Belgian Rail has finished its draft version of the new policy agreement; the document will be presented to the council of ministers next week. Het Nieuwsblad reports that the proposal to cut costs by scrapping train conductors, is being met with a lot of criticism, both from rail unions and from passengers' organisations.
The system of so-called driver-only trains - with the train driver being the only staff member at work on a train - already exists in Britain, Switzerland, France and Germany, with the Belgian rail company picking up the idea as well now, as a measure to cut costs.
Train conductors are essential from a safety perspective
Rail unions are against. Luc Piens of the Christian union ACV says "train conductors are essential from a safety perspective. When there is an accident or a problem, it's crucial that the conductor can inform passengers. A train driver can't take this extra job."
Marc Lauwers of the liberal trades union VSOA agrees. "A train conductor does more than just checking people's tickets. During rush hour, we have thousands of passengers on station platforms, how can you let the train depart safely without the help of a conductor?"
What about fare dodgers?
TreinTramBus, the umbrella organisation for public transport passengers, adds that the system can only work when there are alternatives. "Many passengers have questions: who can they turn to if there is no conductor?"
And there is more: what about fare dodgers? TreinTramBus is afraid that these people will be stimulated in what they are doing, and that passengers paying correctly will be punished. "You could install separate entrance gates in a station, but how much will this cost?"
Rail CEO: "This will not happen while I am at the helm of this company"
Belgian Rail boss Sophie Dutordoir has joined the discussion. This morning, she posted a message on her Facebook page saying that the plan to get rid of train conductors "is simply not true. This will not happen as long as I am at the helm of the NMBS. Train conductors play an essential role by letting trains leave the stations safely, by informing passengers - which is much appreciated - and by checking tickets."
Dutordoir adds that the NMBS should focus on its main challenge first: punctual rail services and a better communication with passengers.
Let's first go for punctual trains and communication with passengers