The Tramways vicinaux or Buurtspoorwegen were a system of narrow gauge tramways or local railways in Belgium, which covered the whole country and had a greater route length than the mainline railway system. They were 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) gauge (metre gauge) and included electrified city lines and rural lines using steam locomotives and diesel railcars; half the system was electrified.
Only the coastal line, the Charleroi metro and the short line to the caves at Han-sur-Lesse are still in commercial use; four museums hold significant collections of rolling stock, including the museum at Schepdaal and the ASVi museum in Thuin.
The longest (11 km (6.8 mi)) and oldest (40 years) tourist tramway is the Tramway Touristique de l'Aisne, or 'TTA', between Erezée and Dochamps. A sponsoring group called 'Tramania' has supported various tramway preservation initiatives for 13 years, in particular financing construction of the Thuin museum and car restoration for TTA.
NMVB / SNCV
Legislation allowing the construction of rural tramways was passed in 1875, followed by a new law in 1885. The result was the creation of the national Vicinal tramway company – Nationale Maatschappij van Buurtspoorwegen (NMVB) in Dutch, Société nationale des chemins de fer vicinaux (SNCV) in French. The majority of lines were 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) metre gauge, although until 1921 many in the Antwerp area were 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) gauge, later re-gauged. Many lines were built alongside roads, and carried considerable quantities of freight (especially timber and agricultural produce) as well as passengers.
World War I and World War II saw greatly increased traffic despite some wartime damage. The non-electric network reached a peak of approximately 3,938 kilometres (2,447 mi) in 1925, but soon parts started to close as usage of buses, lorries and electric trams increased. At this time, the electric network was already 523 kilometres (325 mi) in length.
After World War II lorries, buses and cars deprived the trams of much of their business. The electric network reached a peak of 1,528 kilometres (949 mi) in 1950. The whole network (electric and non-electric) was still approximately 4,236 kilometres (2,632 mi) in length (the peak of 4,811 kilometres (2,989 mi) was in 1945), but by 1960 had been reduced to only 977 kilometres (607 mi). In 1977, the buses of the Belgian railways (SNCB/NMBS) were transferred to SNCV/NMVB. The tramways from Brussels to Wemmel, Koningslo and Grimbergen closed in 1978.
Political federalism within Belgium from 1980 onwards saw the splitting of many national institutions into separate bodies for Flanders, Wallonia and the Brussels-Capital Region. SNCV/NMVB was broken up in 1991 into De Lijn (for Flanders) and TEC (for Wallonia), both companies primarily operating buses. De Lijn inherited the tram systems in Ghent and Antwerp (including the Pre-metro), operated previously by local companies MIVG and MIVA respectively, and the coastal tramway. TEC operates the Charleroi Pre-metro, which includes sections of Vicinal track. STIB/MIVB operates the 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge Brussels Metro, tram and bus network.