During 2020 there were 2,646 violent incidents on the railways in Belgium. This is down 12% on 3,009 incidents reported during 2019. However, it is still higher than the number of incidents reported in 2018 (2,548), 2017 (2,246) and 2016 (2,015).
Meanwhile, the number instances of pickpocketing reported fell by 17% from 1,694 in 2019 to 1,404 in 2020. However, here too it was up on 2018 (1,372), 2017 (1,193) and 2016 (835).
The Federal MP Jef Van den Bergh describes the figures as "worrying" given that last during last year’s first lockdown the number of passengers on the country’s railways fell to just 10% of what it was prior to the onset of the pandemic. At the start of October 2020, just prior to the start of the second lockdown, passenger numbers had risen to 68% of the level they were pre-corona before falling to 40% by the end of the year.
Disputes between passengers and rail staff about tickets are one of the principle causes of friction leading to violence.
"One explanation could be the temporary suspension on checks on tickets during the first lockdown. Checks recommenced on 19 June 2020. Many people that had become used to travelling without a ticket might have been surprised by the reintroduction of checks from 19 June, leading to an increase in the number of incidents”, Mr Van den Bergh said.
"However, this doesn’t explain why the number of thefts remained remarkably high, particularly given the rules on social distancing”.
Meanwhile, the number of times security staff from the rail security team Securail were called on to intervene hardly fell at all last year. Securail had 535 staff in 2020. An additional 28 staff have been taken on this year.
Mr Van den Bergh says that despite this there are still fewer staff working for Securail than before the onset on the coronavirus pandemic.