Until the advent of the steam locomotive in the early 19th Century, man's speed of passage over land was limited to that of his trusted friend, the horse. Railways revolutionised the way we live. For the first time, those other than the very rich, enjoyed the opportunity to travel long distances and the major improvement to distribution of goods not only lowered prices but made possible the industrial revolution. In the second half of the 20th Century, as the motor car and truck encroached into the railways' traditional markets, many branch lines and minor railways fell into decline; and steam locomotives were replaced by diesel and electric motive power.
Groups in different parts of Europe acted to save and preserve our railway environment and to show its impact on our cultural and social history. We seek to recreate the era of unhurried travel and an atmosphere which often mixes the hiss of steam with the noise of clanking piston rods, the smell of burning coal and hot oil, and the colours of a more induvidual age.
All this has been achieved by the commitment of individuals prepared to spend time and money restoring railway artefacts and buildings to their former glory. Operating trains requires teamwork, and administration is usually implemented through organisations whose constitutions prohibit the distribution of profit, thus ensuring that any surplus is reinvested in the heritage railway.
In many countries, these voluntary bodies have banded together to form umbrella organisations to promote their common interests on a national level. These in turn have joined forces to form FEDECRAIL, the European Federation of Museum and Tourist Railways.
FEDECRAIL is constituted under the Belgian law. Its members are the national umbrella organisations from European countries but also include, in those countries where none yet exists, some individual railway or museum organisations. Under its constitution, it is governed by a Council of at least six elected representatives from different European countries. It holds a general meeting once a year preceded by a conference on topics of interest to operators of heritage railways, which is attended by delegates from member organisations from all over Europe as well as observers from other continents. In addition to producing an annual report, FEDECRAIL publishes two or three newsletters each year as well as important papers presented at its conference.
FEDECRAIL seeks to:
Despite the short time of its existence and the low budget on which it operates, FEDECRAiL can count several achievements to its credit: