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Belgian Presidency 2024: Make 2024 the year when trains (re)become the Future, not the Past

Minister for Mobility Gilkinet,

Dear traveller,

Next year our country will hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for six months. Back on Track Belgium, the non-profit organisation that works for international night trains, sees this not only as an honour for our country, but also and above all as an excellent opportunity to put the dwindling international rail network on the European agenda. The federal government has already taken some interesting steps to solve the problem, but the real solution lies at European level. We therefore hope that mobility minister Georges Gilkinet (ecolo) will use his presidency to raise the issue with his 26 European mobility minister colleagues.

Passenger transport liberalised for 15 years

The European rail network has been fully liberalised for the last fifteen years, and never in the last hundred and fifty years has it been so difficult to plan a train journey to the other side of our continent. Trains stop at borders more than ever, timetables are hard to find, direct tickets for different trains no longer exist and night train carriages are often four, five or even six decades old. This is the exact opposite of what was promised at the start of liberalisation. If the EU really wants to achieve its climate targets, it's high time for a change of policy: an efficient and integrated European rail network is the simplest way to immediately reduce CO2 emissions by several per cent.

If the EU wants an ecological transition, the train is the tool to achieve it.

We also want more than a "level playing field". Why should an energy-efficient and clean mode of transport like rail be placed on the same footing as aviation? Today, aviation is directly and indirectly subsidised, despite all the promises made on all sides, and we believe that this support should go to rail. The playing field should be tilted in favour of trains, not aircraft, as is currently the case. Consequently, the extremes in all seasons demand a clear and logical decision immediately for the ecological transition and social justice that we so badly need!

Sleeping cars are essential but unfeasible from the outset

Building new sleeper cars is a cost that no start-up can afford and, due to low profit margins, if any, no investment is made to replace cars that are often half a century old. Transport companies are trying their hand at renovation, but the results are disappointing. Here again, a public institution can help, for example by creating a sleeper hire company with new cars in good condition. The inventor of the sleeper train on the European continent, Georges Naegelmaeckers from Liège, certainly had more vision 150 years ago!

Goods trains prove it can be done

The hundreds of goods trains that cross the border every day without a hitch no longer pose any technical obstacles. The aim must be to have more and better trains than before, just as easy to find and book as before liberalisation, without bureaucracy or lame excuses for missed connections. The current system, in which nobody intervenes in the market and operators do what they want, does not work. The last 15 years have proved that.

Minister, European travellers are counting on you! Ú can get the European passenger back on track.

We hope that 2024 will be the year when trains (once again) become the future and not the past.

Back on Track Belgium asbl

Sent to:

- Vincent Van Quickenborne, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Justice and the North Sea

- Georges Gilkinet, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Mobility

- Lydia Peeters, Flemish Minister for Mobility and Public Works

- Philippe Henry, Vice-President and Minister for Climate, Energy, Mobility and Infrastructure of the Walloon Government

- Elke Van den Brandt, Brussels-Capital Region Minister for Mobility, Public Works and Road Safety

- Valérie De Bue, Walloon Minister for the Civil Service, Tourism, Heritage and Road Safety

- Adrien Dolimont , Walloon Government Minister for Finance, the Budget, Airports and Sports Infrastructure

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