A new train station in Brussels equipped to allow wheelchair users full access to the station still faces a substantial issue, as trains will not be accessible to wheelchair users without additional help.
Set to open 13 December, the new station near the Rad district in Anderlecht is thus not fully accessible to people with reduced mobility, according to Collective Accessibility Wallonia and Brussels (CAWAB).
Despite certain measures being taken, an absence of systems to help people with reduced mobility physically board the train gives cause for concern, explained Mathieu Angelo, CAWAB Director, in La Dernière Heure.
"In our opinion, therefore, the station is not accessible to people with reduced mobility," said Angelo.
From train operator SNCB/NMBS, the reason for the lack of assistance is due to the same reason as always, a lack of staff to provide additional services at every station.
"We focus the assistance on bigger stations, and Anderlecht will be a smaller station, without that option," SNCB spokesperson Dimitri Temmerman told The Brussels Times, adding that there is just not enough staff to help at every station.
As it stands, SNCB offers assistance at 132 stations across Belgium, if requested up to 24 hours in advance. "For the 41 big stations, this can even be done up to 3 hours in advance," Temmerman said. For older stations, however, this isn't an option.
New Trains Solve Problems...
The answer, according to SNCB, is the launch of the much-touted new trains, expected by 2025.
New stations - including the one in Anderlecht - are built in such a way that the platforms are at the same height as the boarding height of the newest trains, meaning people with reduced mobility will be able to board the incoming new trains without assistance.
"If those trains then stop in a new or renovated station, such as Anderlecht, they will also be easily accessible to people in wheelchairs too," Temmerman said.
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These trains should also address issues at older stations. "By pushing a button, a platform will slide out, so people in wheelchairs, for example, can get on the train without help," he added.
These newer platforms would potentially address a concern that came to light at the start of the year after SNCB came under fire for the "incomprehensible" decision to order more trains deemed unsuitable for people with reduced mobility due to a boarding height of 63 centimetres, once again requiring assistance to board at the majority of current stations.
“Such a wagon will easily last 30 years. That means that it will be many decades before people with a mobility disability can take the train on their own,” explained Ingrid Borré, vice-chair of the National High Council for Persons with Disabilities (NHRPH).
...Providing there Are New Stations
For this to work, however, there need to be new stations across the country. In a survey at the end of 2017, 64 of the 550 NMBS/SNCB train stations and stops in Belgium were considered fully accessible for disabled people.
To be fully accessible, all platforms must be at least 76 centimetres high, and all platforms that are not on the ground floor must have a lift or ramp. In addition, there must be blind guidance lines and at least one ticket machine.
The SNCB and Infrabel are adapting an average of five stations annually. By 2025, however, 150 stations should be fully accessible for everyone, and priority will be given to the stations through which the new trains will pass.
“At that rate, we will have to wait another hundred years for every station and every stop to be accessible,” complained Member of Parliament Jef Van den Bergh (CD&V) according to Het Nieuwsblad.
Jules Johnston & Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times