Why passengers have to pay extra for trains to Brussels Airport

Why passengers have to pay extra for trains to Brussels Airport
Travellers at the Brussels Airport departure hall. Credit: Belga

Taking a train to Zaventem, where Brussels International Airport is located, comes at a surcharge of €5,70. Why is the train journey to the airport more expensive and is there a possibility for change in the near future?

While the Greens strive for abolishing the so-called Diabolo surcharge, aiming to promote the use of public transport, the government has signed a contract with a private partner that makes it complicated if not impossible to make a change, De Morgen reports.

Passengers pay the bill

The Diabolo tunnel underneath Brussels Airport was built a decade ago and connects Zaventem with Paris, Cologne and Amsterdam. The railway tunnel was built (and financed) by private investor 'Northern Diabolo nv' in exchange for a 35-year long repayment.

Ever since, train passengers have been paying the bill, as a €5,70 supplement is charged for every journey to and from Zaventem. Often, the surcharge is more expensive than the train ticket itself.

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The payment system is set to expire in 2047, but the Flemish and Walloon green parties (Groen and Ecolo) want to accelerate that. “Anyone who makes a sustainable choice to go to the airport today will be punished for it. That is strange,” said Federal MP for Groen Kim Buyst.

“It is completely absurd that someone who takes the train to Zaventem is punished,” agreed Stefan Stynen, chairman of the passenger association TreinTramBus. “In some cases, even a taxi can be cheaper.”

The Green party has tabled a resolution in the federal parliament, where the parties agreed to seek advice.

Strict contract

While the majority of the federal parliament appears to be in favour of abolition, the contract with the private partner “seems to have been set in stone,” according to Federal MP for the Christiandemocrat CD&V party Jef Van den Bergh.

“If the government aims for renegotiations, these might also result in a disadvantage,” he said.

The contract that the government and the national railway company SNCB concluded with the private company has been criticised and referred to as a “strangulation contract” from the start.

For instance, SNCB needs to reach a certain amount of travellers using the tunnel each year, otherwise they might be forced to collect a higher surcharge per person.

Flight tax

The Greens now propose to abolish the collection of the costs through train tickets, but through flight taxes on short flights instead.

Federal Finance Minister Vincent Van Peteghem clearly stated that the flight tax was never intended to make trains cheaper, but Federal Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet argued that replacing the money coming from the Diabolo surcharge with income from the flight tax would encourage more travellers to take the train to the airport.

If the parliament supports the resolution, negotiations will have to take place with the private investor, said Gilkinet.

Other proposals include the direct handling of baggage when a flight follows an international train ride. For instance, if a passenger takes a train from Paris to Zaventem, their baggage will be handled by the airport.

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