Monday, June 27, 2011

These are desperate trains

The Belgian train system can be a nuisance sometimes, but today was pure hell.

I normally go to Ghent via Brussels at 8 o'clock in the morning for my Dutch classes. Most days, I go home around 12.30. Sometimes, however, I stay in Ghent a little while longer, cuddling up at the library, looking in book shops or enjoying the sun in one of the city's beautiful parks.

Today I should have gone straight home and saved myself a mountain of trouble.

My train from Ghent to Brussels left at the usual time with no unusual events. Then, five minutes into the trip, we had to make an unscheduled stop thanks to a technical problem. I baked in the sun on the platform while waiting for the problem to be solved.

Thankfully, we were able to ride further only 30 minutes later, and we managed to regain 20 of those minutes. I linked up with my fiancé along the way, and we arrived in Brussels dreaming of cold drinks and the electric fan in our bedroom.

Then we saw the departure screens.

You will notice that there are no upcoming trains anymore, only the ones that
should have left already... and those who have been cancelled.

Normally, we would have had a transfer immediately, but thanks to the delays, we had to wait a lot longer to get out of Brussels South. Additionally, we had to stay near the platform in case our long-expected train should suddenly pop into existence. So no window shopping, then.

I guess it could have been worse. We could have been stranded for two hours between Ghent and Brussels, for example.

Finally, fifty minutes after we arrived, a train going to Halle pulled up to the platform. We got on, baked for ten minutes because the airco was malfunctioning, then got off and stumbled home, nearly fell through the door and crawled towards the refrigerator wheezing and gasping for water.

Here's a video of what the departure screens looked like at 6.20 PM today. (The red numbers are delays, listed in hours and minutes.) Note that the most recent departure listed should have departed eight minutes earlier. So instead of showing trains that are about to leave (as it normally does), the screen is now only showing trains that should already have left.

Basically, pretty much every train passing through Brussels since noon today has had an embarassingly long delay. I hope you weren't there to see it.

Question to all my foreign readers: is this anything like what you're used to?

Further reading: Rail chaos on a very hot day (


  1. *sob* :(

    I think "wtf" is the best tag you can give the NMBS, really!

  2. Godt du/dere er så tålmodig og avslappa......eller????

  3. @Bika: I'm just keeping my fingers crossed for today... It can't possibly get any worse, can it?

    @Mamma: :p

  4. I was lucky yesterday...I took the train of 5PM, and almost every train had a delay of 30min or more...except mine ;-)

  5. Actually, believe it or not, but statistically Belgian trains are amongst the more punctual ones in Europe ; at least that was the last time I checked those comparison tables and that was a year or 2 ago. Then the NMBS was given thumbs up due to their punctuality. I guess you rather don't want to imagine what those other countries' networks must be like ;)

    These tables are always hard to compare though. In Belgium, the accident rate amongst trains is quite high compared to the rest of Europe, with Estonia and Czech Republic ranking amongst the lowest accident rates. Well, that says nothing really. I lived in CZ and have travelled by train several times there: some trains pass through endless fields with no living soul or house to see, pass no other stations or junctions, and travel for almost an hour before they cross another train or stop at the next station. Of course you're not gonna have an accident when there's no traffic at all. Belgium has a very high number of stations and railway routes on a relatively small piece of land, so with so many trains running at a smaller piece of land the chances of an accident are of course higher than in countries where you may cross 1 station and 1 other train per 100 km. That does not necessarily mean those other countries' trains are safer, if Belgium wasn't so densely populated there'd also be less traffic and thus less accidents and less delays.

    Also, Belgian trains tend to be quite clean compared to what I saw in some other countries. Let's just say that here in Spain I am always going to the toilet prior to taking a train, because you really don't want to use the toilets on the trains itself ... in Belgium I always felt it was relatively clean, both toilets, seats and corridors.

  6. PS: compare Belgian rush hour traffic to North Korean rush hour traffic ; a rather extreme example of what I mean in the above post. The more heavily a network is used, the bigger the chances of a delay. Golden advise: your MP3 player is your best friend when you often rely on Belgian trains ;)

  7. I never take the train here without my iPod or a book ;)

    The only railway system I'm familiar with is the Belgian one, so I personally can't compare it to anything else. All I know is that a day like Monday was anything but normal...

  8. Oh.. Catherine you have been so lucky actually, even I missed the train on that day :(
    Toilets Seats