Betty Matthysen

"One train at least each half hour in every station across Belgium"

The new federal Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet (Francophone greens) has presented his policy plan for Belgium: each station in Belgium should have a train at least every half hour. Mobility experts say it's a good idea, but add that it will cost an arm and a leg: "Choices will have to be made, maybe where the number of stations is concerned." 

At present, Belgium's smallest stations only have a train each two hours or each hour. This has to change if we want to make a modal shift in our transport habits, and leave the car in the garage, Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo) argues. Smaller stations should have a train stopping each half hour, while this should be 10 minutes in and around big cities. 

"Rail services have to improve. This can convince people to opt for the train instead of the car. Taking the bicycle or the train is cheaper, better for your health and better for the climate." Gilkinet adds that more attention has to be paid to services outside rush hour, especially in the evenings and weekends. 

In order to realise this, the minister admits that investments in the present infrastructure are needed. At present, the North-South connection in Brussels is already saturated, triggering structural delays. This will cost extra money, but Gilkinet says Belgium will ask Europe for cash under Europe's new Green Deal. 

Cut the longest links and have more focus on regional hubs

Geert te Boveldt, a mobility expert at the Brussels university VUB, is giving the plans thumbs up. "If the goal is to get people out of their cars, it's a good idea to have more trains even in the smallest stations. The countryside will become more accessible. And this should also be the case in the mornings and evenings."

Te Boveldt warns that this will cost a lot of money. "Our infrastructure will need a serious update and we have a lot of stations in Belgium. We should examine whether choices have to be made, scrapping certain stations." 

He says that it works abroad, but in Belgium the longest links may have to be cut. "A direct train from Ostend to Eupen may no longer be possible. We should have a couple of main lines and more regional hubs.  

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