Belgian railway company SNCB has been named the second-best European railway company in terms of reception and infrastructure for cyclists, according to a study entitled "cyclists love trains" conducted by the European Cyclists' Federation (ECF) and published on Wednesday.
Only the German-Dutch consortium NS-DB, which runs the international Amsterdam-Berlin line, is ahead of the SNCB, which shares second place with its Swiss counterpart CFF.
The study was conducted following extensive research, data processing and analysis of 69 railway companies and services from across the European Union (EU) and beyond.
According to the study, the SNCB received an overall score of 76% (38/50). The ECF evaluated six criteria:
- The space available for bicycles,
- The existence of an own bicycle rental system,
- The price of a bicycle ticket,
- The channels for booking such a ticket,
- The website.
While the SNCB did not receive the maximum score for any indicators, it scored well on each of them, leading to its ranking. The number of bicycle places available per train - 18 for SNCB - is one of the critical elements of this good performance, the ECF states in its report.
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The report, however, was not without criticism for the company. Among the shortcomings noted, the platform of cycling associations called out the ban on loading and unloading bicycles at Brussels Central station and the lack of information available on non-conventional bikes (cargo bikes, tandems, etc.)
"This very good ranking by these international cycling associations rewards the efforts of our railway company", commented the Federal Minister for Mobility, Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo), in a statement.
"At my request, the SNCB and its staff have developed an ambitious long-term strategy for combining cycling and rail. This is a very comprehensive approach, with bicycle parking facilities, promotion of self-service bicycles and better communication with passengers. Already this summer, the improvement is noticeable, as it is now easier to take your bike on tourist trains to the sea or the Ardennes. This is an encouragement to be even more ambitious in the future. There is still work to be done, but it is a good start.
The big picture
At the other end of the ranking sat some companies that were yet to adapt to cycling. Of the 69 studies, 15 do not currently accept non-foldable and un-dismantled bicycles - while 12 of these 15 are long-distance, cross-border and high-speed operators.
"This reality shows that taking a bicycle across Europe on a long-distance journey is often not a
convenient or enjoyable experience, but rather an arduous one punctuated by many connections on slow regional and local services," ECF commented.
Operators that scored in the "good" category in facilitating bike-and-train travel include SNCB/NMBS, SBB, Deutsche Bahn and MÁV-START.
Next came the "moderate" category, made up of a quarter of operators including České dráhy, SNCF and Trenitalia.
The rest perform either "poorly" or "very poorly" on most indicators, including Greater Anglia, Renfe and Eurostar.