Belgian Railway Time For Your Home

Some of the 20th century’s most iconic design and typography came to us through public signage in the various national railways of Europe. Were you to think of a Modernist clock face for example, the chances are that the prototype for your image hangs somewhere in one of the continent’s great railway terminals. If you don’t fancy getting on a train to see your favourite public timepiece, then maybe [EBP Controller] has a treat for you, with a 3D-printed double-faced Belgian railway station clock.

Behind the scenes the mechanism is simpler than appearances might lead the observer to believe, with each set of hands driven through a single gear to a motor. Controlling it all is an ESP8266, which is able to synchronise the clock exactly to an NTP server. It appears at first sight to have an unnecessarily large quantity of motors, but considering that there are two faces each with three hands the six motors each have a use. So while the real thing might require a heist from the SNCB, at least modernist clock fans can now have their own.

9 thoughts on “Belgian Railway Time For Your Home

    1. @Krass said: “What ? That design is from the Swiss Railway, not from Belgium…”

      I seem to remember (it’s been a long time since I’ve been in Europe) the Belgian and German railway Stop2Go clocks have a very similar design with a red seconds hand that has a large circle with a hole in it and a pointer on the end, like shown on [EBP Controller]’s mimic Belgian clock.

      However, the 1944 red second hand design by Hans Hilfiker originated with the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB).[1] The Swiss red seconds hand design has a large solid circle and no pointer on the end.

      1. Mondaine – Wikipedia

  1. These Belgian/German/Swiss railway station synchronized “Stop2Go” clocks behave strangely at the top of every minute (actually starting every 57 seconds). As [EBP Controller] puts it when describing his mimic railway clock [1]:

    “The working of the clock is in the same way as the mechanism of the Belgian railway station clock. This means, the seconds hand starts his cycle at the beginning of a new minute. It takes about 57 seconds to make one rotation. The seconds hand terminates his orbit at the highest marker indicator. Standing there, he has to wait until the new minute begins. At the same moment, the minutes hand makes a jump to the new corresponding minute marker.”

    This strange Stop2Go behavior was needed by the original synchronized railway station clock movements. I cannot imagine any technical reason why the Stop2Go behavior is needed in today’s station clocks. The modern station clocks are disciplined by the 50KW German DCF77 time and frequency longwave reference radio signal which covers almost all of Europe. But at least some of the modern railway clocks mimic the unique Stop2Go behavior anyway, for what I assume is nostalgic reasons.

    Below in [5] is a YouTube video by [rewboss] that explains the whole Stop2Go clock business. Jump to 00:40 seconds to see the clock hand Stop2Go behavior in action on a real modern German railway clock.

    Just for fun, note that there is a line of watches and clocks made by the Swiss company Mondaine Watch Ltd [2] that mimics the railway clock style under license from the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) since 1986. This design by Hans Hilfiker originated in 1944. Mondaine’s full and desk-size Swiss railway mimic clocks [3] have a traditional sweep second hand, so they do not display the Stop2Go behavior. However, Mondaine does manufacture Swiss Railway mimic wrist watches that do display the nostalgic Stop2Go behavior.[4]

    * References:

    1. Belgian Railway Station Clock by [EBP Controller]

    2. Mondaine – Wikipedia

    3. Mondaine – Mimic Railway Clocks

    4. Mondaine Wrist Watch with Stop2go Function

    5. Station clocks [Things you find in Germany] by [rewboss]

  2. Here is another video showing a real Belgian/German railway station clock’s hand behavior on the minute. It also shows a small station clock that uses a Raspberry Pi Pico (RP2040) disciplined by the DCF77 radio standard in the EU. The small DCF77 disciplined desktop clock in the video seems to be real! If so, I’ve never seen one that small. But then again I normally live in the U.S. and only encounter these slave clocks when visiting Europe.

    Project GitHub:

    Search for nebenuhr (slave clock) on Ebay Germany:

    Video: Railway Station Clock Brought Back To Life With Raspberry Pi Pico and DCF77 Atomic Clock Signal, 1,853 views, Feb 4, 2022, 03:38

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