Sophie Dutordoir, CEO of the national rail authority SNCB, has taken the unusual step of publishing a letter she wrote to federal mobility minister Georges Gilkinet relating to a decision to close a number of station ticket-windows.
At the beginning of the week, the SNCB announced it would be closing the ticket windows in 44 stations, leaving ticket sales to automatic machines or online sales.
There are 550 railway stations in Belgium, and only 135 of them still have manned ticket windows, Of those, the SNCB wanted to close 44 by the end of the year, stations that account for only 6% of total ticket sales.
Originally, Gilkinet appeared to be in agreement with the decision, explaining that it came as a result of changing public demand.
Next day,, however, he announced he was asking the SNCB board to change its mind and amend the decision in conjunction with local authorities, imposing a moratorium on closures where there was no agreement with local authorities.
Now Dutordoir, a former managing director of Electrabel who left to open a gourmet grocer’s shop before returning to management as head of the railways, has written an open letter to Gilkinet in which she describes herself to be “greatly amazed at the content, form and timing of the response” from the minister.
The question of the ticket windows first came up in October last year, she says, and there have been other meetings since, at one of which the government’s representative was present.
Then last Sunday, the day before the announcement of the planned closures, there was a final meeting at which the two were present and came, despite an awkward start, “to an explicit agreement with regard to a clear commitment by the NMBS regarding the concrete implementation of a number of additional accompanying measures,” including the closures.
Dutordoir also claims the press release in which the decision was announced to the world was also cleared by Gilkinet’s office.
“In this overall context, I find your new letter, in the meantime supplemented by a public reprimand, incomprehensible in terms of content, form and timing,” she writes.
“This unannounced initiative has caused a severe breach of trust. I will inform the board of directors about the matter.”
Gilkinet, meanwhile, was due in parliament today to answer questions from members. He has not so far reacted to the letter.