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    Belgium’s free rail passes delayed again to the fall

    © Belga

    A free rail pass scheme set to be released in time for the summer has been delayed for a second time and is now set to be rolled out no sooner than in October.

    Federal Mobility Minister François Bellot’s cabinet confirmed that the scheme, already delayed once to September, had been pushed back again to 5 October.

    The new postponement follows calls from coastal town mayors for measures to better regulate rail traffic to the Belgian coast, as throngs of city dwellers flocked to the country’s beaches to escape an unusually long heatwave in August.

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    The crowds of day-trippers in beaches strained local authorities attempting to enforce coronavirus rules and social distancing, with at least one major brawl breaking out in a packed beach in Blankenberge.

    The free rail pass scheme, part of a push to boost local tourism as many postpone their international travels in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, will grant 12 free rail passes to all residents of Belgium above the age of 12.

    Originally set to be released in mid-August, the release of the free rail passes was pushed back to mid-September in a National Security Council decision in July, following a string of back-and-forth negotiations with rail operator SNCB.

    At the time the rail passes were announced, the SCNB claimed to have been sidelined from government negotiations and expressed concerns that the passes would lead to overcrowding in trains and platforms.

    The rail passes will grant all residents above the age of 12 two free train rides per month, redeemable from 5 October and for a period of six months.

    According to the SCNB, the decision of limiting the use of the passes to two free rides per month is aimed at better managing passenger flows.

    Residents interested in the passes can apply to obtain them online from 1 September.

    Gabriela Galindo
    The Brussels Times