NMBS/SNCB invests nearly €2 billion in better accessibility

Belgian public railway company NMBS/SNCB will invest up to 1,8 billion euros to modernize stations and make them more accessible. The news got out earlier when the government signed a new 10-year management contract with the railway company late last year. Still, Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo) is also revisiting the new measure in some newspapers.

At least 88 of the 554 NMBS/SNCB stations will get a makeover so that in the future, you can also get on the train with a wheelchair or a pram without assistance. Plus: the minister also points out that a station’s function as a mobility hub should be much better highlighted in the future.

No prestige projects

So, by 2032, 176 of the 554 stations in Belgium must be adapted to the need of people with reduced mobility, for example, thanks to lifts and raised platforms. That’s 88 more than there are today, or double the current supply. Together, those stations account for 76% of passengers.

“If you make stations and their surroundings accessible to people with reduced mobility or disabilities, it benefits all travelers,” Gilkinet said in the newspapers Het Nieuwsblad and Le Soir. “The money does not go to prestige projects but must flow into the network,” the minister also said, perhaps referring to the controversial project in Mons, whose price tag for the new station has doubled to 324 million euros.

40% of the 1,863 billion euros budget is thus earmarked for modernizing train stations and making them more accessible. Gilkinet also aims for additional parking spaces and 164 000 extra bicycle parking spaces (+40%).

Standard concept

Accessible, multimodal, welcoming, and sober are the code words of the renovation plans of the stations in this regard. There will also be a standard equipment concept, which Gilkinet says should lead to savings through economies of scale when ordering.

The minister thereby refers to the new station in Ciney, for example, which will be almost a copy and paste of the station in Nivelles and corresponds to the concept that should be found in several other places on the Belgian network.

The future station, as a hub of passenger flows and thus a mobility hub, should also become a lively environment. Yet, of the 554 stations still served by NMBS/SNCB in Belgium today, only 91 are currently manned. More and more vending machines are replacing the traditional ticket office and the services they offer travelers. To say that some stations consequently offer a desolate appearance and are anything but evidence of much life is, therefore, an understatement.

Lively ‘staytions’

The new NMBS/SNCB management agreement now states that both large and small stations should become “lively and safe places for exchanges and encounters” and once again play a “central role in local life”. For a pilot project in Jette station, for example, the word ‘staytion’ was even used. “A real living space that connects the surrounding neighborhoods and is frequented by travelers and residents,” said Gilkinet.

So you can recharge your mobile phone there, drop off your child at daycare, pick up your groceries because there is an organic market, attend the occasional event, or even stroll through an exhibition.

The principle of intermodality will also be central in the new NMBS/SNCB station of the future and has been included in the management contract. Gilkinet refers, for example, to the new Namur station with a bus station installed on the roof.

Everything must be done to make it easy for passengers to switch from bus to train or to another mode of transport, as represented by the acronym STOP, which in Dutch are the first four letters of the words ‘walking, cycling, public transport, and private vehicles’. And in Namur, there will be no waste of space, as the station’s roof will be used.

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