Rail transport in Belgium
IR train in Noorderkempen Station
|Major operators||Thalys, Eurostar, SNCF, DB (passengers), Crossrail, TrainsporT, Rail4Chem, SNCF Fret, ERS Railways (freight)|
|Ridership||206.5 million per year (excl. DB ICE)|
|Passenger km||9.9 billion per year|
|Freight||62.2 million tons per year (2006)|
|Total||3,374 kilometres (2,097 mi)|
|Double track||3,022 kilometres (1,878 mi)|
|Electrified||3,002 kilometres (1,865 mi)|
|Main||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in)|
|High-speed||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in)|
|3000 V DC||Main network|
|25 kV AC||High-speed lines and recent electrification|
On May 5, 1835, the first railway in continental Europe opened between Brussels-Groendreef/Allée verte and Mechelen. Some sort of railroad or canal had been envisaged as early as 1830. The feasibility of a railroad was 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 rail 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 SNCB 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 started with electrification on the line Brussels North to Antwerp Central, 44 km.
In 2003, the network constituted 3,518 km of railways, all of which were standard gauge: 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) gauge. Of all of those railways, 2,631 km were also electrified. Most electrified Belgian lines use a 3,000 volt d.c. overhead power supply, but the high speed-lines are electrified at 25 kV AC, as are recent electrifications in the south of the country (Rivage - Gouvy and Dinant - Athus lines).
Trains in Belgium normally run on the left hand track. This is in contrast to road vehicles, which drive on the right hand side of the road and is evidence of the British involvement in building the rail network in the 19th century.
The railway network is controlled and maintained by Infrabel, a subsidiary of SNCB Holding.
Belgium operates a policy of cheap rail travel. Citizens in Belgium, especially students and older citizens, are offered incentives and cheaper fares in order to alleviate congestion on the nation's roads. Public sector employees are entitled to a free or heavily subsidised season ticket for commuting by rail. Many private sector employers will make a contribution to the cost of a season ticket. Smoking is prohibited in all railway stations and passenger cars.
- All adjacent countries use the same 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) gauge.
- Netherlands - different voltage 3 kV DC/1500 V DC. The change of voltage occurs south of Roosendaal, and between the Dutch stations of Eijsden and Maastricht Randwijck; monovoltage 3 kV Belgian trains proceed under reduced power to the first large station past the border (Roosendaal or Maastricht). Border crossings are at:
- Germany - different voltage 3 kV DC/15 kV AC. The change of voltage occurs in Aachen station where there is a switchable track so that 3kV monovoltage trains can reach Aachen. Change of voltage also on the Moresnet viaduct on the freight only line Visé - Montzen - Aachen West. Border crossings are at:
- Luxembourg - different voltage 3 kV DC/25 kV AC. The change of voltage occurs in Luxembourg station; the section from the border to Luxembourg is at 3 kV DC. Border crossings are at:
- France - different voltage 3 kV DC/25 kV AC. The change of voltage occurs at the border, except for the high-speed line and Athus which is 25 kV throughout. Border crossings are at:
- Mouscron (Moeskroen), Tournai-Blandain, Quiévrain, Aulnois, Erquelinnes, Athus, Froyennes
- high speed line at Esplechin
- Adinkerke to Dunkirk track in situ line closed to passengers and freight.
- Momignies only irregular freight traffic
- Heer-Agimont (only touristic trains)
- Menen, Comines-Warneton, Leupegem, Antoing, Tournai, Péruwelz, Dour, Doische (closed)
- United Kingdom - using HSL 1, LGV Nord, the Channel Tunnel and the High Speed 1/Channel Tunnel Rail Link is 25 kV AC.
- List of railway lines in Belgium
- List of railway stations in Belgium
- Rail transport by country
- Transport in Belgium
- "Openbaar vervoer over de weg (1996-2007)" (in Dutch). NMBS. Retrieved 07-01-2009.
- "Goederenvervoer op Belgisch grondgebied : voornaamste vervoersmodi (1999-2006)" (in Dutch). FOD Economie - Algemene Directie Statistiek en NMBS. Retrieved 7 January 2009.
- "BELGIUM'S STEEL NETWORK The Most Concentrated System in the World". mikes.railhistory.railfan.net. "Description of Belgian railways 1935"