SNCB claims all of the services under threat are used by fewer than 40 passengers and do not cover their energy costs. The measure is expected to generate savings of up to €15m by 2015.

The cuts include the withdrawal of 23 cross-border services, most of them between southwest Belgium and Lille, France, although services to Luxembourg are also affected. Most of the services affected run only at weekends, and French National Railways (SNCF) has consented to the plans.

However the bulk of the cuts affect domestic routes, with reductions in frequencies on some lines. In some cases trains will be replaced by buses, for example between Liège and Borgworm and between Sint-Niklaas and Dendermonde.

Nonetheless there is more positive news in some areas. SNCB will increase the number of direct train services between Antwerp and Brussels Airport, making use of the new high-speed line from Mechelen with two direct services per hour. In the northeast, stations at Zonhoven and Beringen on the Hasselt – Mol line will be reopened.

There will also be major changes to international services between Belgium and the Netherlands, due to the extension of Fyra services into Belgium, and the long-awaited introduction of AnsaldoBreda V250 emus between Amsterdam and Brussels Midi, with 10 return services scheduled per day.

Fyra is due to replace the hourly Benelux service via Roosendaal which will be withdrawn, although Roosendaal will retain an hourly regional service to Antwerp.

However the launch of Fyra services is still in doubt because the Dutch Minister of Infrastructure has not approved the amended contract between Dutch high speed operator HSA and the SNCB Europe, the operator of Fyra services in Belgium.

If Fyra services fail to begin on December 9, an interim hourly Intercity service will be introduced between Brussel Midi and the Dutch border at Roosendaal. As Netherlands Railways (NS) has amended the Intercity service pattern in the 2013 timetable, it will not be possible to retain the current through Benelux service between Amsterdam Central and Brussels Midi.