Belgium, 21 September 2016. The European Commission, train operators and passenger representative groups have expressed grave concern over draft legislation introduced into the Belgian parliament on September 19 which could threaten the viability of cross-border passenger trains.
Proposed as a reaction to the terrorist attacks in Brussels earlier this year, as well as attacks elsewhere in western Europe, the regulation would extend the airline-style Passenger Name Record requirements to all international trains crossing Belgian borders.
Operators would be expected to collect and submit information on all travellers 24 h in advance, which would preclude same-day ticket sales and completely destroy any prospect of a walk-on service competitive with other surface transport modes.
Operators and user groups in several countries have expressed concern to their respective governments, but there is reportedly some concern about interfering in the security policy of another EU member state.
The European Commission and European Parliament are holding urgent talks to discuss the proposal. The Community of European Railways and European Passenger Federation have also questioned the practicality and impact of the regulation.
A report commissioned by the Landsec advisory group for the Commission’s transport directorate DG Move is understood to have found that extending PNR to rail services would be ‘a complete waste of time’, according to one insider.
The report was due to be discussed by DG Move next month, but Railway Gazette understands that its findings have already been made available to the European Parliament’s Transport & Tourism Committee.
With the legislation potentially to be adopted this week, there is pressure for urgent talks with the Belgian government over the practicality and potential impact of the proposals.
However, as a further complication there is uncertainty within the Commission over whether the regulation falls under the remit of DG Move as a measure affecting international transport of whether it is a security issue for the the internal affairs directorate DG Home.
In practical terms, the introduction of PNR requirements would seriously damage the viability of Thalys and ICE services linking Brussels with Paris, Amsterdam and Koeln, where experiments in passenger segregation and security checks at stations introduced after the Paris attacks last year have reportedly already been abandoned as impractical and not effective.
It would also make it impossible for SNCB or its neighbouring railways to operate cross-border regional passenger trains, affecting many local travellers travelling regularly between towns and cities in border areas. Such travellers would probably be displaced to private cars, for which no such security measures are envisaged.