Belgium braces for 7,4% more passenger trains 15/07/23

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Government approves 'ambitious' SNCB overhaul plans


The SNCB Board of Directors has adopted its new transport plan for the period 2023-2026, the company announced in a press release on Friday evening.

The overhaul will see more than 2,000 trains run each week between now and 2026, including more than 720 at weekends. SNCB should achieve an annual output of 89.5 million train-km in 2026, an increase of 7.4% on the current service, the company points out, describing its plan as “the most ambitious” it has ever had.

The aim is to achieve a 30% increase in the number of rail passengers by 2032. This will involve more than €1.8 billion investments in the country’s stations to improve intramodality, accessibility and comfort.

The plan focuses on developing services around major cities such as Brussels, Antwerp and Liège, with more frequent suburban trains, and on improving connections between major cities at weekends.

Nearly 50 suburban trains will also run later on Friday and Saturday evenings, including 30 trains departing from Brussels and Antwerp after 01:00. In total, more than half of all stations (280) will benefit from improved services between now and 2026, SNCB claims.

More comfortable and more connections

The gradual renewal of the stock of train will also offer passengers greater comfort, with 10,000 more seats, 40% more bicycle spaces, 80% of trains equipped with air conditioning (compared with 65% today) and greater accessibility for people with reduced mobility.

As part of this plan, 100% of SNCB trains will soon be equipped with the ETCS system, which constantly monitors vehicle speed. This equipment will also make it possible to increase its reliability and, consequently, punctuality, continues the company.

Many of the country’s stations will also be better connected to Charleroi airport, thanks in particular to the introduction of a new daily IC Charleroi-Central – Fleurus – Ottignies – Wavre – Louvain service, which will be coupled with a TEC bus services between Fleurus station and the airport. The same type of combined service will be deployed between Luttre station and Charleroi airport, the company adds.

Between now and 2026, SNCB also plans to deploy no fewer than 2,190 connections every hour between its trains, representing an increase of 12% on the current situation, and will strengthen its collaboration with other operators such as the TEC, STIB and De Lijn.

Cross-border services will also be strengthened with the introduction of the “three-country train” linking Liège, Maastricht and Aachen, and a suburban service which will also link Liège and Verviers to Aachen.

This plan, which will be rolled out in four successive phases (December 2023, December 2024, June 2025 and December 2025), also includes a massive recruitment drive. More than 500 drivers and attendants are to be recruited in 2023, the company points out.

Furthermore, while the Board of Directors recognises the need to optimise the number of stops, it has decided “not to take a decision at this stage and to defer any decision in this area to a future transport plan.”

In practical terms, this means that no stations will be scrapped for the time being. Only 22 regional "P trains", which are very lightly used because of the increase in remote working, will no longer be running, the company said.

The plan, which covers the period 2023-2026, must now still be approved by the Council of Ministers.