Belgian rail performing better but aggression toward staff remains high

Belgian public transport company NMBS/SNCB posted an operational result (EBITDA) of 142.2 euros last year. That is a lot more than in 2022 and more than forecasted in the business plan.

At the same time, the railway company’s staff continues to struggle with aggression: last year, rail staff were victims of aggression 2,298 times or an average of more than six cases per day. The introduction of body cams could be an option to tackle the problem.

In 2022, inflation and high energy costs pushed NMBS/SNCB 142,6 million euros into the red. Still, thanks to government compensations, a positive operating result of 39.6 million euros was final on the books.

There was a significant improvement in 2023 due to the return of passengers and cost control. The number of passengers increased by 7.6% to 244.6 million, mainly due to school and leisure traffic. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the number of commuter tickets is still 10% below the 2019 level, with teleworking as a possible explanation for this decline.

Still massive debts

Energy costs still rose by 34%, but energy-saving measures, such as savings on building heating, limited the impact: last year, NMBS/SNCB’s total energy consumption fell by 2% compared to 2022.

Investments for the benefit of passengers rose by almost 10% last year to 852.3 million euros. Much of it went toward new trains, maintenance, and installing the safety system ETCS. Net employment also rose by 300 people.

However, NMBS/SNCB still sits on a massive debt mountain of 2.228 billion euros, up from 2.275 billion euros in 2022. By the end of the current public service contract 2032, NMBS/SNCB should have reduced the debt level to 1.5 billion euros. By 2032, the railway company aims to attract 30% more passengers and 10% extra trains.

Six cases of aggression per day

However, NMBS/SNCB continues to face firm aggression toward staff. Last year, railway staff were victims of aggression 2,298 times, an average of more than six cases per day. By comparison, in 2022, the railway company received 1,900 reports of such aggression, 60% more than in 2019.

These deeds of aggression caused 348 staff to be unfit for work, accounting for a7 000 working hours. Eleven thousand three hundred seventy-three cases involved threats or insults, while 925 cases involved effective physical aggression, such as assault, blows, and injuries.

This figure may be many times higher, as the staff member does not report every act of physical or verbal aggression.

Body cams

N-VA MP Tomas Roggeman, who requested the figures from Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo), speaks of “hallucinatory figures” and “guilt omission” by the Vivaldi government. For instance, a resolution by N-VA to increase safety in rail transport, was voted down by the federal majority parties, who said they wanted to wait for the figures to evolve

To avoid discussions afterward, N-VA also calls for Securail agents to be equipped with body cams. NMBS/SNCB CEO Sophie Dutordoir also supports that proposal, Roggeman said.


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