Belgian Rail at loggerheads with government over 'window seats only' issue, "but we will try to comply with new rule"

The Belgian Rail company NMBS will try to comply with the new corona restrictions imposed by the government. This was said in a new statement released this afternoon, after an earlier threat. The CEO of the NMBS Sophie Dutordoir had asked the federal government to come up with an alternative for the "window seats only" rule for Belgian rail passengers to the coast, claiming this will create an "unmanageable" situation for everyone. She had threatened to suspend all rail traffic to the coast if nothing would change by the weekend. 

The government decided, as part of a new spate of restriction measures to curb the spreading of coronavirus, that rail passengers can only take a window seat if they take a train to a tourist destination (children below 12 excepted).  

The measure, coming into force at the official start of the Easter school holidays next weekend, triggered a lot of criticism and critics wondering how this rule can be applied without a reservation system. As a result, the restriction will only apply to coast-bound trains. The NMBS has an app which shows how busy a train is, but no more than that. A reservation system can only be installed in the longer run.

The Belgian PM Alexander De Croo (Flemish liberal), Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden (Flemish christian democrat) and Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet (Francophone greens) received a letter yesterday from the Belgian Rail company in which Ms Dutordoir voiced her concerns.

The letter was leaked in the Francophone press. Sophie Dutordoir argues that the measure will have the opposite effect as it will trigger long queues and create large crowds in rail stations. She also emphasizes that it will be impossible for rail conductors to make sure the rule is being followed. 

The new restrictions will create an "unmanageable" situation argued Ms Dutordoir who proposed two options: either the rule is scrapped, or the government steps in to carry out the measure itself. She added that if no solution can be worked out, she may suspend all rail traffic to the coast - a situation she wants to avoid.

The government refused to change the restrictions. Mr Gilkinet said that "these are hard measures for everyone, but they will have to be carried out. The rule will come into force on Saturday and an evaluation will follow." This afternoon, the NMBS sent out a new statement saying that they "will do their best to carry out the measures as planned." They are still asking help from the government to carry out the measures.  

The government did not change its position

Top stories