175 years of Brussels-Paris by train: from 21 hours to just 1 hour 22 minutes

175 years of Brussels-Paris by train: from 21 hours to just 1 hour 22 minutes
Credit: Belga

175 years ago, the first train between Paris and Brussels was operated, connecting the French and Belgian capital through a railway journey that took 21 hours in 1846.

On Monday, the anniversary of that first historic journey was commemorated - in only one hour and 22 minutes this time - aboard a Thalys train.

"Today we celebrate the rich history of international rail travel," said Thalys CEO Bertrand Gosselin. "Rail travel has helped bring Europeans closer together, something Thalys has continued for 25 years."

The train was an important milestone in the history of the railway, as it was the first rail connection between two European capitals, and preceded the inauguration of the high-speed line by 150 years.

When the high-speed train operator Thalys started 25 years ago, in 1996, the train journey between the two cities took just over two hours, and today, it only takes 1 hour and 22 minutes to travel between Brussels and Paris.

On Monday, the modern Thalys train was awaited by an old SNCB diesel locomotive that was still running for the Trans Europ Express (TEE) at the Brussels-Midi station.

The CEO of Belgian railway company SNCB Sophie Dutordoir, who also chairs the Thalys board as the company is a shareholder of Thalys, together with the French SNCF, was present to welcome the train to Brussels, as were Federal Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet and Infrabel CEO Benoit Gilson.

Translation: 175 years already that this line links Paris and Brussels! One of the first European railway lines, a symbol of close collaboration between two countries and two infrastructure managers SNCF and Infrabel.

"Taking the train is the promise of a comfortable journey and unforgettable encounters. And there must have been some in 175 years," said Gilkinet, stressing that "the train is a way of building Europe and an alternative to the plane for short and medium distance travel."

During the coronavirus pandemic, Thalys suffered a lot due to travel restrictions, but the company is slowly getting its offer back on track, according to Gosselin. The company is currently operating 50% of its usual offer, and aims to increase it to 68% during the summer holidays.

In addition to the 175th anniversary of the first Paris-Brussels train connection, Thalys is also celebrating its 25th birthday in 2021.

"Thalys had a terrible year in 2020, and we had a similar start to this year, with a very low level of activity since we were at -90% of turnover compared to before the crisis, with a first quarter [that was] harder than we imagined," Gosselin told AFP. "But now, it's starting again. We have had really good traffic growth since mid-April.

The "big moment" of truth will be to see whether business customers will return in the autumn, according to him.

Gosselin is not expecting to return to the new record attendance of 2019 "before the end of 2023 or 2024," but "the idea is to become profitable again in 2022," he said.

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