Some observations on the Belgian rail network

Discussion in 'International Transport' started by WestCoast, 23 Oct 2011.

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  1. WestCoast

    WestCoast Established Member

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    I've just returned from Germany and I decided to get the train all the way back to the UK. Now, I've travelled quite extensively on most of the Western European networks (the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Spain, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden e.t.c) however somehow I've missed the domestic trains in Belgium. So, I decided to take a few journeys on a one day stopover.

    What struck me the most was how different this network seemed in comparison to its surrounding countries. It felt much more traditional and simple in its approach. Firstly, the MU stock (the local trains mostly) seemed quite old (e.g. with four-leaf semi-manual doors!), with very basic interiors. There were quite a few liveries about! You couldn't use a ticket machine (no cash option) unless you had a local debit card, you had to buy from the office and the tickets were printed on ELGAR stock (like Eurostar tickets!). Although, the fares seemed a little cheaper than the Netherlands or Germany. Some of the stations were a little run down too. Staff were very friendly. Plenty of info given.

    Anyone else have any thoughts on SNCB/NMBS, they just seemed so different to the other networks? I'm not knocking the network at all, I just found it quite interesting and peculiar.
     
    Last edited: 23 Oct 2011
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  3. Barrett M95

    Barrett M95 Member

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    It is an interesting network, you're right. But if you think it is simple, you weren't looking at their signalling!!! It is horrendously complicated and difficult to understand at times! The trains are quite old fashioned in places though with basic interiors and no-frills decor.
     
  4. WestCoast

    WestCoast Established Member

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    Thanks for a more technical view, regarding the signalling! The local service stock was definitely older than you would find in surrounding countries. Although the stock on longer distance services was reasonably modern loco hauled double deck and single deck stock.

     
  5. 87015

    87015 Established Member

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    Did you go weekday or weekend as there is a huge difference, the Brussels peak is an interesting feat of operation! I find it pretty similar to Germany though, just a tad more relaxed. The old two-car EMUs are due to replaced soon although they are fairly comfortable inside compared to a lot of more modern stuff.

    I've definitely used cash in ticket machines at Brussels Midi.
     
  6. WestCoast

    WestCoast Established Member

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    It was a Saturday. The IC train out to Gent was rammed full though.

    They weren't uncomfortable, they just reminded me of a bygone era, especially the doors!

    For some reason it didn't remind me too much of Germany, although that's probably because where I go the local trains (mostly contracted private operators now) are all Stadtler FLIRTs and so on. The ticketing seemed very old-fashioned in comparison, although they do have some form of e-ticketing I believe.

    This was at Brussels Centrale/Centraal and Nord/Noord. Payment by 'Bancontact' only and tickets printed at the windows on large ELGAR ticket stock! :) I found that a bit odd. These stations didn't seem quite as pristine (poor signage was an issue) as elsewhere.
     
    Last edited: 24 Oct 2011
  7. LouJ

    LouJ Member

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  8. radamfi

    radamfi Established Member

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    Long distance travel in Belgium is particularly cheap if you take advantage of the Rail Pass where you get 10 trips for €74. Yes, just €7.40 per trip! Even less for under 26s.
     
  9. Greenback

    Greenback Emeritus Moderator

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    I haven't travelled on SNCB as much as I have on NS. In comparison, I find the belgian network seems older and more run down, not so clean and less comfortable.
     
  10. W-on-Sea

    W-on-Sea Established Member

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    Old-fashioned is a good word for SNCB. Not gimmicky or overtly profit-driven, either, at least in terms of advertising or ambiance. quite a lot of-generally incredibly helpful + friendly staff around, too. I've always enjoyed travelling on them, but if you want great luxury, look elsewhere
     
  11. ji459

    ji459 Member

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    Did you notice any difference between the network in Wallonia and the network in Flanders?
     
  12. DaveNewcastle

    DaveNewcastle Established Member Fares Advisor

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    I agree, but I also find that to be part of its charm (and I say that after having lived there on and off for several years)! Its even part of the network's attraction!
    Oooh, that's a tricky question which can't be answered with a simple yes / no response!
    The self-organising fragmentation of Belgium manages to find ways of differentiating itself everywhere. Of course they're different. If they weren't, then the two cultures would make them different by mere expression - they already do, and lanuage is the last item on the list. Attitude, newspapers, behaviour, posture, clothes etc. all make the distinction ver clear, and if you have a distinct W or F identity and are sitting in the "wrong" carriage, then you'll know immediately!
     
  13. Greenback

    Greenback Emeritus Moderator

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    I didn't say it wasn't charming! A trip to an old fashioned pub can be that too, even if it is a bit run down!
     
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