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Socialists wage class war on trains

Published on 10/02/2005

10 February 2005

BRUSSELS – Politicians are calling on Belgium’s rail operator SNCB to scrap first-class train compartments.

The French speaking socialist party (PS) is preparing to make a case for the change before the Parliament in the next few days.

Karin Lalieux says rail travel can be made even more attractive by improving the comfort of passengers.

“Comfort is above all about being able to sit down while travelling,” she said.

“Getting rid of first class would allow the increase of the number of seated places. In the short-term, by opening up first-class carriages to all, the SNCB could avoid those absurd situations where passengers are standing up in second-class while first-class is half empty,” she continued.

“It isn’t right that 15 percent of seated places are reserved for 3.6 percent of the customers,” she added.

Lalieux also argued that it was safer to have passengers travelling sitting down.

Up until now, arguments for scrapping the class system in trains have fallen on deaf ears at the SNCB, which is cautious about getting rid of first-class passengers who pay 17 percent of the total ticket revenue.

Lalieux, however, dismissed those concerns, stating it was for similar reasons that the company initially refused the idea of cut-price tariffs which have finally boosted SNCB profits.

She said first-class customers wouldn’t abandon the trains and argued there were advantages to train running costs from making seating more flexible.

“The role of a public company isn’t to put in place discriminatory pricing in order to make a profit,” she added.

Public Enterprise Minister Johan Vande Lanotte, whose party, the Flemish Social Democrats (SPA) also argues for scrapping first-class carriages, said he was very open to considering the PS proposals and discussing them with SNCB.

[Copyright Expatica 2005]

Subject: Belgian news