Belgian Rail passes 200 million passengers again

Belgian railway company NMBS/SNCB once again carried more than 200 million passengers last year. The previous two years had failed to reach that mark due to the corona crisis. “On average, the number of passengers is about 90% of the passenger volume in 2019,” the railway company says in a press release.

For 2022, NMBS/SNCB transported 227 million passengers or a daily average of just under 622 00 passengers. Compared to 2021, when there were 172 million passengers, this represents an increase of almost a third (+32%). But the pre-corona crisis level is not yet reached: in 2019, 253 million passengers took the train.

More leisure rail travelers

The difference with the pre-corona period is mainly due to teleworking, which has become commonplace in many places since the corona health crisis. As a result, commuters are less likely to take the train to work.

NMBS/SNCB registered 82 million passengers for commuting season tickets last year, 15% less than in 2019. By contrast, commuter-school traffic is back to 2019 levels, with 61 million season ticket holders.

The same is true for leisure rail travel, with 73 million occasional travelers counted. “Since the summer, the number of travelers with tickets and 10-ride passes exceeded the pre-health crisis figures, especially during weekends and school holidays,” says NMBS/SNCB.

More and more people are also buying their tickets digitally. The app and website accounted for over a third of tickets and 10-ride tickets bought last year.

30% more passengers

NMBS/SNCB recently concluded the 2023-2032 public service contract with the federal government. That contract sets out the ambition to increase passenger numbers by 30% by 2032. The railway company wants to achieve this by investing in projects that guarantee better punctuality and a comfortable welcome in stations and trains.

Also high on the to-do list: an attractive train offer (at least 4 220 trains on weekdays versus 3 800 today, with a better frequency and more early and late trains), advantageous fare conditions, and offering flexible, digitally accessible products with efficient and customer-friendly service.

In the new contract, the financing of the NMBS/SNCB and railway manager Infrabel will partly depend on targets set by the government, particularly in punctuality, Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo) has said. For the first time in years, train punctuality dipped below 90% last. And more than 44 000 trains were canceled in the previous year.

De Lijn also still counts fewer travelers

Since corona restrictions were lifted, the Flemish public transport operator De Lijn has also yet to see all travelers return. At the start of 2022, 40 fewer travelers boarded De Lijn’s buses and trams than before the pandemic. However, after the mouth mask requirement was lifted at the end of May, that number remained 20% less than in 2019. The latest figures from November hover between 10 and 20% lower.

Nevertheless, De Lijn goes into the new year optimistic. “In 2023, we will continue to work on winning back lost travelers and welcoming new ones by continuing to work on the quality of our offer and by continuing targeted campaigning.”


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