Expatica news

Small train stations ‘under threat’

10 September 2004

BRUSSELS – A question mark is hanging over the future of Belgium’s small railway stations, following the publication of a major report on Friday.

The study by state rail operator SNCB revealed that 200 stations – out of a total of 530 – dealt with just 2.8 percent of the country’s total rail travel.

The 180-page analysis found 20 percent of total passenger numbers comes from the 10 largest towns in Belgium and 60 percent from connections between those towns and other stations.

Commuters make up two-thirds of SNCB’s business, concluded the report, and when it comes to tourists, 62 percent of them are bound for the coast.

With competitors entering the rail market predicted to undercut SNCB by 30 to 40 percent, the pressure is on the company to cut costs.

Railway unions are waiting anxiously to see if this latest report drives SNCB to start closing smaller stations and concentrating resources on the most popular routes.

SNCB already wishes to close 41 ticket offices at small stations.

In the worst case scenario, Belgium would have just eight train routes, the most profitable: Brussels-Namur-Luxembourg, Brussels-Antwerp-Amsterdam, Lille-Namur-Liege, Poperinge-Brussels-St.Nicholas, La Panne-Ghent-Brussels National Airport, Ostend-Brussels-Eupen, Ostend-Ghent and Antwerp, and Blankenberghe-Brussels-Tongres.

However, Leo Pardon, SNCB’s passenger manager, said the report would not necessarily lead to change.

“This document, worrying in several regards, doesn’t spell out anything in terms of future decisions,” he said.

“It’s just an evaluation to allow us to make the right choices in the future, so that SNCB can play a better role in society.”

[Copyright Expatica 2004]

Subject: Belgian news