One of the unique features of Belgium in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was the ‘vicinal’, the network of narrow gauge tramways extending through rural areas in all parts of the country. It had a greater total length than the main line railway system. The legislation authorising the system was passed in 1874, and the system reached its greatest extent in 1945 when its total length was 4811 km. Most lines were originally steam-worked, but many were electrified and in later years others were worked by diesel traction. Most lines were laid alongside roads, and some carried freight as well as passengers. In 1945 when the total length of the network was 4236 km, some 1528 km of the track was electrified. The system declined in the 1950s, and extended over only 977 km by 1960. It had almost entirely closed down by 1970.
The lines along the coast near Ostend survive, and parts have been incorporated into the metro system at Charleroi, but the best impression of the rural ‘vicinal’ can be gained at the Tramway Touristique de l’Aisne (Aisne Tourist Tramway) at Erezée in the province of Luxembourg in south-east Belgium. It was established by a non-profit association in 1964 and took control of the line from Erezée to Dochamps in the following year. The association erected a substantial stone building for the storage of rolling stock in 1973. There was some steam operation from 1973, but steam power is not currently employed. The line extends for 11.2 km but substantial alterations are in progress and during 2017 trains will only operate over a 6 km section.