The Belgian government and the government of the Brussels Capital Region, together with the Port of Brussels, railway network manager Infrabel, and landowner SFPIM Real Estate, have agreed to reconnect the Port of Brussels and its container terminal to the railway network.
Planning permission has just been granted for this. By June 2024, the connection should be in operation. The aim is to double rail freight transport by 2030.
Freight transport accounts for 17% of kilometers traveled in the Brussels Region. Still, it is responsible for 29% of Brussels’ greenhouse gas emissions, 30% fine dust, and 41% nitrogen emissions.
Therefore, as part of its Shifting Economy and ‘green Deal for low-emission urban logistics’, the Brussels government has set itself the goal of making the Brussels urban economy more sustainable – for the record, each inhabitant generates the transport of around 40 tons of goods per year.
Work, therefore, started in 2022 to expand the container terminal to develop waterborne transport. The reconnection to the rail network is part of that plan and will occur in several phases.
Doubling the number of containers
The work will start in January 2024. By June 2024, the new rail link will be commissioned. In a second phase, the connection will be further extended, and work will be carried out on signaling and electrification of the tracks. The first phase costs 3,5 million euros; after that, the amount rises to 7,7 million euros.
In July, the port granted the service concession to Van Moer Logistics for the expansion and operation of the container terminal and the development of a logistics zone. This should result in an expansion of the terminal from 1,67 hectares to a 6-hectare area. By 2032, this should allow 27 000 twenty-foot containers (TEUs, a standard container size) to pass by the terminal, up from 57 000 TEUs in 2022.
“The return of rail freight to the Port of Brussels was one of my objectives to reduce air pollution from road traffic,” says Brussels Minister for Climate Transition and Environment Alain Maron (Ecolo). “With the expansion of the container terminal, the development of urban distribution centers, and now this rail link, we are reducing the number of trucks on our roads. This is how we can make Brussels a more pleasant place to live.”
Federal Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo) is also delighted. “The rail link to the Port of Brussels was stuck in a legal tussle for years. We have now been able to resolve this in consultation with Infrabel and the Brussels Region,” Gilkinet points out.
To put this in perspective, the Schaerbeek-Formation connection, which, together with the track of the Audi factory in Forest, is one of the last two railway lines connected to the port, was initially threatened with dismantling.
Infrabel owns the railway bundles and, more specifically, the Rail Infrastructure Fund, the company in charge of selling railway infrastructure to get as much money as possible to cope with the vast historical debt.
The Port of Brussels then took legal action to ensure that the vast 40-hectare marshaling yard stretching from Schaerbeek station to Haren was not dismantled. Further, it developed, citing, among other things, the obligation for EU member states to connect inland ports to road and rail infrastructure.
Yearly 18 500 fewer trucks
As is well known, Gilkinet wants to revitalize rail in Belgium and the Port of Brussels, and its surrounding rail infrastructure is a strategic link for him. “The goal is clear: by 2030, we want to double the volume of goods transported by rail,” says the Ecolo minister. According to Gilkinet, there will be 18 500 fewer trucks on Brussels roads every year thanks to this project.