SNCB train at Belgian station

Number of NMBS/SNCB passengers rises 7 per cent in 2023

SNCB train at Belgian station SNCB

In 2023, more than 244 million passengers travelled by train in Belgium, marking a 7 per cent increase compared to 2022, reports the Belgian National Railway Company (NMBS/SNCB). The growth is particularly evident among occasional travellers. By 2032, NMBS/SNCB aims to increase the number of passengers by 30 per cent and expand the train service by 10 per cent.

Passenger numbers are on the rise in Belgium for the second year in a row since the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the case both among commuters with subscriptions and occasional travellers. It is primarily in the latter category, catering to leisure trips, that the train continues to gain popularity. 96 per cent of passengers travelled on weekdays in 2019 on average, compared to 90 per cent in 2022.

More subscription-bearing commuters and occasional travellers

For home-to-school journeys, NMBS/SNCB has returned to pre-health crisis levels since 2022. In 2023, 64 million passengers used a Student Subscription, representing a 6 per cent increase from 2022 and a 2 per cent increase from 2019. In 2023, 89 million passengers used a home-to-work subscription. Although this reflects an 8 per cent increase from 2022, remote work still impacts weekday commuters and the frequency with which they take the train. As a result, the number of subscribers remains lower than in 2019. There are now 10 per cent fewer passengers during the morning and evening rush hours and, conversely, 10 per cent more travellers during off-peak hours.

As such, the busiest morning rush hour of the week is on Tuesday, followed by Monday. This is when the majority of commuters take the train. There are fewer passengers on Friday mornings, but considering the entire day, Friday is the busiest day of the week. The lower number of commuters in the morning is largely offset during the evening rush hours. On weekends, there is regularly a 20 per cent increase in passengers compared to 2019.

Train travel for leisure has been gaining popularity, especially during weekends and school holidays, highlighted the NMBS/SNCB in a press release. This trend continued in 2023, encouraged by NMBS/SNCB with temporary promotions (like Duo Ticket or the Winter Promo Ticket). The NMBS/SNCB reports that these initiatives were successful, leading to an 8 per cent increase in passengers in July and August compared to the previous year for example. In total, approximately 77 million passengers used individual tickets or ten-trip cards in 2023, marking an 8 per cent increase compared to 2022.

SNCB ticket machine in Brussels, Belgium.
SNCB ticket machine in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo: Shutterstock)

30 per cent more passengers by 2032

By 2032, NMBS/SNCB aims to increase the number of passengers by 30 per cent and expand the train service (trains per kilometre) by 10 per cent. These domestic goals are a part of the new NMBS/SNCB public service contract between the Belgian government and the NMBS/SNCB for the period of 2023 to 2032. Under this contract, other NMBS/SNCB goals also include expanding the train service (trains per kilometre) by 10.5 per cent on school days, and 22.5 per cent on Saturdays, and enabling a 40 per cent increase in possible train connections.

The first phase of the 2023-2026 transport plan, launched in December 2023, is already a step in this direction. Several stations now offer improved connections to Charleroi Airport, with an Intercity (IC) train running between Leuven, Fleurus, and Charleroi-Central in both directions. Fleurus station allows for easy transfers to TEC buses heading to Charleroi Airport. Additionally, weekday train services have been expanded between Antwerp and Noorderkempen station, between Ghent and Oudenaarde, and on the suburban S networks of Liège and Charleroi.

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Author: Emma Dailey

Emma Dailey is an editor at RailTech.com and RailTech.be.

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