'Incredible blunder': Infrabel apologises for chaos amid the storm

'Incredible blunder': Infrabel apologises for chaos amid the storm
Credit: Belga

Infrabel, the Belgian railway company in charge of track maintenance and management, apologised for the chaos that ensued when trains were belatedly cancelled amid Storm Eunice.

The Belgian response to the storm has been heavily criticised, in particular when it comes to public transit agencies who, despite knowing about the storm in advance, did not alter service until after the morning commute. This meant that people who commuted to work in the morning by train were left stranded when the afternoon service was cancelled.

Frédéric Petit, spokesperson for Infrabel, told De Standaard that the railway company had been closely monitoring the situation for a few days.

“On the basis of the information available on Thursday evening, we postponed a decision to close the network. The hope was to be able to maintain all or part of the planned train traffic,” Petit said.

“We always try to guarantee maximum train traffic. In the Netherlands that is interrupted more quickly - we saw that in previous storms. This is a different culture.”

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But that hope proved to be in vain as high winds threatened the safety of train travel, and Infrabel decided at the last minute to shut down a large part of its traffic, a decision which “put the railway operators under pressure and possibly caused inconvenience to railway customers,” said Petit.

“Infrabel apologises to everyone who was affected by this late decision.”

Infrabel says an evaluation of the decision will follow later, which the company intends to use to “learn lessons.”

SNCB responds unsympathetically to stranded customers

That the decision to shut down train lines came so late has been met with a firestorm of criticism.

People responded to cancellation announcements on social media, with one person writing, “The decision was taken far too late. It should have been taken yesterday, just like in NL and FR. Pure amateurism.”

Belgian railway company SNCB replied unsympathetically to some of the complaints made on its Twitter announcement: “That of course it is an annoying and inconvenient situation but happens beyond one's control, or am I wrong?”

They told others, “There has been a warning about the storm for some time and yesterday we clearly said that it is advisable not to travel.”

Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo) called the late-notice cancellations “unacceptable,” and said he has already warned Infrabel CEO Benoit Gilson about consequences.

SNCB told customers in its Twitter feed that media coverage of the storm should have made it clear that they shouldn’t have travelled, but others argued that the same coverage should have made it clear to the transit company that they should have cancelled trains.

When some passengers saw the trains were still running, they assumed this meant the storm predictions had been downgraded.

“Apparently, in this country it is difficult to anticipate things that you know are coming,” said Björn Anseeuw MP (N-VA). “This could have been prevented perfectly.”

Vooruit MP Joris Vandenbroucke called the “late and inadequate communication about a storm that has been known since yesterday to be the worst in 30 years” an “incredible blunder” and that “train passengers deserve better than this amateurism.”

Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Health and Social Affairs Frank Vandenbroucke said he will question Mobility Minister Gilkinet in parliament.

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