The national rail authority SNCB has placed an order for 200 new double-decker train carriages from the Bombardier factory in Bruges, for a value of €450 million.
The new carriages will mainly be deployed on IC routes which use the North-South connection in Brussels, the country’s worst rail bottleneck. The carriages, which have a total capacity of 20,000 seats, will allow more passengers to pass through the city without requiring an increase in rail infrastructure capacity.
At the same time, carriages freed up from those lines can go to replace some of the older rolling stock on branch lines like Liege-Maastricht, which is now in a lamentable state, with no air conditioning, frequent breakdowns and in some cases containing asbestos.
In all, the order is made up of 130 double-decker M7 carriages with full access for passengers with mobility issues, as well as 38 carriages with a driver’s cabin and space for bicycles and children’s buggies.
A problem frequently encountered by people with mobility issues is that they are unable to board the train because of the difference in height between the station platform and the train door.
A previous shipment of M7 carriages failed to rectify the problem, and the SNCB has now stressed the need for the issue to be resolved. All doors will now have a standard height of 76cm, and when the doors open, a sliding platform will come out to bridge the remaining gap between platform and train.
The carriages are also equipped with a suitable toilet and an intercom system for use by mobility passengers.
Bombardier, the subsidiary of a Canadian-owned company, also constructs trams for public transport, and will deliver the first of the new shipment in 2024. An order of 445 M7 carriages placed in 2015 is still in the process of being fulfilled. Thirty of the carriages are already in service, and 40 more should be delivered by the end of the year, with another 150 due in 2021.
The news was welcomed at Bombardier in Bruges.
“This means extra production security for one and a half to two years,” said general manager Peter Boels. “We are already building 355 M7 coaches, 40 of which have been delivered. These 200 carriages are now added. Our activities are assured for the coming years at a production rate of 120 to 150 carriages per year.”