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Mr. Stephenson's Connection With Foeeign Railways, Journeys Into Belgium And Spain.
Leopold, King of the Belgians, was the first European monarch who discovered the powerful instrumentality of railways in developing the industrial resources of a nation. Having resided in England during the infancy of our railway enterprises, he had personally inspected the lines in operation, and satisfied himself of their decided superiority over all known modes of transit. He therefore determined at the earliest possible period to adopt them as the great highroads of his new kingdom.
Belgium had scarcely escaped from the throes of her revolution, and Leopold had only been a short time called to the throne, when by his command the first project of a Belgian railway was laid before him. It was a modest project, it is true, a single line from Antwerp to Liege, requiring a capital of only 400,000/. But small though it was, his ministers even feared that the project was too ambitious, and that the king was about to embark his government in an enterprise beyond its strength. There was as yet only the experiment of the Liverpool and Manchester passenger railway to justify him; but in his opinion that had been complete and decisive.
The bill for the Antwerp and Liege line struggled with difficulty through the Chambers, and it became law in 1834. Before the measure received legislative sanction, the plan had been enlarged, and powers were taken to construct an almost entire system of lines embracing the principal districts c' Belgium; connecting Brussels with all the chief dries. aai extending from Osteod eastward to the Prussian frontier. ai>d from Antwerp southward to the French frontier. The tool extent ofraOway thus authorised was 246 miles. The eventual encrvs* of this measure was mainly due to the energy aou sagacious enterprise of the king. He foresaw the immeas advantages of the railway system, and its applicability w the wants of such a state as Belgium. The country being rich in coal and minerals, had great manufacturing capabilities. It had good ports, fine navigable rivers, abundan: canals, and a teeming industrious population. He perceived railways were of all things the best calculated to bnnj the industry of the country into full play, and to render the riches of his provinces available to all the rest of the kingdom. King Leopold therefore openly declared himself the promoter of public railways throughout Belgium. The execution of the works was immediately commenced, the money being provided by the state. Every official influence was called into active exertion for the development of these great enterprises. And, in order to prevent the Belgian enterprise becoming in any sort converted into a stock-jobbing speculation, it was wisely provided that the shares were not to be quoted on the Exchange at Antwerp or Brussels, until the railway w*3 actually completed. drank, that of Mr. Stephenson was proposed; on which the whole assembly rose up, amidst great excitement and loud applause, and made their way to where he sat, in order to jingle glasses with him, greatly to his own amazement. On the day following, Mr. Stephenson dined with the king and queen at their own table at Laaken, by special invitation; afterwards accompanying his majesty and suite to a public ball given by the municipality of Brussels, in honour of the opening of the line to Ghent, as well as of their distinguished English guest . On entering the room, the general and eicited inquiry was, " Which is Stephenson?" The English engineer had never before known that he was esteemed so great a man.
Mr. George Stephenson and his son, as the leading railway engineers of England, were consulted by the King of the Belgians, as to the formation of the most efficient system of lines throughout his kingdom, as early as 1835. In the course of that year Mr. Stephenson visited Belgium, and had some interesting conferences with King Leopold and his ministers on the subject of the proposed railways. On that occasion the king appointed him by royal ordinance a Knight of the Order of Leopold. Improvements of the
Chap. XXXIII.] BRUSSELS AND GHENT LINE. 457
system were recommended and adopted; and in 1837 a law was passed, authorising the construction of additional lines, — from Ghent to Mouscron on the French frontier,—from Courtray to Tournai, — from Brain-le-Comte to Namur,— with several smaller branches. These, with the lines previously authorised, made a total length of 341 English miles.
Much diligence was displayed by the government in pushing on the works; the representatives of the people in the Chambers now surpassing even the king himself in their anticipation of the great public benefits to be derived from railways. The first twelve miles between Brussels and Malines were opened in 1835, a year after the passing of the law; and successive portions were opened from time to time, until the year 1844, when the entire national system was completed and opened, after a total outlay on works, stations, and plant, of about six and a half millions sterling. Never did any legislature expend public money in a wiser manner for the promotion of the common good. The Belgian lines being executed as an entire system by the state, there was no wasteful parliamentary expenditure, and no construction of unnecessary duplicate lines; the whole capital invested was remunerative; and the Belgian people thus obtained the full advantages of railways at less than one-half the average cost of those in England.
At the invitation of the king, Mr. Stephenson made a visit to Belgium in 1837, on the occasion of the public opening of the line from Brussels to Ghent. The event was celebrated with great ceremony. At Brussels there was a public procession, and another at Ghent on the arrival of the train. Mr. Stephenson and his party accompanied it to the Public Hall, there to dine with the chief ministers of state, the municipal authorities, and about five hundred of the principal inhabitants of the city; the English ambassador being also present After the king's health and a few others had been
When the success of railways in Belgium was no longer matter of conjecture, capitalists were ready to come forward and undertake their formation, without aid from the government; and several independent companies were formed in England for the construction of new lines in the country. Mr. Stephenson was professionally consulted respecting several of these in the year 1845. The Sambre and Meuse Company having obtained the concession of a line from the legislature *, Mr. Stephenson proceeded to Belgium, for the purpose of examining in person the district through which the proposed line was to pass. He was accompanied on this occasion by Mr. Sopwith and Mr. Starbuck: the former gentleman a highly distinguished Northumberland
• The king, in his speech to the Chambers, in opening the session of 18W said, "Ever since the National Railways have reached the French and German frontiers, the conveyance of goods and pussengers, and the amount of the receipts, have rapidly and unceasingly advanced. The results obtained this year have surpassed my expectations. Your last session was distinguished, towards its close, by the vote of several projects of railways and canals. The favourable reception given to foreign capitalists has led to many demands fi>r the concession of lines. Some of these demands, after being examined, wiU •* submitted to your deliberation."