Passenger traffic on trains in Belgium went down sharply in 2020, a year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the number of incidents was hardly lower than in 2019, according to Christen-Democratisch en Vlaams (CD&V) parliamentarian Jef Van den Bergh.
Quoting figures he received on request from Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo), Van den Bergh noted that while attacks on trains decreased last year by 12%, from 3,009 in 2019 to 2,646, they were more than in the previous three years: 2,548 in 2018; 2,246 in 2017 and 2,015 in 2016.
The same trend can be observed for robberies, down 17% between 2019 and 2020 – 1,694 to 1,404 – which were still more frequent than previous years: 1,372 in 2018; 1,193 in 2017 and 835 in 2016.
According to Van den Bergh, these figures trigger alarm bells since fewer people travelled by train last year. During the COVID-19 lockdown, passenger traffic was just 10% of what it was before the crisis. In October 2020, it went back up to 68%, but then slumped to 40% by the end of the year.
Disputes over transport passes and tickets have been the leading cause of violent incidents.
“A possible explanation lies with the temporary suspension of ticket checks during the first lockdown,” Van den Bergh explained. “The checks resumed on 19 June 2020. Perhaps the resumption caught many fraudsters who had taken advantage of the suspension by surprise, resulting in more incidents. However, that does not explain why the number of robberies has remained remarkably high, especially with all the social distancing rules.”
Similarly, the number of interventions by Securail staff was barely lower last year than in 2019 and noticeably higher than in previous years.
The railway security company employed 535 guards, and this year another 28 were recruited. “I would like to draw attention to safety on trains,” the CD&V parliamentarian said. “Staffing is still lower now than before the COVID period.”