Belgium and Luxembourg to double cross-border rail traffic by 2040
Every day, 45,000 Belgians commute to Luxembourg, and the two countries want to double this number by 2040. On October 3, 2023, Luxembourg’s Minister of Mobility François Bausch and his Belgian counterpart Georges Gilkinet signed a letter of intent to strengthen rail cooperation between the two countries.
Cross-border flows between Belgium and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg are intense and daily. Every day, 45,000 Belgians make the journey between the two countries. At present, 85 per cent of these commuters still use the car for this journey. However, there is significant potential to encourage a modal shift to rail, which Ministers Georges Gilkinet and François Bausch are committed to promoting. This would contribute to the climate objectives of Belgium, Luxembourg and Europe.
This week, this shared commitment has taken concrete form with the signing of a joint letter of intent. Both parties are committed to achieving numerous objectives by 2040: doubling the proportion of commuters using the train between the two countries, doubling the volume of rail freight between Belgium and Luxembourg. The also want to make the train even more attractive by reducing journey times between the two capitals, and link Brussels and Luxembourg (city) in 2 hours by 2030.
To achieve their goals, Belgium and Luxembourg are working on modernising the cross-border railway tracks between the two countries. To accelerate the modernisation of axis 3 between the Belgian Gembloux and Luxembourg, the two countries will jointly submit a funding application to the European authorities by the end of the year. The same goes for modernising the RER lines between Brussels and nearby city Ottignies, a stop on the direct line to Luxembourg.
This application is for the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) programme. This funding, in addition to the budgets already earmarked for the project within Infrabel’s plans for 2023-2032, would enable the work to be completed two years earlier than planned. This would mean being ready in 2029 instead of 2031, which is the most technically advanced date possible for a project of this scale.
On the Luxembourg side, a study is underway to eliminate several level crossings between Luxembourg and the Belgian border. In addition, a new multimodal stop will be built at Hollerich by 2030, saving cross-border commuters precious time by eliminating the need to use Luxembourg’s main station to reach the city centre and business districts.
According to Benoît Gilson, CEO of Infrabel, “Infrabel is working closely with CFL and the operators to plan the modernisation of Axis 3 and draw up the transport plan. This project is one of the most complex on the Belgian rail network. Covering a distance of 175 kilometres, it requires a combination of heavy work and the maintenance of fluid traffic. Infrabel is renewing track, signalling and engineering structures, rectifying curves, securing rock walls, removing level crossings and electrifying the line to increase speed to 160 kilometres per hour on certain sections, which will cut 20 minutes off the journey time between Brussels and the border with the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.”
Improving passenger services
Both parties are planning to create multimodal hubs that are easily accessible by road (and offer safe cycle connections) and offer attractive rail services. Both ministers support the strengthening of cross-border rail services in two phases. Firstly, from December 2026, a fast Brussels-Luxembourg link with 3 round trips per day (morning, midday, and evening) will be introduced to complement the existing Intercity (IC) service (one connection per hour). Then, in 2029, once the work on the Brussels-Luxembourg line is complete, IC train frequency will be doubled (2 hourly connections between Brussels and Luxembourg), and a fast service will be offered with 5 round trips per day.
Local services will also be improved. From December 2024, the Luxembourg-Arlon omnibus train will be extended to Libramont once an hour. The medium-term goal is to link Luxembourg to Libramont twice an hour without commuters having to change trains. In all, there will be four connections per hour from Luxembourg to Belgium. In the longer term, the aim is to develop a suburban rail service offering fast, efficient access to the Luxembourg metropolis from the border area via the three lines linking Belgium and Luxembourg.
As far as fares are concerned, the free public transport in Luxembourg that was introduced in 2020 considerably enhances the attractiveness of the rail service. On the Belgian side, the SNCB’s new fare structure includes discounts for young people, senior citizens and small groups (including families). In addition, cross-border season ticket holders will benefit from free parking in SNCB parking lots in some twenty localities. Additional parking spaces, including for cyclists, are planned, notably in Arlon. Finally, passengers will “soon” benefit from new rolling stock, with M7 cars for the SNCB and Coradia railcars for Luxembourg’s operator CFL.