Asking conductors to estimate how busy a train is and communicate it to passengers will not have an impact on train arrival times, according to Belgian railway company SNCB.
The new duty, which will see the information uploaded to an app and used to share an estimation of how busy the train is, will require conductors to adjust the colour code for the train as a whole after each station.
While this task in itself could take up to a minute, SNCB remains confident that it will not impact the running of trains, with spokesperson Bart Crols explaining that "it is certainly not the intention that conductors will lose time on calculations."
According to Crols, conductors will be expected to select and enter a colour code via hand computers, which are already in use for other duties like scanning smartphone tickets, but the system will not be cause for delay, as everything will happen after the train doors close.
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The system is also reliant on the knowledge of the individual conductor, even if they cannot see everything happening on the platform. "They have been on that train from the beginning, and have been updating the info after every stop. Additionally, they also know what the crowded stations and times are."
"A classic case in which this would help passenger is on the Eupen-Ostend route, for example," Crols said. "When the train leaves Liège and closes its doors, it takes about half an hour before reaching Leuven, the next stop. So, if the conductor changes the colour after the departure in Liège, travellers in Leuven will know well in advance how busy the train is, and can decide whether or not to take another one."
However, it may take a few minutes before the updated data will be visible in the app, making it difficult for some trains stopping at many small stations in quick succession to give an accurate overview.
The app is expected to launch mid-September, and the company is currently still carrying out tests. "This project has been in the pipeline for some time now, but Covid-19 has sped it up a bit," said Crols.
"In principle, the intention is that the app can be used work for all routes, including the ones that stop every few minutes, but the system is still being worked on. We are still a little away from the launch."
Jules Johnston & Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times