Delivery new NMBS/SNCB double-decker delayed
The new double-decker trains of the NMBS/SNCB are not available yet. In 2015, the Belgian public railway company placed an order of 1,3 billion euro with the Bombardier-Alstom consortium for 445 new wagons and locomotives that normally had to be delivered as from September.
The train builder, however, is struggling with production problems and the arrival of the double-deckers is now postponed to “somewhere in the course of 2019”.
According to the trade unions, the delays have everything to do with the restructuring that the company has undergone over the past year. At Bombardier Bruges, 140 jobs were lost.
The new generation of double-decker trains, or ‘M7’ for short, not only offers more comfort to the passenger, but also the latest software and extra safety. For example, there is more legroom and the ceilings in the new double-deckle trains, with a powerful engine that runs smoothly over two hundred km/hour, are also higher, which also gives more room for luggage.
Largest purchases ever
In addition to this mega-order of 445 new wagons and locomotives, the NMBS/SNCB signed an option for 917 extra carriages, bringing the total cost price to 3,3 billion euro. It is one of the largest purchases ever made by the Belgian railways. The delivery is spread between September 2018 and 2021. The trains, however, which could make the life of the commuter a little more pleasant, still remain to be seen.
Delivery by mid-2019
“There is some delay in delivery”, says spokesperson, Anne Froger, of the Canadian Bombardier, which makes the vast majority of the trains, “but, NMBS and Bombardier are doing everything in their power to bring this complex project to a successful conclusion.” The collaboration is still going smoothly. “We are pretty sure that we will be able to deliver by mid-2019.”
The delay is due to operational problems. The bodywork is being built in the Czech Republic, but they cannot cope with the required pace. “They find too few welders”, says Steven Bogaert, ACV trade unionist at Bombardier in Bruges, where the workers install the software, the electricity and the upholstery in the coaches, after they have been sprayed with lacquer in France.
There are already 12 trains waiting in Bruges, prototypes that are fully tested but that process is also more difficult than expected. According to the trade unions, this has everything to do with the restructuring that Bombardier has pushed through last year.
In Bruges, 140 jobs were lost. “A lot of competence has been lost”, says Bogaert. “These competencies are now hired through external companies. Bombardier employees from Portugal, Romania and Germany are also helping, but that is not obvious.”
Since the restructuring, the site in Bruges has been managed from the French Crespin. However, according to the trade unions, the M7 proves that this does not work. “We had predicted this in advance”, says Bogaert. “We are confronted with temporary unemployment in Bruges because we have insufficient pieces.”
20.000 extra seats
The delay is a blow for the NMBS/SNCB, which regular sees its old trains break down and for whom the new M7 must bring about a recovery. “40% of my trains are over thirty years old,” said CEO Sophie Dutordoir last week when the rail company had to account for the historically low satisfaction of its passengers.
The extra seats are also desperately needed. Especially on the Brussels North-South axis, where the maximum number of trains per hour has been reached. Only by replacing old trains with double-decker trains the capacity can increase. The first round of double-deckers contains 50.000 new seats, or a net expansion with 20.000 seats.