Belgian public railway company NMBS/SNCB’s new transport plan for the 2023-2026 period offers 2 000 extra trains per week. At the same time, certain rush-hour trains and some 20 stops with fewer than 50 passengers per day would also be cut for this purpose. However, according to Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo), the latter should not be the intention.
The transport contract negotiated by the government with the NMBS/SNCB stipulates that more trains will be used at earlier and later times so that the number of passengers gradually increases by 30%. In this regard, over 2 000 additional trains will be put in weekly. According to Minister Gilkinet, the frequency will be increased in 175 stations, and trains will run later in 119 stations on Fridays and Saturdays.
According to Le Soir newspaper, some rush-hour trains and about 20 stops, especially in Wallonia, that do not get enough passengers would be cut for this purpose. “That is not the intention,” Minister Gilkinet told the Parliamentary Committee on Mobility. “I only consider studies that produce convincing results, and that is not the case here,” Gilkinet said.
“The economic gains put forward by the NMBS/SNCB seem to me to be eager, not to say anecdotal, certainly compared to the negative impact for passengers who can no longer take the train from the nearest station, especially in rural areas.” Regardless, “the government has the final say here,” the Minister said.
The 2023-2026 transport plan will be submitted to the NMBS/SNCB board of directors for approval on Friday, according to Gilkinet. It will then appear on the agenda of the Council of Ministers.
Fifth fewer passengers in busiest stations
Still, it will be quite a job for NMBS/SNCB, which is still sitting on a 90% occupancy rate for commuter traffic compared to before the corona crisis, to get those 30% new passengers on board. Moreover, the advance of teleworking, now well established, is felt in the latest passenger counts. NMBS/SNCB figures show, for example, that the three main stations in Brussels, still Belgium’s busiest, had one-fifth fewer travelers than in 2019.
The drop is most significant for Brussels-North station, a typical station for commuters. That was still the busiest Belgian train station in 2019, with an average of almost 63 800 passengers departing on weekdays. In October last year, it counted 48 125 travelers, a quarter less.
Brussels-Midi, where more leisure travelers pass due to high-speed trains to, for example, Paris and London, was the busiest station at the latest count: 50 746 departing passengers were counted on weekdays, down from almost 60 000 in 2019 (-15%). Brussels-Central went from just over 60 700 departing passengers in 2019 to 49 476 at the latest count (-18%).
25 stations with fewer than 50 passengers
Gent-Sint-Pieters remains the busiest non-Brussels train station. An average of 48 138 departing passengers were counted on a weekday (against over 55 000 in 2019). This is followed by Leuven (31 877) and Antwerp-Central (31 347). In Wallonia, Namur is the busiest station, with an average of 21 074 departing passengers counted on a weekday.
Apart from the busiest stations, the passenger counts also give an insight into the least used stops. For instance, the tables show some 25 stations where fewer than 50 boarding passengers were counted on weekdays.
As in the previous count, Hourpes in Hainaut is at the bottom, with seven departing passengers on weekdays. In Flanders, East Flanders stations Aalst-Kerrebroek (22), Vijfhuizen (23), and Bambrugge (31) feature in this list. So, the Council of Ministers will decide what happens to these stations on Friday.
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