Belgium's national rail service, SNCB is cancelling trains due to a huge staff shortage, reports De Standaard.
The cancellations have led to chaotic scenes in some stations. At Mol station just outside of Antwerp, travellers on the train to Antwerp were told on Wednesday that the departure of the train was delayed indefinitely. Moments later, the passengers were told that the train was cancelled and everyone had to disembark.
Last weekend, the SNCB cancelled trains from Mechelen to Sint-Niklaas for the entire day due to insufficient staff.
No longer a quality service
"Due to staff shortages, the SNCB only allows three instead of four trains per hour from Antwerp to Brussels, and other connections are also run less frequently than the official timetable indicates," said Kees Smilde of the TreinTramBus passenger association.
He called the SNCB move a breach of contract, adding that passengers are angry. "Travellers are getting desperate. This is no longer a quality service," stressed Kees.
- Over 90% of SNCB trains arrive on time, but cancellations up
- SNCB stations fail on accessibility
- Thalys stops operating low-cost IZY trains after six years
Railway unions are fed up with the situation. "It is unprecedented that we are abolishing trains or not allowing them to leave because we do not find enough staff," said Peter Vanderborght of ACV Transcom.
He doesn't buy the explanation of SNCB management that the shortage is partly due to employee illness. "In 2014, the SNCB had 35,000 employees, now 27,500. There is no more margin. When someone is absent in the morning due to illness, there is no one to take care of that."
Now, unions are threatening a strike on 31 May. "The personnel problem at the SNCB is becoming increasingly pressing, we can no longer guarantee even the basic service," said multiple trade unions.
Minister of Mobility Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo) acknowledged in parliament in that the NMBS is struggling with severe staff shortages following criticism from the Christian Democrats CD&V.
The SNCB is now urgently looking to employ 1,300 people, while the railway company Infrabel wants to hire 900 new people.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel as 140 new train conductors are due to start their training, according to SNCB. But the unions think this is inadequate.