SINCE 2007-2008, we have been operating within difficult economic circumstances. The financial crisis is pressurising public finances and, therefore, the railway sector.

The fact is that railways both in Belgium and in other countries are heavily dependent on public funding. Infrabel is constantly seeking ways to improve our asset management in order to keep maintenance and renovation costs under control and to improve productivity levels.

A well-maintained railway network still forms the basis for a safe, high-quality and reliable service for all of our customers. These are the railway operators (our direct customers) first of all, but also include the ports, airports, terminals and approximately 200 industrial companies which are directly connected to our network (our indirect customers). As permitted by the financial reality of the situation, we continue to analyse our customers’ priority needs and build them into our investment plan, with a rationalisation of the means of production taking centre stage.

shutterstock InfrabelDue to budgetary restrictions, we are not launching any major new infrastructure projects at present. Instead, we are continuing to move forward with current projects. In the past, Infrabel has completed various major infrastructure projects that are aligned with its priorities: a safe railway network, high levels of punctuality and a network with enough capacity for the future. For example, Belgium was the first country in Europe to have a high-speed network running from border to border, which has been in place since 2009.

This investment is good for Belgium, but also has a European dimension, given the geographical location of our country with all of the European institutions. Belgium is also involved in three international freight corridors that are an efficient way to rapidly expand European railways, with the ports serving as logistics access portals.

On both the high-speed network and the corridors, the European train safety system ETCS provides the basis for interoperable, safe and cross-border rail traffic in Europe. At the end of 2015, Infrabel commissioned the longest ETCS track section on traditional track between Antwerp and Athus (as part of the Rail Freight Corridor North Sea - Mediterranean). The step-by-step roll-out of ETCS on the Belgian railway network by the end of 2022 is also one of the largest investment projects that we are seeking to carry out. ETCS, as a high-speed option for passenger transport and corridors for international freight traffic, is essential in order to expand the Single European Railway Area.


In this rapidly evolving world of mobility where globalisation and urbanisation hold sway, the railway has to be the backbone of public transport. This means that we need to fully commit to a high-quality service that suits everyone, namely railway networks that connect cities, airports and ports with a focus on interoperability and which are integrated within the cities in intermodal transport systems such as interlinked train-metro-tram-bus local transport. That is the only way we can respond to the new challenges in our society, where the public are generally raising the bar in terms of customer satisfaction and railway staff are required to perform as true ambassadors and be extremely flexible and open-minded.

The railway was, for a century or more, the most important form of land-based transport. Since the First World War, however, it has undergone a gradual process of decline and downgrading. As such, it is high time that the rail sector again takes on a pioneering, prominent role. To do so, a strong strategic vision from the European Union (EU) for the Trans-European Transport Networks is essential.

We have moved on from the industrial revolution, with its focus on the means of production, to a technological and digital era where services are the main priority. Today’s public wants to be connected to communication networks without disruption, work remotely on a more frequent basis, have more flexibility, and make short trips to European cities in their leisure time. However, they also want fast and efficient door-to-door transport without having to queue. This is an area that fast-growing internet-based companies such as Uber are directly exploiting.


To fully respond to these challenges and new trends, the railway must reinvent and upgrade itself using the innovations currently available - this will enable it to make the difference. One example is Hyperloop, where people and freight can be moved at 1200km/h through a vacuum tube using a system of train capsules with magnets. Meanwhile, the ongoing development of Automatic Train Operation (ATO) or driverless operation through communications-based train control (CBTC) for metros can, as is shown by the example of self-driving cars, lead to technologies reinforcing each other through their innovative capacity.

In other words, an infrastructure manager has a number of traditional core duties to fulfil, such as managing the railway infrastructure, capacity and rail traffic. As well as providing an optimised and customer-focused service in the transport sector, it is important to provide services with added value.

As part of its sustainability strategy, an infrastructure manager needs to facilitate projects based on renewable energy. This makes the railway and the train an even “greener” means of transport and therefore contributes to a reduction in CO2 emissions - which is beneficial on an international scale.

The commissioning of the “Sun Tunnel” along the high-speed line from Antwerp to the Dutch border, where around 4000 trains are able to run on green energy each year, and the wind farm along the high-speed line between Leuven and Liege, where around 60,000 trains are able to run partially on wind energy each year, are two examples of sustainable and lateral railway implementations where Infrabel was an active partner. The task now is to implement more projects that offer a win-win situation for our society.