Belgium will receive nearly 6 billion euros from the European Union as part of the recovery plan, and a significant part of this plan will be devoted to mobility. And the railways should benefit from this with an envelope of 365 million euros.
The first priority is the renewal of its infrastructure. This issue has been pending for several years. Several components of the network are obsolete and absolutely must be renovated. Rails, catenary and signalling equipment need to be renovated.
Bridges and tunnels are also in poor condition. The network needs to be renovated in order to respond to the problems that travelers experience on a daily basis. Repeated delays, slowing down of traffic speed and regular technical failures are all problems that impact the punctuality of trains.
In addition, there has been a lot of talk about eliminating stations or stops. The travelers' association Navetteurs.be and the CSC Transcom denounced the closure announced by the SNCB of 44 ticket offices as well as the reduction of opening hours of 37 other stops.
Access for all
Following the intervention of the Minister of Mobility Georges Gilkinet, several of these stations should be maintained and transformed into autonomous stations. To do so, they will have to meet several criteria. And in particular to be accessible to people with reduced mobility.
According to the SNCB, this will include obstacle-free access to all platforms, as well as a sufficient number of parking spaces for people with motor disabilities and the presence of guidance lines for the visually impaired.
A major train-bike plan is also being prepared to encourage multimodal transport, which will make it easy to switch from bike to train. It should be presented in June.
Another major project is to relieve congestion at the North-South junction, through which a large part of Belgian rail traffic passes. Infrabel is working on the digitization of traffic, which should make it possible to put more trains on this axis, which is at the heart of our network.
This European envelope should in any case allow SNCB to overcome the operating losses which last year amounted to nearly 400 million euros.
In total, the health crisis will have cost the SNCB almost one billion euros. "Before the Covid crisis, we were carrying 900,000 passengers a day. At the bottom of the first wave, we dropped to 10%, or 90,000 passengers. In the meantime we have risen to 52%," Sophie Dutordoir, CEO of the SNCB, told our colleagues from the Echo.
This result should improve with the resumption of activities expected in the last quarter of 2021. However, she has no great illusions. In transport, as in many other areas of activity, there will be a before and after Covid-19.