up of the exemplar of steam locomotion. Beyond its playful aspect, this recreation also has a veritable pedagogical dimension. By reviving an unsung industrial gem, Dassault Systèmes transmits a rich patrimony to future generations, perhaps sparking a calling for tomorrow’s engineers.

Atlantic Type 12: From 2D blueprints to 3D digital mock-ups

The digital mock-up of the 12.004 locomotive was produced and re-engineered by a team of Dassault Systèmes engineers in the CATIA.

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The project was carried out, thanks to the much-appreciated authorization of Cockerill Maintenance & Ingénierie, by a team of volunteer enthusiasts. All our gratitude goes to Henri Cazier, Frédéric Colin, Antoine Mace, Christophe Marchand, Fabrice Pinot, Xavier Remond, Julien Treillard and Patrick Tassignon.