Belgium - General Information

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Country Name

Belgium (Belgie/Belgique)

National Railway System

Since 1 Jan. 2005, the infrastructure (Infrabel) and train operation (SNCB/NMBS) companies have been subsidiaries of the SNCB/NMBS Holding company.

National Railway Operator

  • Société Nationale des Chemins der fer Belges (SNCB) and Nationale Maatschappij der Belgische Spoorwegen (NMBS) are the formal titles of the national railway system in French and Dutch respectively. However, these are usually shortened to "Chemins de fer Belges" and "Belgische spoorwegen". On rolling stock, station signs and publicity material the letter B in an oval is used instead of SNCB or NMBS.
  • Thalys is operated by two stand-alone companies, one owned by SNCF (60%) and SNCB/NMBS (40%), the other (for services to Germany and the Netherlands) owned by SNCF (62%), SNCB/NMBS (28%) and DB (10%) (NS is not a partner although services extend over that system). Izy, which operates low-cost services between Brussels and Paris is a brand of Thalys.
  • Eurostar is operated by Eurostar International Ltd, owned by SNCF (controlling interest of 55%), private investors (who in 2015 acquired the 40% share previously owned by the UK government) and SNCB/NMBS (5%).

Languages

Belgium consists of three Regions: Flanders, to the north of the provincial boundary line running roughly between Menin and Visé, in which Dutch is the official language; Wallonia, to the south of that line, where French is the official language, and the Capital, Brussels, which is officially bi-lingual but mostly French-speaking. German is officially recognised in the area around Eupen and Malmedy. By law, public bodies must use only the official language(s) of each Region for texts in that Region, so travellers should be aware that, for example, the name of a train's destination may change significally during the journey (eg: Bergen = Mons, Luik = Liège). All railway personnel whose duties involve contact with the public are required on recruitment to show they can speak both languages, and some (especially in Flanders) are also fluent in English etc., but of course others may become rather out-of-practice in their second language. Railway tickets are normally issued from computer terminals and at bilingual stations may be issued in either language, depending on how the passenger requests it; some types of ticket purchases and reservations can now be made via the internet.

Currency

Euro

UIC code

numeric 88; alpha B

Timetable

Journey Planner

SNCB/NMBS

Regional public transport companies

Downloadable Timetable

On the Brochures de ligne web page, select either:

  • Indicateur des Chemins de Fer Belges: Lundi au vendredi, sauf jours fériés for weekday services, or
  • Indicateur des Chemins de Fer Belges: Samedis, dimanches et jours fériés for weekend services

These show all passenger trains over a line, regardless of category. They are also available here unbundled as individual tables for each line.

Timetables for individual IC routes are available from the Brochures IC page although as at September 2018 the links from the French language site are not working, but from the Dutch language site they are. These tables show only the IC trains of the IC route number in question – not all trains over the same route.

Printed Timetable

The Spoorboekje/Indicateur officiel, with some text in German and English as well as French and Flemish, is available as a series of leaflets, suitable for holding in a ring binder, although it is possible this is no longer available. The compilers would welcome news of the current situation.

Engineering Information

SNCB / NMBS provide weekly information on engineering work at Customer Service – Works Info. Typically there are pages for only the next 4 weeks and pages may often be incomplete when first added.

News of current or future traffic disruptions and alerts that impact international services can be obtained at Traffic Disruptions

Maps

Printed Maps

  • European Railway Atlas: France, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg by M.G. Ball (1991) (ISBN 0-7110-2011-6)
  • European Railway Atlas by M.G. Ball (2008 onwards)

Web-based Maps

Ticketing

A summary of the various options for travelling with reduced fares is given in the timetable, but for full information consult the booklet "Guide du Voyageur - Billets, Pass et Cartes" (or the equivalent in Flemish). The Benelux-Tourrail card allows five days unlimited travel in Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg within one month.

A penalty charge is levied if a ticket is purchased on the train whilst the ticket office at the station is open. When boarding without a ticket at an unstaffed station, contact the conductor immediately to avoid a penalty fare. On some "high speed" services - particularly Thalys, ICE, Izy and Eurostar - fares are specific and not interavailable with tickets for other trains. Seat reservations are not available on purely domestic services.

Belgian ticket machines are provided at Roosendaal, Maastricht and Aachen as these stations are served by SNCB trains. Tickets at special fares for short cross-border journeys can be bought only at the stations concerned.

Through rail tickets which include travel by bus/tram/métro within the flat-fare zone of major cities are available. In Brussels, standard flat-fare single, multi-ride and 1-day tickets valid on the urban bus/tram/métro network are also valid for travel by rail between any of the city's stations. 'MOBIB' is the national chipcard for e-ticketing on public transport; more information is available at MOBIB.

Infrastructure

Infrastructure Authority

Infrabel

Network Statement

Network Statement page.

Gauge

Standard

Electrification

3kV dc. However, 25kV 50Hz is used on high speed lines and in the Ardennes. The boundaries between the systems in the Ardennes are as follows:

  • Dinant - Virton: between Anseremme and Gendron-Celles
  • Libramont - Bertrix: just west of Libramont
  • (Liège -) Rivage - Gouvy (- Luxembourg): between Rivage and Aywaille
  • Arlon - Athus: between Y Autelbas and Messancy

Dual-system motive power is used on these lines.

Rule of the road

Left (but most lines are signalled for operation in either direction).

Distances

Network Statement Annex E1 gives distances in metres for each significant location by Line Number.

Other railways

None.

Tourist lines

Standard gauge and steam worked, unless otherwise noted. English language webpage given where available.

Rail cycling (railvoertuig in Flemish; draisines in French) is available on the following sections of line:

Metro

Bruxelles, Antwerpen and Charleroi. These are all the central sections of metre-gauge tram routes.

Track plans are available for Bruxelles/Brussel and Charleroi but only route plans appear to be available on the internet for Antwerpen. The compilers would be pleased to know if a plan is available for Antwerpen.

Trams

City networks in Antwerpen, Bruxelles, Charleroi and Gent. The Kusttram operates along the coast from Oostende, west to De Panne and east to Knokke. In Bruxelles/Brussel, the Brussels Tram Museum (Musée du Transport Urbain Bruxellois) - located in the former Woluwe tram depôt - operates an historic tram tour around the city on Sundays in the summer and once a month at other times of the year. In Antwerpen the Vlaams Tram- en Autobusmuseum (site available only in Flemish) is housed in a former depôt near Berchem station. See also the references to tramways under Tourist Lines.

A track plan for the Bruxelles system is available here. Track plans for the Charleroi and Kusttram systems are available on the Gleisplanweb site. From 14 May 2017 for 18 months the Pétria - Anderlues Monument section of the Charleroi system is closed for engineering works - see the TEC website.

See also Belgium - Tram services over obscure routes

Recent and future changes

The 2020-2023 transport plan under consultation in June 2019 includes several mentions of possible new passenger services over non-passenger lines including

  • "Nieuwe S-verbinding Antwerpen - Waaslandhaven" - a passenger service into Antwerp docks and
  • "Bediening van de haven van Gent (lijn 204) – Zelzate" - the same at Gent

In July 2018, the federal Minister of Transport announced the introduction from the December 2018 timetable change of 2 return trips from Namur and Charleroi-Sud to Maubeuge and from Mons to Aulnoye-Aymeries in both cases with connections to and from Paris.

Line 125A, Flémalle-Haute - Liège via Seraing, reopened to passengers on June 10th 2018.

In January 2017 the federal Minister of Transport announced that SNCB has no plans to close any further lines, stations or halts.

Services via the new "Watermael-Schuman-Josaphat" tunnel between Brussel/Bruxelles-Schuman and Line 26 south of Meiser started on 4 April 2016.

From 17 February 2016 Virton - Rodange CFL was reduced to a skeleton service because the introduction of different signalling systems meant there was no suitable CFL rolling stock available; the service was withdrawn completely from 20 June 2016 but resumed from 11 December 2016.

The Thalys trains between Liège and Paris via Mons were withdrawn from 1 April 2015. From the 2015 season, Le Tramway Touristique de l'Aisne (TTA) completed their long-planned reopening to Lamormenil, making a 12 km long line from Pont d’Érezée. The Chemin de Fer du Bocq was extended from Purnode to Evrehailles-Bauche on 12 June 2015.

A new transport plan was introduced with the timetable commencing on 14 December 2014, with the object of providing a more regular timetable. This resulted in the disappearance of a number of obscure or peak hour only routes. From 7 April 2014 Antwerpen - Neerpelt trains were extended to a reopened station at Hamont, on the Netherlands border. ‘’Kolenspoor’’, a standard-gauge preserved line between Waterschei, As and Eisden, last operated in 2014 and the organisation has since ceased to exist.

Owing to technical problems encountered on the Fyra trains, SNCB and NS Hispeed suspended Fyra train services in February 2013 and later cancelled the contract entirely. A substitute direct InterCity service between Brussel/Bruxelles and Den Haag was introduced from 18 February 2013 with two trains each way per day, which increased to eight trains from 11 March 2013. This was subsequently increased to hourly and extended to Amsterdam. It will be further diverted onto the High Speed line via Noorderkempen to serve Breda [reverse] from 9 April 2018.

"Project Diabolo", a northward extension of the Brussels Airport branch to join Line 25N (the new direct Brussels - Mechelen line running along the middle of the E19 motorway) by means of a triangular junction, opened on 10 June 2012 together with Line 25N itself. Local trains between Erquelinnes [BE] and Jeumont [FR] were withdrawn from 10 September 2012, severing this international crossing point for passengers.

A new short cutoff through a tunnel, avoiding the sharply curved section through Dolhain-Gileppe on the 'classic' route between Liège and Verviers, opened on 11 December 2011.

Special notes

In principle, all passenger services within Belgium run at intervals of one hour or less (two hours, in the case of the routes with the least traffic) between approximately 06:00 and 22:00, grouped into three categories:

  • Intercity (IC, stopping only at main stations)
  • Inter-regional (IR, stopping at stations of at least medium importance)
  • Local (L, stopping at all stations en route).

Where possible, the schedules are designed to ensure convenient connections between L trains and limited-stop services. Additional trains are scheduled outside the fixed-interval framework in the early morning and late evening, at peak hours (P), and for tourist traffic in the holiday season (T).

Many trains consist of electric multiple-units and some such services split en route to go to different destinations. Older units don't always carry a label to show where they are going, with reliance on ticket checks and public address announcements (making reference to the unit number, also displayed over the internal doorways) to ensure passengers are in the correct part of the train.

Each rail line in Belgium is identified by a line number, which is usually the same as the corresponding table number in the public timetable. Line numbers are displayed in white on blue hexagonal boards beside the track at junctions. Information intended for railway staff only (eg depots and stabling points, types of equipment) is conveyed by means of telegraphic codes; FSD = Ostend , HLE = electric loco etc.). Other trackside boards indicate line speed-limits (in tens of km/h), gradients over 12/1000, prohibition of 3-phase motive power ("DMT") etc.

Signal post numbering

  • in controlled area: F37 = signal F of blok (= block post or signal box) 37.
  • automatic signals on open line: A806 = signal on track A at km 80,6; BX753 = signal on track B for trains running in "wrong" (right-hand) direction at km 75,3, where the X denotes "wrong" direction; signals for use in the wrong direction show occulting aspects - the V of small white lights above certain signals is lit when the signal is cleared for a movement starting or ending such 'wrong direction' running.

Passenger train numbering

  • the concept of "up" and "down" (or pair and impair in French practice) to describe the direction of movement does not apply in Belgium; on a double track line one will be "A" and the other "B", with direction "A" being that in which the trackside km increases.
  • internal trains carry three or four digit numbers of which the first two digits denote route (and indicate direction) while the final digit(s) provide unique train number within that route - whether the final digit is odd or even carries no significance. In many cases, for services in one direction, the two final digits will indicate the hour of departure from the origin. For example, IC5xx services are Oostende-Eupen and IC504 to IC523 are the hourly departures from Oostende starting with the 0442.
  • trains between SNCB/NMBS and NS or CFL adopt Belgian practice throughout.
  • trains between SNCB/NMBS and SNCF carry different numbers within France (following the French pair/impair numbering practice) from those carried in Belgium.
  • International trains (classified as such) may have two (adjacent - one odd, one even) numbers, to accommodate the numbering systems of those adjacent administrations where odd and even numbers do denote direction; for motorail (AutoTrain) services originating in Benelux, the odd number will be one less than the even number.

See also