Since becoming an independent country in 1830, Belgium has been a major contributor to the development of the railway as a means of transport. As in the UK, the first railways in Belgium were used to move coal in the flourishing mines of Wallonia. The construction of a network of passenger lines began in 1835, supported by British investors.
The Belgians rapidly became world-leaders in building railways and manufacturing rails and rolling-stock, and exported their expertise and products around the world. Georges Nagelmackers, a banker and industrialist from Liège, founded the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (International Sleeping-Car Company) in 1874. The company’s network of international, long-distance, luxury express trains included the legendary Orient-Express (Paris-Istanbul), and the Trans-Siberian Express (Moscow-Vladivostock), which were hugely successful. Ernest Solvay’s company built the first railway in China between 1900 and 1906, and Baron Empain’s company built the Paris Métropolitain (metro) from 1900 onwards.
Today, visitors who are nostalgic for Belgium’s prestigious railway past can still enjoy journeys on many historic railway lines in Brussels and in Wallonia. In this unspoilt land of plenty, railway connoisseurs will also enjoy meeting the warm-hearted local people and the generous portions of gastronomic food and award-winning beers! Many small breweries continue to thrive in Wallonia’s hilly landscape and lovely villages. French-speaking Belgium reserves a particularly warm welcome for British visitors, and can offer steam-railway fans attractions such as the Three Valleys Railway at Mariembourg, the Steam Railway Museum at Treignes, the Railway and Tramway Discovery Centre at Thuin and the Aisne Valley Tramway at Erezée. Of course, Wallonia boasts many more delightful attractions for visitors. Visitors to Brussels can also enjoy the unique Park Miniature Steam Railway in Forest.