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Reaction to the 'Brussels Declaration on the mobility of tomorrow'

Yesterday, the informal meeting of European transport ministers took place. In the 'Brussels Declaration on the mobility of tomorrow' with the slogan 'Make rail transport the backbone of European mobility', the night train - perhaps for the first time - was given a deserved place.

Our country chairs the European Council this semester. The European Council is one of the three major institutions that determine European Union (EU) policy, along with the European Commission and the European Parliament. The European Council is not directly elected but counts as members the various heads of government and ministers of the various member states. For our country, as far as the railways are concerned, it is Minister Gilkinet (Ecolo/Green) and he sets the EU agenda of everything railways this semester. Informally, it is known that the Council is the most powerful of the institutions, where the real decisions are taken. Moreover, night trains are an international, and therefore European, issue par excellence. So this is quite an opportunity for us!

Together with Austria, Belgium is one of the countries pushing for (international) night trains and we hope that we will be able to change the institutional framework of the railways at European level, because that is exactly where everything goes wrong.

Defining night trains as a separate category

A minimum step would already be for the EU to mandate that international night trains be considered a fourth segment between which infrastructure managers (such as Infrabel) must distinguish (the other three being goods trains, passenger trains and PSO passenger trains). Recognising night trains as a separate segment across Europe will make it easier to make exceptions, find support, try something out without setting a precedent for all other passenger trains.

Public service

Furthermore, but we realise this is not easy everywhere, we are convinced that besides the market (= operators, based on profit), the public can also help determine the international (night) train offer, as a public service. In practice, it is almost impossible for the government to recognise an international night train as a public service. And the difficult cost structure makes it virtually impossible to make a profit outside a few super busy connections within the "blue banana" (Europe's richest region, running from southern England through Belgium, the Rhineland and the Alps to northern Italy).

Drawing up a net

Specifically, an EU body could outline a net at the European level, just as the federal government does at the Belgian level. The TEE 2.0 plan that was communicated a few years ago, although that was just a communication stunt, was also already heading in this direction: a network outlined by the cabinet of the then CSU minister that would serve as the backbone for a European railway network.

A few more months

Minister Gilkinet and his Austrian colleague Ms Gewessler seem to be aware of the problem of who determines the international train offer, and that it cannot only be the market if we want a network from Rovaniemi (northern Finland) to Faro (Portugal) and from Damascus (Syria) to Den Helder (the Netherlands).

The Belgian presidency is still around two months away. Hopefully they can throw enough weight around to get something.

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