The federal government will provide financial support to operators of night trains with at least one stop in Belgium. This should make Brussels an “international rail hub”, argues Minister of Mobility Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo).
On Thursday 10 November 2022, on the proposal minister Gilkinet, the Council of Ministers approved a preliminary draft law to support night trains with departures or arrivals in Belgium.
The aim of this European first is to attract new operators to Brussels and thus offer Belgians new destinations that can be reached by night train. But also to offer new travel options so that Europeans can visit our country in an environmentally and climate-friendly way.
Georges Gilkinet: “The success of the Nightjet, the overnight train between Brussels and Vienna in Austria, shows the potential to travel between European capitals in this way. This is one of the reasons why I proposed this law, a European first.”
“The Federal Government wants Belgium to play a pioneering role in the European ambition to develop more and faster international rail connections between the major European cities. We want to create a truly international rail hub. Despite the enthusiasm of travelers, the international offer is currently developing too slowly. was therefore very important to provide this concrete support to all current and future European operators, to encourage them to develop the night train offer and to provide a solid alternative to air transport”.
The demand for more night trains is high, says the press release. The night train Brussels-Vienna currently runs three times a week and is usually full. On average, more than 60% of Belgians are willing to travel by high-speed train or night train instead of by plane to reduce their ecological footprint (source: FPS Mobility Survey, June 2022). Petitions have been launched in several European countries, each with thousands of signatures. The European Commission has also confirmed in its Green Deal that it wants to make rail transport and night trains more attractive.
But economic equilibrium is a major obstacle. A night train runs once a day, while a classic train can run several times a day and is therefore more cost-effective.
Apart from the possible difficulties caused by the war in Ukraine, there are also other stumbling blocks, recognises the minister.
T here is currently too little material available, rail operators need long-term perspectives to start projects and international ticket sales can be improved. The purpose of this legal framework and support is to help operators overcome these obstacles: a reduction in their tariffs will therefore facilitate their economic activity and help new operators to establish themselves.
In concrete terms, this means that, as a result of the new law, the federal state will pay the railway infrastructure fee and the traction energy costs for the operators.
“In this way we encourage train operators to expand their activities to and from our country. This can be done both by expanding the number of connections on existing routes, such as Vienna, and by supporting new operators who are short or medium term.”
“Interest has already been expressed in a connection between Sweden (Malmö) or Czechia (Prague) and Brussels. Other operators are considering night trains to the south in summer or to the mountains in winter.”
“I want to send a signal that they are welcome in Belgium. And if this European first is a success, we can hope that other European Union Member States will follow us, so that the night trains get an even more favorable framework and the fares for travelers become even more attractive. I am very proud that Belgium in any case fulfills this pioneering role”, concludes the Minister of Mobility.
Will it help?
It surely will as train operating costs such as infrastructure fees and energy prices are are a major factor. But another issue is the lack of rolling stock.
As an example: European Sleeper has made so many announcements for new nigh train routes, but it lacks rolling stock. There aren’t enough sleeper coaches.
Let’s see if this helps.
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