It is a time of major change on the railways – except when it isn’t. First, earlier this month, the board of the national rail authority SNCB announced it would be banning the carriage of bicycles – with the exception of folding bikes – on trains during rush hours. Cyclists with ordinary bikes could use station parking, they said. Within days, federal mobility minister François Bellot then overturned that decision, and it was off the table as part of the new management agreement.
Another part of the SNCB’s plan for the future is to save money by getting rid of conductors on trains – the men and women who come around and clip your ticket, as well as other duties.
Rail unions were immediately critical. “Conductors do more than clip tickets,” said union representative Marc Lauwers. “They take care of safety, time-keeping and the provision of information to passengers.”
The public transport users’ group TreinTramBus pointed out the safety responsibilities of conductors – a train will only close its doors and leave the platform when the conductor gives the signal, for example – as well as their role in battling fare-dodging.
Now SNCB Sophie Dutordoir, formerly the chief executive who turned Belgacom into Proximus, has vetoed the One Man Car suggestion, as it is being called. “There will be no getting rid of train conductors as long as I am heading the SNCB,” she said on Twitter.
“Our conductors play an essential role in keeping our trains safe to leave the platform, in helping and informing passengers – who appreciate them very much – and also in checking that everyone is travelling with a valid ticket,” she wrote.
The new agreement – the existing one dates back to 2008 – is due to come before ministers this week.