NMBS/SNCB launches new campaign against aggression

Belgian public railway company NMBS/SNCB has launched a new campaign against aggression toward train and station staff. The railway company received 1 900 reports of such aggression last year, 60% more than in 2019.

With posters in stations and a whistling concert Thursday in the hall of Brussels-North station, NMBS/SNCB wants to ask for more respect for its staff.

Sophie Dutordoir, CEO of the railway company, also pleaded in presence of the Minister of Mobility Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo), Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open Vld), and the Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden (CD&V) for a “close collaboration to face this societal evolution”.

Five reports of aggression per day

A train conductor receives blows in Kortrijk and ends up in hospital with a broken nose. A female train conductor in Liège was threatened with a knife while checking tickets, and another was threatened with a knife by three fare dodgers in Ghent.

These are just a few examples of aggression in recent weeks against NMBS/SNCB train staff. Indeed, its train and station staff have increasingly become victims of aggression over the past two years.

In 2022, the railway company received 1 900 reports or an average of five per day. In 2021, the figures were similar, with some 60% more reports than in 2019. Moreover, the trend is also continuing this year. In January 2023, there were 50% more cases of aggression than in January last year.

Consequently, spontaneous strikes regularly broke out among train staff in recent weeks, including calls for additional staff for Securail, the security service for the stations and trains.

Train conductor most frequent victim

Four in ten cases involve physical violence. But there is thus also verbal aggression, such as insults and threats. In 70% of cases, train conductors are the victims. The main cause of arguments are invalid tickets, playing too loud music on the train, lighting a cigarette where it is not allowed, or disruptive behavior such as drunkenness.

In any case, the aggression often leaves a heavy impression on the staff. Last year, 450 people were absent due to it, accounting for a total of 9 200 days of disability. It also has an increasing impact on punctuality and the number of canceled trains.

More Securail agents

The campaign that NMBS/SNCB is now launching calls for people to show more respect to railway staff. Until mid-March, posters and digital signs will be displayed in train stations and coaches with the faces of staff members who have already been victims of aggression.

The awareness campaign is part of a broader NMBS/SNCB approach against aggression. Securail, for example, will step up its efforts to check tickets even before passengers board the train. NMBS/SNCB is also recruiting more than 100 Securail agents this year to boost its presence in stations and trains.

Call for zero tolerance and tougher penalties

CEO of NMBS/SNCB Sophie Dutordoir also called for zero tolerance toward aggression on the train staff. “We ask justice to punish aggression severely,” she said. For that matter, the railway company is systematically taking a civil stand in case the public prosecutor prosecutes the offenders.

Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne stressed that the reform of the penal code, which is submitted to the Council of State, provides tougher punishments for those who commit violence against railway staff.

“Unfortunately, we see that still 30% of cases cannot be prosecuted. This is because, for example, the unknown perpetrator has already started running before the police or Securail arrive on the scene or because of a lack of evidence. It is, therefore, good that there is a lot of recruitment at Securail.”


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