The World Today

The World Today
Earth in 2013

Monday, August 16, 2010

VOC Rail

In the 1820s, the advent of steam engines lead to a new method of transportation: the railroad. The British had already made great use of the rail, but business interests in the United Provinces were divided by it. Canal owners and shipping magnate swore that the railroad would destroy the economy by putting out of business dozens of canals and hundreds of captains. A fight for the future of the railroad broke out in the Staaten-General as canal interests lobby against the laying of railroad tracks. Most shipping companies were against the rail and saw it as a threat, save one. The VOC saw the railroad as an opportunity.

The new VOC was not about to make the same mistakes as its predecessor, and Maarten Minuit decided the company should diversify. He had a great deal of clout with the Board of Holders, despite his attempts to convince them to re-enter the cinnamon trade. In 1835, due to persuading by Minuit, the VOC took out a loan (so large that the entire company was put up as collateral) and bought into the railroad industry, acquiring the Amsterdam-Hague line, as well as other small tracks connecting to it. By 1837, the line was extended to Bruges and in 1838, to Arnhem.

The rail proved to be more than a passing fad and rather profitable at that. By 1840, the loan had been repaid in full, and the VOC continued to lay track across the United Provinces. It did weaken the canals, and put a few shipping companies out of business, some the VOC purchased on the cheap. The railroad proved to be a far more profitable way to ship things within the United Provinces than did ships themselves. By 1843, the VOC Rail operations were the largest railroad in the United Provinces, with hundreds of kilometers of track lain.

In that same year, the first tracks of the VOC Rail were lain in Brazil. Brazil was a massively larger state than the United Provinces, and railroads would be the future of Brazilian commerce and the key to developing parts far from the coast nor accessible by rivers. Brazilians, once crowded along the coastline, soon spread out to new lands in the interior. These newly available lands also drove immigration from Europe, bringing millions of people to Brazil over the next fifty years. By 1850, thousands of kilometers of VOC track were lain not only in the United Province sand Brazil, but colonies such as southern Africa, Ceylon and even India. The rail venture was a gamble, but not only did it succeed, but it also put the VOC back on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, with the company being took public in 1849, causing new investors to sink millions of guilders of capital into the company.

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