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Train reservation system would be impractical, study finds

Jules Johnston/ The Brussels Times

A reservation system for trains is neither desirable nor feasible, according to a study commissioned by Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet.

Oostende Mayor Bart Tommelein suggested the idea back in March when the Belgian coast was overwhelmed with travellers looking to take advantage of the nice weather, causing crowding in train stations that made it difficult to adhere to the various measures put in place to control the spread of the coronavirus.

“The whole of society works by appointment, but at the SNCB this does not appear to be possible. Why not use a reservation system?” Mayor Tommelein said at the time, referring to Belgium’s national rail company.

He wasn’t the only way to complain, according to De Standaard, and the chorus of people asking for a solution is what prompted Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet to order a study on the feasibility and desirability of a reservation system for the trains of the SNCB.

The study found that the advantages of a reservation system don’t outweigh the drawbacks.

While people would be able to guarantee a seat, the trains would lose their flexibility and more inspectors would be needed, not only to check the tickets but also to check to make sure people are in the correct seat.

It would also be technologically difficult to implement, and the overall conclusion was that a reservation system would only deter travellers.

The researchers also noted that such a reservation system doesn’t exist in almost any other European country.

SNCB did add additional trains this weekend in the direction of the coast, hoping to avoid the same crowding issues that prompted the study in the first place, given the onset of more pleasant weather.

The initiative of adding additional coastal trains is being called the Coast Express, and will require passengers to reserve a seat beginning next weekend when it’s tested.

If it works out, more of those trains can be added, but Minister Gilkinet made clear that this wouldn’t negate the study’s overall conclusions regarding train reservations.

“With these direct trains you have a new and attractive offer, complementary to the normal train service, to convince even more people to leave the car at home and take the train to the coast,” said Gilkinet.

“You then save time and are sure of your seats. It is good that the SNCB is experimenting to convince a new audience to take the train. I’m curious to see the results, but this is an extra, which comes on top of the basic service.”

While the Minister had no objections to the so-called Summer Trains requiring a reservation, he emphasised that regular trains where no reservation is needed should continue.

The Brussels Times