Trams in Brussels

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Brussels tramway network
Cityrunner 3005 Brussel.jpg
A Bombardier T3000 in Brussels, 2010.
Locale Brussels, Belgium
Routes 20 (2013)[1]
Owner(s) Brussels-Capital Region
Operator(s) STIB/MIVB
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Propulsion system(s) Electricity
Electrification 600 V DC
Route length 138.9 km (86.3 mi)[2]
Passengers (2012) 123.5 million[3]
Horsecar era: 1869 (1869)–ca. 1900 (ca. 1900)
Status Converted to electricity
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Propulsion system(s) Horses
Steam tram era: 1876 (1876)–1877 (1877), 1879
Status Experiments abandoned
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Propulsion system(s) Steam
Accumulator tram era: 1883 (1883), 1886–1889 (1889)
Status Experiments abandoned
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Propulsion system(s) Rechargable batteries
Electric tram era: since 1894 (1894)
Status Still Running
Owner(s) Brussels-Capital Region
Operator(s) STIB/MIVB
(since 1954)
Brussels tramway network, 2009.
Website STIB/MIVB (in English)

The Brussels tram (or streetcar) system is a transport system in Brussels, Belgium. It is the 16th largest tram system in the world by route length, and in 2012 carried some 123.5 million passengers.[3] In 2016, the Brussels tram system consists of 17 tram lines[4] (three of which – lines 3, 4 and 7 – qualify as premetro lines).[5] As of 2011, the tram system's total route length was 138.9 km (86.3 mi),[2] making it one of the larger tram networks in Europe. Its development has demonstrated many of the quandaries that face local public transport planners. The Brussels tram system also has a number of interesting peculiarities.


A Brussels tram in 1937

The first horse-drawn trams were introduced in Brussels in 1869, running from the Porte de Namur to the Bois de la Cambre.[6] The first electric tramway came to Brussels in 1894.[6]

Intermodal integration[edit]

The system exists in a somewhat unusual local government context, because Brussels is a self-governing region, as an enclave within Flanders, although only some 3.3 kilometres from Wallonia at the closest point. This means that three-way deals are necessary between Brussels’ own STIB/MIVB, Flanders’ De Lijn and Wallonia’s TEC.

STIB sees itself as a provider of mobility rather than just public transport, and has a 49% share in the Cambio carsharing franchise. The Brussels conurbation — 19 municipalities plus adjoining commuter belt — is also served by a fairly dense network of main-line trains. The MOBIB contactless smart card can be used on buses, trams, the metro and for mainline railway season tickets, and is gradually being extended to other modes, although it is not yet accepted by De Lijn or TEC. A simple tariff system permits unlimited changes with a one-hour period for 2.50 when bought from the driver, 2.10 from a ticket machine. Real-time arrival indicators have been installed at many tram stops.

Ridership has been rising, and user-friendly features that have grown up through custom and practice help this. For instance, passengers open the doors by pressing a green strip on the central pole (in PCC trams) or an illuminated button (on Flexity trams), and drivers usually make a point of waiting for latecomers. However, overcrowding at rush hours and at weekend is common. The rate of detected fare-dodging is 4.15%,[7] despite periodic enforcement campaigns, and this is being addressed by the installation of ticket barriers in all metro stations. From 2013, the obligation to check out of as well as into the system is being progressively introduced.


A tram at Porte de Hal premetro station
Platforms of Boileau premetro station, clearly showing the dual platform heights

As of 2017, there are 17 tram routes,[1] totalling 141.1 kilometres (87.7 mi),[7] and serving most parts of the city, including three partial ring routes (7, 81 and 94). The tram routes have a very varied feel, including street running through narrow streets in working-class districts (line 81), cobbled central reservation, reserved track through parkland and woods (line 44), signal-controlled running in tunnels (the premetro lines 3 and 4 in the North–South Axis, and 7), and short stretches in cutting (the old route 18, closed in 2007). Almost all trams are double-ended and all are double-sided, and while some stub termini remain (4, 51, 97), most have loops. The route pattern shows some notable gaps, particularly along major radial routes, because these were originally served by the national network of buurtspoorwegen/tramways vicinaux. These had a gauge of one metre, rather than the Brussels standard gauge, and so the tracks could not easily be taken over when the lines were progressively closed from the 1960s onwards.

The complementary routing of vicinal and urban tracks and the replacement of key lines by metro has led to some peculiar track layouts, for instance at the Barrière de St-Gilles/Bareel St-Gillis. Though all seven roads at this circular junction originally had tram lines, only three of the original seven remain.[8] To negotiate a sharp turn, the old route T18 (closed 1 July 2007) had to make a 270-degree turn on its journey away from the city centre, looping round and crossing its own path.

Under the South station, the premetro and metro tracks swap from running on the right to running on the left where they run parallel to provide cross-platform interchange between the two lines. This serves no apparent purpose, but may be because main line trains in Belgium run on the left. Trams cross back to the right under Place Bara but the metro stays on the left as far as the Roi Baudouin terminus.

By 2016, Bruxelles Mobilité/Brussel Mobiliteit had installed traffic light priority for trams or buses at 150 junctions.[9] In some other places, the track layout is used to avoid hold-ups; for instance on route 92 at the Ma Campagne and Place Janson crossroads, which lie 300 metres from each other on the Chaussée de Charleroi/Charleroisesteenweg. There is lateral space for only one track in a raised central reservation, and the rails swerve to the left approximately 100 metres in front of the junction so that cars can queue in the right-hand lane.

Between 2006 and 2009, a phased transformation of the network took place, with the aim of improving regularity and relieving overcrowding. The premetro service between North station and Albert was restructured with fewer lines passing through it, but at more regular intervals. These routes use the new longer Bombardier trams. The major part of the North-South Axis (from Lemonnier to Rogier) is now used only by lines 3 and 4 during the day, branded Chrono. Tram line 55 from Schaerbeek (north of Brussels) that used to use the North-South Axis now terminates at Rogier. The old line 52 was replaced by line 3 in the north (from Brussels-South railway station to Thomas and from Van Praet to Esplanade), 82 (from Drogenbos to Lemonnier) and 32 in the south. The old tram line 56 was also withdrawn.

A previously implemented part of the plan was the creation of line 25 in April 2007. Line 25 goes from Rogier to the Boondael/Boondaal railway station following the route of the former line 90 from Rogier to Buyl, then leaves the outer ring towards the Université Libre de Bruxelles campus of Solbosch.

On March 14, 2011, old lines 23 and 24 were merged to create the new eastern semicircular premetro line 7 which runs almost entirely in its own right of way from Heizel/Heysel in the north to Vanderkindere in the south.


In the current political climate, investment in light rail has again taken off, and a number of extensions to the system are at various stages of fruition. As of 2016, the following extensions to the tram network are being built:

  • line 94 northwards from the Woluwe tram museum to Roodebeek
  • new line 9 from Simonis to Heysel/Heizel via Brussels University Hospital (UZB)

The Flemish region, under its Brabantnet plan, intends to build a new line to the north of the city, from Heysel/Heizel to Willebroek alongside the A12 road.[10] Its success will require integration with the existing Brussels regional system; for instance the line will have to be built at standard rather than metre gauge (as the other Flemish trams are).

Three other suburban/interurban lines had been proposed:

  • from Brussels westwards to Ninove
  • from Brussels north-eastwards to Heist-op-den-Berg
  • from Heizel/Heysel via Vilvoorde to Zaventem airport

The first two proposals were withdrawn, while the last is to be implemented as a 'tram-bus'.

Other proposals have been aborted. During 2014 and 2015 STIB/MIVB promoted a project to convert the Porte de Namur/Naamsepoort to Delta section of the overloaded 71 bus route to tram operation. The Brussels region supported the proposal, but the municipality of Ixelles/Elsene was against, supported by traders on the Chaussée dÍxelles/Elsensesteenweg who feared the disruption the tracklaying would cause. The proposal was dropped and instead the section as far as Place Fernand Coq/Fernand Coqplein is to be made largely car-free.[11]

Yet others are still on the drawing board. A tramline was also mooted to run westwards from the Gare du Nord/Noordstation via a new bridge over the canal and Tour et Taxis/Thurn en Taxis to Beekkant, but withdrawn because of its cost. Other outline proposals have been made to:

  • extend the 62 to Zaventem airport (with the infrastructure being paid for by the Flemish Region)
  • divert the 92 from Rue Royale/Koningsstraat to serve Central Station
  • rebuild the east-west link through the city centre from Bourse/Beurs to Place Royale/Koningdplein

High-floor and low-floor trams[edit]

A 4000 series tram at Heysel

The development of the system is being pulled in two contradictory directions – towards low-floor street-running trams and high-floor underground railway. This has led to some conflicting decisions. The standard trams — still "PCC"s from the 1950s and 60s — have been followed by the specially designed "T2000" low-floor model and, at the end of 2005, by a variant of the off-the-shelf "Flexity Outlook" from Bombardier (3000 series), and, at the end of 2006, by an even longer version of the same family (4000 series).

On some of the busiest routes, the convenience of the low floor is lost because of the anomalies caused by the hesitant upgrade of tram to metro. The city has four heavy metro lines and three stretches of premetro or underground tram. The premetro tunnels have been built to allow for eventual upgrade to heavy metro, so most of the platform is high, and is connected to the street (at least in the upward direction) by escalator. At some stations lifts have been installed, but there is a cutout section taking the level down to one foot above ground to board the trams. The three steps this entails make life difficult for passengers with baby buggies or suitcases, even though the new low-floor trams are accessible to wheel-chair users. To get around this last barrier to mobility, an experimental ramp was installed in 2009 at Parvis de St-Gilles/St-Gillis Voorplein.

A PCC leaving Place Rogier/Rogierplein for South/Midi station, before the opening of the North-South premetro. The tram stop in the background was also used by the Vicinal, which had its terminal loop here.


A PCC tram in art nouveau livery

Brussels trams have known several liveries. In the beginning of the 20th century, those operated by the Tramways Bruxellois were dark green, by the Chemins de Fer Economiques chocolate. The two companies merged in the 1920s, whereupon a standard livery of primrose yellow was adopted which lasted (with some minor changes in the trimmings) until the mid-1990s when a brighter shade of yellow was adopted.

A profound change in livery came in 2006 with the adoption of the so-called art nouveau livery of silver and light brown on the new 3000 and 4000 vehicles. The rest of the active fleet has been repainted.

2010 Vancouver Olympics[edit]

Brussels trams on loan to Vancouver for demonstration during 2010 Winter Olympics

From January 21 to March 21, 2010, a demonstration streetcar project, known as the Olympic Line, at Vancouver, BC, Canada, utilised cars 3050 & 3051 (Bombardier Flexity Outlook) on a Vancouver Downtown Historic Railway 1.8 km track. [1]

Heritage trams[edit]

The system exists in happy symbiosis with an active heritage operation based at Woluwe depot, and privately hired trams have free access to the tracks. Trams that still collect their current through trolley poles rather than pantographs are normally restricted to the scenic line from Cinquantenaire park via Woluwe to Tervuren, which is run with the help of volunteers from the preservation society MTUB (Museum of Brussels Urban Transport), whose board has a strong representation from STIB/MIVB. This runs at weekends from April to October; occasionally, such as on the Belgian national holiday, 21 July, these trams appear in the city centre, where the line in the Koningsstraat/Rue Royale is trolleypole-enabled.

Several trams have been sent to the United States. Tram 7037 is in San Francisco operating on line F, surreally repainted in the blue-and-white livery of Zürich. Tram 1504 is at the Trolley Museum of New York and 1511 is at Old Pueblo Trolley. An 4-axle PCC is also awaiting restoration at the Ontario St shed of Vancouver's Downtown Historic Railway.

Special-purpose trams[edit]

Car 7126, BX1 programme Le Tram mobile studio, at Place Louise, 5 April 2017

One PCC tram was converted in 2012 into a mobile restaurant, which operates six evening per week.[12] Its fleet number is 7601,[13] formely 7765 and before that 7565.

A second PCC tram, 7126,[14] serves as a mobile studio for the Le Tram television programme broadcast by BX1 (formely Télé Bruxelles) every other Sunday, during which an interview is conducted while the tram tours Brussels.[15] The tram tows a generator trailer.


STIB/MIVB has 7 depots and maintenance facilities:

  • Avenue du Roi/Koningslaan (Saint-Gilles/Sint-Gillis)
  • Rue d’Enghien/Edingenstraat (Molenbeek)
  • Houtweg (Haren) - a major bus, tram and metro reception and repair facility
  • Avenue de l’Hippodrome/Rennbaanlaan (Ixelles/Elsene)
  • Chaussée de Haecht/Haachtsesteenweg (Schaerbeek/Schaarbeek)
  • Woluwe - on the site of the Brussels Tram Museum
  • Marconi (Forest/Vorst) - the newest depot, fully opened in 2017

Route list[edit]

Tram routes as of 31 August 2015:

Stricken-out numbers represent partial services (they do not go up to the end of the line). Only regular services are shown in this list.


The sources of these statistics come from 2011,[16] 2012[3] or 2016[7]

  • Passenger journeys (2016): 126.4 million
  • Length of tram line (double-track, 2016): 141.1 km (87.7 mi), of which 80.6 km (50.1 mi) are in dedicated lanes (i.e. own right-of-way) and 12.1 km (7.5 mi) of which are in tunnels or underground
  • Average distance between stops: 395 metres[16]
  • Vehicle-kilometres travelled (2016): 15.2 million
  • Commercial speed (2016) 16.0 km/hr
  • Share of passengers holding a season-ticket (2016): 87%
  • No of trams (2016): 397
  • No. of depots: 6, with 2 workshops[16]
  • No. of points: c. 850 including those in depots[17]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b "STIB - Timetables and real time". STIB/MIVB. 2013. Retrieved 2013-09-15. 
  2. ^ a b "Activity Report 2011 - Figures & statistics '11" (PDF). STIB/MIVB. p. 08. Retrieved 2013-09-15. 
  3. ^ a b c "STIB - Key Figures". STIB. 2013. Retrieved 2013-09-15. 
  4. ^ "STIB simplifies its online route planner". Brussels Smart City. 2016-03-18. Retrieved 2016-03-26. 
  5. ^ Geoffroy Fabre (2014-03-19). "Une station fantôme au secours du futur Métro Nord de la STIB". RTBF. Retrieved 2014-05-09. 
  6. ^ a b "STIB - La STIB de 1890 à 1953" [STIB - STIB from 1869 to 1953] (in French). STIB. 2013. Retrieved 2013-09-15. 
  7. ^ a b c
  8. ^ Map from September 1949 by J.C. Gillham inside back cover of Brussels - A Tramway Reborn 1945-2008, Geoffrey Skelsey & Yves-Laurent Hansart, Light Rail Transit Association, Peterborough UK, 2008, ISBN 978-0-948106-36-1
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Nightfall on the tram restaurant at Louise, Brussels, Belgium". 2013-10-20. Retrieved 2017-08-12. 
  14. ^ "Tram 7126, mobile TV studio in Brussels, Belgium". 2016-01-31. Retrieved 2017-08-12. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b c "Activity Report 2011 - Figures & statistics '11" (PDF). STIB/MIVB. Retrieved 2013-09-15. 
  17. ^ An van Hamme of STIB/MIVB, Bruzz, 2 February 2017

External links[edit]