Five-day party to celebrate 150th anniversary of Brussels trams
150 years ago, on 1 May 1869, the first Brussels tram line was inaugurated from Porte de Namur, down the new Avenue Louise to the Bois de la Cambre. Horse-drawn, and intended for the haute bourgeoisie, the tram line was created to promote real estate, in this case the property along the Avenue Louise, and to get people to the woods in comfort.
Using horses turned out to be very costly and difficult because of Brussels' many hills. But by the closing years of the century, with the advent of electricity, trams proliferated and eventually all the separate tram companies merged and in 1928 a limited company called Les Tramways Bruxellois came into existence. Part of the rationalisation of the network was the adoption of a common colour, a yellow named Primrose which lasted until 1991.
Over the years, trams met stiff competition from cars, especially in the period following the Second World War, but contrary to many other cities, Brussels never abandoned its trams.
Over the first five days of May, the tram's 150th birthday is going to be widely celebrated adding an amazing array of compelling events to the concurrent Iris Festival which will be celebrating the Brussels Region's 30th anniversary.
On Wednesday 1 May, the actual anniversary, there will be a huge parade of 40 different historic trams along Rue Royale starting at 14.00. Virtually every type of tram that was ever used in Brussels, from the early horse-drawn trams to the current 3000 and 4000 models, will take part.
Belgium was the first country on the continent to have train travel and had the densest railway network in the world. That network consisted not only of the train lines and the city tram lines but also the light railway also known as the interurban or rural tram, or tram vicinal. These were a combination of tram and train - lighter than trains but more comfortable than trams. All during the festivities, you will be able to discover them as 10 historic vicinal trams (including steam-powered) will be on display on the Place Royal. And on display with them will be the model of the brand new TNG tram (Tram New Generation) currently under construction and to be put into service in 2020.
On Thursday and Friday, starting at Place Poelaert, there will be free guided two-and-a-half hour tours in Dutch, English, and French through various districts of Brussels on classic trams.
Also on Thursday, the Stib personnel will start wearing their new uniforms designed by Maison Strelli. On Friday, Manneken Pis will be donning his version of the new driver’s uniform. This will be Manneken Pis’s third Stib uniform.
On Saturday, it’s the 8th European Tram Driver Championship, an institution in the public transport world. Mixed teams of tram drivers from 25 European cities will battle it out over the course of a number of different challenges.
This year, Brussels’ public transport company will be organizing the event. The championship will be held along the Rue Royale, by the Royal Park and will be open to the public. The competition will start at 10.00 and finish at around 17.00 when the winners will be announced.
Their driving skills will be judged over the course of six challenges organised into two rounds. One challenge will test their anticipation and braking abilities. But the crowd pleaser is the tram bowling test, during which the contestants will have to skilfully guide a huge bowling ball using the nose of their vehicle so that it knocks over as many pins as possible. The time taken to complete this round will contribute to the end result.
The cities taking part are Basel, Barcelona, Bergen, Berlin, Brussels, Budapest,, Dresden, Dublin, Gothenburg, Helsinki, Istanbul, Krakow Luxembourg, Malaga, Manchester, Milan, Moscow, Oradea, Paris, Porto, Prague, Rotterdam, Stockholm, Stuttgart and Vienna.
Finally, on Sunday, the Tram Museum will be inaugurating its new holiday vintage tram ride which will be based on the original 1869 route. This route will be the Tram Museum’s second holiday excursion, the first being its Avenue de Tervuren route. Both excursions will operate from April to September and the new one will go from the Bois de la Cambre to Sainte-Marie church in Schaerbeek.