Brussels Airport may soon have new rail links to Dutch cities if new proposals from Dutch rail company Arriva go ahead.
The Dutch competition regulator, the Authority for Consumers and Markets, has received an application from Arriva, part of Deutsche Bahn, to licence 26 railway lines during the period 2026 and 2033. The Belgian legs of routes from The Hague and Amsterdam could be in operation from as early as 2027.
An alternative to short-haul flights
Brussels Airport welcomed the news, with spokesperson Nathalie Pierard explaining that “we want to promote alternatives to short-haul flights, notably between Amsterdam and Brussels.” She highlighted the importance of no-change routes out of the airport and beyond to nearby cities for travellers’ convenience.
📢 @Arriva_NL intends to operate an Intercity train between @BrusselsAirport & Amsterdam & The Hague. A great initiative that should help develop the intermodality plane-train in Belgium and reduce short distance flights. 🤝 #modalshift pic.twitter.com/onTW99feLa— Arnaud Feist (@arnaudfeist) September 25, 2023
Arnaud Feist, the airport’s CEP put it another way, hailing the Arriva application on social media platform X as “a great initiative that should help develop the intermodality plane-train [sic] in Belgium.”
Competition with Dutch national railways
The Dutch railway concession scene is in flux. The Netherlands recently ruled to liberalise train markets, Travel Tomorrow has reported, meaning NS lost exclusive rights over certain routes to competition. To help the pill go down, NS has had sweeteners in the form of a significant government subsidy, as well as gaining more autonomy over pricing structures and the ability to vary charges at different times of day.
What’s more, the European Commission has recently ruled that directly granting a concession to NS is a breach of European regulations and has started European Court of Justice infringement proceedings.
Arriva is looking to compete with Dutch public firm, National Railway Company of the Netherlands (NS), and thwart its mainline monopoly, having made several attempts in the past to legally challenge the exclusive hold NS had over rail services.
Now, as a national debate over railway network allocation takes place across the country, it looks like Arriva’s time may have come. “We are applying now, before an irrevocable decision is taken by the Dutch government by the direct granting of the main line concession, valid until 2033, to Netherlands Railways (NS),” Arriva Nederland said.
However, Brussels routes were said to be off the table according to reports earlier this summer. Now though, it appears that Brussels, at least as far as the airport, could be up for grabs.
Various stages of approval
Any allocation of operating licences and routes will take some time to go through the various stages of approval across two countries. Infrabel, the rail infrastructure authority in Belgium has confirmed that process will involve meeting Belgian safety standards and carrier norms.
In a further potential railway–airport tie-up, discussions are also ongoing around whether Eurostar group’s Thalys will return to Brussels Airport.