Image: Infrabel.be

Belgium gives green light to Rail Roadmap 2030 after year of talks

Image: InfrabelInfrabel

The action plan in Belgium to double the volume of rail freight transport by 2030 has been approved by the government. On Friday 30 September, the Council of Ministers approved the plan that was proposed a year ago. 26 concrete actions are now on the table to make “the backbone of tomorrow’s mobility” in Belgium.

The Rail Roadmap was presented by more than twenty organisations in September 2021. It is not entirely clear why it took a year for the plan to be approved, but according to the Brussels Times, the Federal Government is “seeking to capture the benefits of the recent surge in the value of imports and exports (pushed by the war in Ukraine).”

“The Freight Transport Plan that the government approved (today) is the result of constructive discussions with the economic world and especially with the logistics players. We now have a precise roadmap to achieve our ambitious target of doubling rail freight by 2030″, said minister Gilkinet on the occasion.

The action plan

In concrete terms, investments will be made in the critical nodes of the network so that all bottlenecks will be eliminated by the end of 2027. The rail network will also be equipped for longer trains, up to 740 meters in length, to increase the competitiveness of rail. And, there will be better harmonisation of the available train paths. This will be a (new) responsibility of infrastructure manager Infrabel.

At the same time, Belgium will make an effort to remove the barriers to cross-border transport: “We will take action at European level to try to remove a number of provisions that hinder international rail freight transport, such as the lack of a single language for the European rail freight transport. Until now, train drivers still have to master the language of all the countries in which they operate”, continues Gilkinet.

No mention of investments

The minister did not mention the investments these measures require. The same was true last year, when it was made clear by the parties that money was needed for the realisation of the plans. They looked at the government for funding.

“From a budgetary point of view, we mainly rely on Infrabel’s proposal for a multi-year investment plan, which we already know will be insufficient for the realisation of the infrastructure needs of this plan”, commented the Belgian Rail Freight Forum. “There are no new concrete operational and innovation support budgets yet.”

Missing links

The same industry group also pointed out some missing elements of the plan of action. Major project proposals, such as 3RX, the additional Antwerp North connection and the Antwerp-Zeebrugge freight line are not included. “This threatens to preclude decisive action in the future.”

However there is a sign of political commitment, it positively notes. “There is now a political framework in which work can be done in the coming decade for more rail transport as the most climate-friendly and environmentally friendly mode of transport.”

Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is the editor-in-chief of RailFreight.com, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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