Infrabel locomotive

Belgium commits to phasing out diesel-powered rolling stock

Both Infrabel and SNCB are gearing up. Benjamin Brolet / Infrabel

Belgium is dedicated to finding alternative to the remaining diesel-powered rolling stock in Flanders, federal minister for Mobility Georges Gilkinet said in response to questions by a member of parliament this week. Battery-electric trains are in pole position, the minister added.

Around 4 per cent of the network operated by infrastructure manager Infrabel is currently without overhead lines. As such, only 5 per cent of SNCB passenger services are carried out with diesel-powered rolling stock. “Belgium is a real frontrunner in that regard”, the minister said. “Obviously we would like to deploy battery-electric trains, as they don’t produce emissions and are quieter. But this is still not possible across the board, so where a catenary system is absent, the only alternatives are diesel trains.”

According to the minister, Infrabel is currently electrifying the railway between the towns of Hasselt and Mol, which would leave only four diesel-only lines in the province of East Flanders: lines 58, 82, 86 and 122. Line 132 between the provinces of Hainaut and Namur is another that remains with overhead lines.

Gilkinet stressed that even if these lines are not electrified, diesel operations will cease regardless. “Our diesel rolling stock currently in operation has around 10 years worth of operational life left before decommissioning. Their replacements will be battery-electric trains that do not need a continuous overhead line”.

SNCB confirms that battery-electric trains have the edge over hydrogen or hybrid trains considering the area of operations. “Our investigations have confirmed that battery-electric trains are the most promising option in situations where full electrification of a line is not possible.”

‘Electrification unrealistic and expensive’

In comments shared with RailTech’s Belgian sister publication, member of parliament Pieter De Spiegeleer, who had submitted the question’s to the minister, said he is pleased with charted course ahead. “The minister has finally realised that installing new overhead lines is an unrealistic and immensely expensive plan”.

Meanwhile, infrastructure manager Infrabel is making plans of its own to phase out and replace its ageing fleet of 81 diesel locomotives. This project needs to be completed by 2034. The company will purchase 65 new bi-mode locomotives, the first units of which are expected in 2028.

Interested in the switch to greener operations and diesel alternatives in rail? Join the upcoming Rail Infra Forum in Rotterdam and online on March 14-15. Click here for more information and registration. 

Want to learn more about the Belgian rail market? Sign up for the RailTech Belgium 2023 conference and exhibition. You can explore exhibitor and sponsor possibilities here

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Author: Matthias Vanheerentals

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