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New trains still not wheelchair accessible, complains Disability Council
The Council for People with a Disability have announced that it will be at least another 30 years until Belgian trains are accessible for people in wheelchairs and with other forms of reduced mobility. The announcement was in response to the SNCB ordering three new trains in addition to a large order being delivered this month.
The problem stems from the height of platforms at train stations in Belgium, which are not uniform. Some of them are 55 centimetres from the ground, while others are 76 centimetres. This means that train doors cannot possibly be level with every platform in the country.
The SNCB has split the difference, ordering the M7 train, with a boarding height of 63 centimetres. An order for 445 trains that was placed several years ago is coming in this year. Old trains will be replaced, and schedules will be increased as trains are added to the system.
“This means that the boarding height will always be too high or too low,” said Ingrid Borré of the Council. “Trains last 30-some years, so basically we won’t have accessible trains for at least 30 more years.”
This means that people in a wheelchair still need to book their train rides in advance. Of the 550 train stations in Belgium, 70 are completely accessible to wheelchair users without assistance, so no advance booking is necessary. In 132 additional stations, passengers can request assistance boarding and disembarking from trains.
In the best-case scenario, passengers must request assistance three hours in advance. But that’s only in 41 stations. In the rest of the 91 stations where staff can help, passengers must book their trip 24 hours in advance.
“We absolutely needed to order the M7s to keep up with the rising number of passengers,” said an SNCB spokesperson. “Every train is fitted with a multi-functional car that has a large, open space as well as an adapted intercom system and toilet facilities.”
The spokesperson also noted that platforms were being modified in stations, but that this is a long-term project.
Photo: Eric Lalmand/BELGA