Commission slams railway safety policy

The report drawn up by the Chamber of Representatives’ Commission into Rail Safety makes uncomfortable reading for Belgian Railways. The Commission that was set up after last year’s Buizingen rail disaster in Flemish Brabant slams what it describes as “systematic failings” in rail safety policy over the past the 30 years.

The report concludes that the lack of a universal safety system across the Belgian railway network is not the fault of any individual rail boss or of any single event, but rather the result of an inadequate safety policy and series of bad decisions made over the past three decades. For example, the implementation of the TBL1 safety system was brought to a halt in 1987, without there being a viable alternative.

In 1999, Belgian Railways opted for the European ETCS system long before it was ready to be installed on the country’s rail network.

Over the years, Belgian Railways has systematically opted for safety systems that look good on paper, but were either not fit for purpose or simply not ready to be implemented.

The Commission calls on Belgian Railways to take measures to reduce the number of trains driving through red signals. The internal structure of the state-owned rail operator also needs to be simplified.

The current division of Belgian Railways into three autonomous units has led to poor internal communications which in turn has an effect on safety. For example, it can take up to four years before action is taken, when a driver reports that a signal is poorly visible. The report will be put before the Commission for approval on Wednesday.

In future, the Commission will meet annually to review progress on the installation of a safety system on our country’s railway network. The Commission’s Chairman David Geerts (Flemish socialist) says that he hopes that the report will serve as a turning point in Belgium railway history.