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Belgian rail launches new special assistance app
Belgian rail has launched a new application SNCB Assist that will help reduced-mobility passengers call for assistance when travelling by train.
Developed in collaboration with organisations like Ghent-based Konekt, the service “aims to provide a society in which people with and without disabilities live, learn and work together”. It complements existing options, including telephone, internet and social networks.
“Providing a better service for everyone is one of SNCB’s priorities. The launch of the SNCB Assist app is a concrete example of this,” said the company’s chief executive Sophie Dutordoir.
“SNCB is doing everything it can so that all our passengers can take the train as independently as possible. This means that the number of accessible stations will be almost doubled by 2032,” Dutordoir continued.
Spokesperson Marianne Hiernaux told RTL that just five years ago the number of accessible stations was 17, compared to 98 today.
The company aims in 10 years’ time to have 176 stations meeting criteria such as being equipped with lifts and ramps, specially adapted automatic ticket machines, for example with Braille options, and seats suitable for disabled users.
Welcoming the new app, Belgium’s mobility minister Georges Gilkinet said autonomous travel was a “political priority”. Initiatives like SNCB Assist are “an additional step to make railways a form of transport that’s more and more accessible and inclusive for everyone, whatever their mobility level,” the deputy prime minister emphasised.
Ten-year target to increase facilities in stations
Today, assistance for reduced mobility travellers is possible in 132 stations. You can ask for help three hours in advance for direct train journeys between the country’s 41 main stations that serve two thirds of travellers. For other stations in Belgium, requests need to be made 24 hours before travelling.
In 2022, more than 48,000 people asked SNCB for help. Most requests were made by telephone, with others coming via a form on the SNCB website or Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram.
The new app, that can be downloaded on Apple or Android phones, will make asking for help easier. It works with a personal login to the My SNCB account. This means the user does not need to fill in his or her details every time and can ask for assistance in a few clicks. In addition, the app remembers what help each person needs – for example a ramp to get on and off the train.
The application’s other benefits include provision of information on which stations can offer help; the possibility for the user to choose which train and station will be used; and, to make several requests simultaneously for the same journey, 30 days in advance.
Reduced mobility users can also track the status of the demand, changing or cancelling it if necessary, and other people can make requests on their behalf.
Photo: (c) SNCB