History of rail transport in Belgium
- This article is part of the history of rail transport by country series
The history of rail transport in Belgium began in 1829, and continues to this day.
In 1829, John Cockerill tried to obtain a concession from the King of the Netherlands to construct a railway line from Brussels to Antwerp, without success. Shortly after the incorporation of Belgium and its separation from the Netherlands in 1830, a debate opened on the desirability of establishing public railway lines using the steam locomotive recently developed in England. On May 5, 1835, the first railway in continental Europe opened between Brussels-Groendreef/Allée verte and Mechelen.
The feasibility of a railway had been investigated by engineers Pierre Simons and Gustave De Ridder. The first trains were Stephenson engines imported from Great Britain. The engines were called Pijl meaning Arrow, Olifant meaning Elephant, and 'Stephenson' (obviously named after its designer). They pulled bench-cars and diligences. On the return from Mechelen, the Olifant pulled all 30 cars.
By 1840, Ghent, Bruges, Ostend, Antwerp, Mechelen, Brussels and Leuven were connected. The lines that had to reach Liège, Mons and Kortrijk were partially completed. In 1843, when the major East-West/North-South axes were complete, private companies were allowed to construct and use their own railroad systems. These were crucial in the industrialisation of the country.
In 1870, the Belgian state owned 863 km of rail lines, while the private enterprises owned 2,231 km. From 1870 to 1882, the railways were gradually nationalised. In 1912, 5,000 km were state property compared to 300 km private lines. Full nationalisation was considered at the time, but was not enacted until 1926 when the National Railway Company of Belgium was started. It was named the NMBS (Nationale Maatschappij der Belgische Spoorwegen) or SNCB (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Belges, named in a similar way to the French rail network, SNCF). In 1958 the network was fully state-owned. On 5 May 1935 the SNCB introduced electrification on the Brussels North to Antwerp Central line, 44 km.
In 2005, the SNCB was split up into three parts, to facilitate future liberalisation of railway freight and passenger services in agreement with European regulations. Several freight operators have since received access permissions for the Belgian network.
- Dambly, Phil (1989). Vapeur en Belgique [Steam in Belgium]. Tome 1: Des origines à 1914 [Volume 1: Origins to 1914]. Brussels: G. Blanchart & Cie. ISBN 2872020055. (French)
- Dambly, Phil (1994). Vapeur en Belgique [Steam in Belgium]. Tome 2: De 1914 aux dernières fumées [Volume 2: From 1914 to last smoke]. Brussels: G. Blanchart & Cie. ISBN 2872020136. (French)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Rail transport in Belgium.|
- "BELGIUM'S STEEL NETWORK The Most Concentrated System in the World". mikes.railhistory.railfan.net. "Description of Belgian railways 1935"
- Michel Marin, Histoire des Chemins de Fer en Belgique (French) - an online history of rail transport in Belgium
- Guy Demeulder, Les gares belges d'autrefois - historic photographs of railways in Belgium
- La Jonction (French) - about the cross city line through Brussels