The future of the high speed rail link between Amsterdam and Brussels was thrown into confusion on Friday evening after the Belgian national railway company said it is pulling out of the project.
High speed train services between the two capitals began last December and all intercity services were stopped. But the Fyra service – a joint venture between the Belgian and Dutch national railways – was dogged by problems and was suspended earlier this year.
On Friday afternoon, Belgian rail operator NMBS said it was pulling out of the Fyra project because of a string of technical problems, ranging from loose components, rust and leaks in the snow.
‘It would have been funny if it had not been so serious,’ NMBS director Marc Descheemaecker is quoted as saying by news agency ANP.
According to Nos television, Belgian engineers found the Fyra brakes were only suitable for trains travelling at up to 160 kph. The high-speed train travels at up to 250 kph.
‘We don’t want to take any risks, let alone with a high-speed train,’ RTL news quoted Descheemaecker as saying.
Go it alone
It is not clear why the Belgians decided to go public with their decision on Friday or why the two companies did not present their findings jointly. The NS plans to publish its report on the Fyra problems in mid-June.
Belgium has now cancelled its orders for Fyra trains with the Italian makers AnsaldoBreda and the €37m will be refunded, ANP said. The NS has bought nine trains and has others on order.
The NS said on Friday afternoon it would publish the results of its own research into the Fyra situation and plans for an alternative train connection between the two countries next month.
‘I take note of the NMBS decision. They have informed me by letter which I am studying carefully,’ junior transport minister Wilma Mansveld said in a reaction.
Dutch MPs reacted furiously to today’s developments. ‘The facts presented by the Belgians about the technical problems are disastrous,’ said VVD parliamentarian Betty de Boer.
‘But we are now in a situation in which the NS has bought the trains and the NS management needs to make its position clear,’ she said. ‘When we know that, we can decide what to do next.’
Lack of information
ChristenUnie MP Carla Dik said she was shocked by the minister’s response. ‘Why do the Belgians have all the information to take a decision about Fyra and the NS and minister don’t?’ she said.
‘The countries and the transport firms should be working together on this, and this has been a problem since the beginning,’ she said. ‘Intercity services should be resumed on an hourly basis as soon as possible.’
Since Fyra services have been suspended, there have been some replacement services between The Hague and Brussels but not as many as MPs or the city of The Hague would like.
Christian Democrats called for a parliamentary inquiry into the debacle.
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