The members of the Belgian non-profit organisation Les Amis du rail followed the press conference of the Luxembourg minister (Déi Gréng) and the Belgian minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo) in the margins of the European Council of Transport Ministers with great attention. Since 1985, they have been lobbying for the defence of rail mobility, the improvement of timetables and services, the maintenance of stations in rural areas, and the quality of the service, particularly across borders.
The first subject that causes anger, and which Les Amis du rail know by heart, is the saga of the 161/162 Luxembourg-Brussels line. The 250km journey from Luxembourg to Brussels-Midi station currently takes at least 3 hours 18 minutes. This is slower than 30 years ago. To try to gain 30 minutes, work has been planned. On the Luxembourg side, the work has been completed. On the Belgian side, it began in 2007 and will last until at least 2028.
Belgium should have changed its mind years ago and invested massively in railways instead of developing bus lines in a competitive manner.
“Whether we should laugh or cry about it, we have to admit that the more time goes by, the longer the work drags on,” says Michaël Jacquemin, spokesperson for the association. “Will it ever be finished? God only knows…” In any case, Luxembourg will not be helping to bear the future costs of the site, which are still estimated at at least €300 million on the Belgian side.
“Minister François Bausch is quite right to say that Luxembourg is not there to replace Belgium's duty to provide public services. For many years now, Belgium should have changed its approach and invested massively in the railways and not developed bus lines in a competitive manner. Let's remember that even minister Georges Gilkinet and his cabinet indicated, during a last meeting, that they wanted to make rail the backbone of our mobility by using buses to fill the stations and not compete with them like his Walloon counterpart, Minister of Mobility Philippe Henry (Ecolo), by creating direct bus lines that compete with the train. Let's get on with it.”
It is Europe that will put its hand in the pocket. “€70 million allocated/promised by Europe, yes, it's true that it's little, even too little, compared to the €300 million still needed. Belgium has made strong decisions in its government formation memorandum, mentioning the need to strengthen the use of rail, both passenger and freight. Well, now it is time to act and invest. Doing nothing for the climate will also have a cost that may even be much higher than the cost of the work,” Michaël Jacquemin added.
Let's remember that it was in the context of the P+R project in Viville-Arlon that Minister Bausch agreed to participate in the reduction of Belgian subscriptions to Luxembourg by about €13.50!
He becomes more virulent when it comes to the second irritating subject: the Viville-Arlon P+R project, visibly buried by Minister Gilkinet.
“This is a total aberration! The Walloon Region has worked on it and has set aside budgets for it, and the municipal mobility plan of the city of Arlon, which defines the strategic orientations for mobility in the municipality for the period 2030-2035, was approved by the municipal council on 25 August 2020. It is clearly stated that the development of the park-and-ride facility in connection with a railway stop and the accessibility of the P+R is, in the eyes of the City of Arlon, a crucial issue for Arlon, as the latter must accommodate both motorists (in particular from the E25 west) and those travelling to the centre of Arlon and to Luxembourg. No, this project should not be buried, but implemented as soon as possible. We have explained on several occasions how this should be done and it is feasible. Let us also remember that it is in this context that Minister Bausch has agreed to participate in the reduction of Belgian subscriptions to Luxembourg by 13.50 euros! This is while waiting for the realisation of this P+R, which I may never see, if it goes at the same pace as the modernisation of the Luxembourg-Brussels line…”
As for justifying this abandonment by an increased use of telework in the coming years and the related fiscal measures, which will reduce the number of people on the roads or in trains, it is seen as simplistic. “To say that teleworking and the new tax measures expected in a few weeks’ time will make the P+R less useful is wrong. Let's also not forget that not all workers, depending on their activity, will simply have the opportunity to benefit from it.”