Only one candidate for ‘Open Access’ to Belgian rail
So far German FlixTrain, the new branch of the popular FlixBus, is the only candidate to challenge the Belgian rail operator NMBS/SNCB on one of its state lines from 2021 on. On January 1st, 2021, the first step of the liberalization of the European train network kicks off with ‘Open Access’. The demand for permission for elaborate testing had to be done 18 months prior. That means in July 2019 at last.
In 2007, the European Union decided to open up for competition international goods transport and did the same for international passenger transport in 2010. Next, all national train transport will be liberalized too in 2023. ‘Open Access’ is the first step to this by letting train operators test on national train lines. If they apply for it in time.
In Belgium, NMBS/SNCB received only one request, so far, the Belgian administration for Mobility confirmed. In June, FlixTrain announced it wants to exploit a budget train connection between the stations Paris-North and Brussels-North over ‘standard’ train lines, not the high-speed ones.
Complementary of bus and train
It will connect Brussels with Paris in 3 hours and 2 minutes, with stops at Brussels Central, Brussels South, Mons, and Saint-Quentin in France. To compare, Thalys, the high-speed train that is a joint-venture between French (62%), Belgian (28%) and German national railways (10%), takes 1 hour and 22 minutes today.
According to the CEO of FlixBus in France, Yvan Lefranc-Morin, the main goal is to take advantage of the complementarity of both transport means. “Our train connections will not cannibalize our bus lines,” he explained in June.
Five projects for FlixTrain
The Belgian connection fits in with a total of five projects submitted by FlixTrain in France. Apart from Paris-Brussels, these include Paris-Bercy – Lyon Perrache, Paris-Bercy – Nice, Paris-Bercy – Toulouse, and Paris-Austerlitz – Bordeaux. In total, there are 25 intermediate stops foreseen. In France too, FlixTrain is the only competitor, so far, for SNCF.
Lefranc-Morin: “The origin and destinations will be the same as the high-speed trains, but we will serve other routes with different timetables and different prices. In Germany, this works fine. We’ve transported one million passengers during the first year of exploitation.” In France and Belgium, the company wants to be ready by 2021.
Time is running short
‘Open Access’ being only the first step in the total liberalization by 2023, to respect the EU’s timing, the Belgian government will have to decide whether it will grant its train company another ten years maximum to run the national train network subsidized by public funds. And time is running short.
If the Belgian government decides not to grant it to NMBS/SNCB, it has to give other competitors two years to prepare on the technical issues, economics, and financing. So, if Belgium is to respect the timing, it has to put the strategic decision on the agenda in 2020 at last.