The escalators in Leuven Central railway station have been out of order since January, and this week Bart Crols, a spokesperson for the rail authority SNCB, said repairs were being organised, but the situation is unlikely to improve before March.
The platforms in Leuven station, with one exception, are reached by going through the tunnel under the station and going up to the platform by stairs or escalator.
In January, a pump being used at building works on the adjacent Martelarenplein malfunctioned, and the tunnel was flooded. The water infiltrated the workings of all escalators, which have not worked since.
To make matters worse, the escalators in a parallel tunnel on the other side of the station, which date from the 1970s, have long been out of order, so the latest accident means passengers are forced to take the stairs.
“There really should be the possibility to get a repair operation underway faster,” said Wouter Florizoone, a member of the city council. “We’re dealing with escalators that are used by thousands of rail users every day. They are really essential for less mobile passengers.”
One passenger, an elderly woman, told VRT News, “I don’t walk very well, nor does my partner. You expect a new station to have escalators that are not constantly broken down.”
For those unable to climb stairs at all, the only option remaining is to make a lengthy detour to the other side of the tracks, then cross a footbridge into the station where lifts are available. “The lifts are for the time being all working,” said Crols. However the lifts themselves are frequently out of order.
Accessibility at Leuven Central, or the lack of it, has been an issue for at least two years, when the matter of the lifts was raised by council members Dorien Meulenijzer and Mieke Vandermotte (both sp.a) in the city magazine Leuven Actueel.
“This is unworthy of a major city like Leuven,” the pair asked. “How is it possible that thousands of passengers have to put up with these inconveniences every day? Why does the SNCB do nothing?”
For the SNCB, Crols explained. “We’re also very upset with the situation. The damaged parts have to be replaced, and that doesn’t happen in a heartbeat. For the moment we have a tender out, and we hope the works can begin soon. We’re chasing it up, but I’m afraid it will be more a question of weeks rather than days.”