The Belgian Railway (NMBS) is considering cancelling the direct train connection between Maastricht and Brussels. This “problem line” is subject to delays. Maastricht University and the Limburg provincial authorities want to approach the Belgian railway to emphasise the importance of this line. The Walloon town of Visé has started a petition.
In 2010, a mere 87 per cent of all Belgian trains arrived on time. The worst score ever, explained NMBS spokesman Jochem Goovaerts. “Something has to be done about that. In 2015, at least 95 per cent of the trains must depart and arrive on time.” The NMBS is at the moment investigating all lines that suffer from punctuality problems. The Maastricht-Liege-Brussels line, which is regularly cancelled, is one of them. “If the train arrives with a delay at the north-south connection in Brussels – which is a bottleneck – delays are doubled. We are looking into whether there are possibilities for improvement: are there better turn-around options (Maastricht offers very few), can we change to other tracks?” If this leads to nothing, then the line “in its present form” will disappear. Goovaerts feels that a petition will not make much of a difference. “We are purely looking at punctuality.”
The UM is not happy with this. “The direct connection is essential for us,” explains André Postema, vice-president of the Executive Board. Not only does the university have a campus in Brussels, there are also a lot of students – including those from European Studies – and staff members who use this line. “We are discussing the matter with the Limburg provincial council to make them take the matter up with NMBS. We have also been forced to come up with alternatives.” One alternative is already in the pipeline: transport company Veolia is thinking of extending the Kerkrade-Maastricht-Randwijck local train to Liege if the Maastricht-Brussels line is cancelled.
The suggestion in the Flemish daily newspaper ‘De Morgen’ that there was also a “language problem” involved in the NMBS’ consideration, was denied by the spokesperson. “The main reason is punctuality. But the language problem adds to it. On this line there are mainly French speaking drivers who speak sufficient Dutch to be able to do their job. They are certified and the Dutch railways and the Department of Waterways and Public Works are allowed to check this. But the checks go much deeper than the operational knowledge of the language that is required. Besides, they are carried out all the time, it is going too far. Our people experience this as pestering.”
The decision about the continuation of the line will be taken in the coming weeks. Whatever it may be, Goovaerts expects that there will always be a train connection between Maastricht and a Belgian station.