Belgian and French state rail companies are discussing a new international rail link between their two capital cities. Belgium’s SNCB and France’s SNCF Voyageurs have announced to their respective regulators their plan to work together to provide an alternative to today’s costly high-speed link.
1. Didn’t a link use to exist already?
For some travellers, the announcement will have a ring of ‘back to the future’ about it. Thalys, which operates a high-speed link between the two cities, ran a lower-cost alternative known as ‘Izy’ in addition to their premium service, between 2016 and 2022.
Only available to book online, it was able to offer lower price journeys by making travellers pay for certain items of luggage, not offering wifi, and operating with a reduced staff team. It did not use high speed tracks, so took over two hours, instead of the high-speed one hour 22 minute journey time.
The budget IZY service was cancelled last July, despite an outcry about pushing travellers onto more polluting options such as cars and flights. The cancellation largely affected students, young people and non-business travellers looking for planet and wallet friendly solutions.
2. What will the new service look like?
A joint statement by SNCB and SNCF says that feasibility studies are already underway for this “new alternative to road transport, with a journey time somewhere between travel by road and by high-speed train.”
Targeted for the end of 2024, the service is intended to link Brussels’ Midi station with Paris’ Gare du Nord and “would offer several daily return journeys, operated with conventional rolling stock (locomotives and passenger carriages) adapted to international routes.”
3. Where will the new service stop en route?
Spokesperson Bart Crols described the potential new train link as “a conventional train service that would take about three hours.” VRT News notes that Brussels Airport is not on the route at present but reports Crols as saying “at the moment we are still in the feasibility phase, so a lot is still unclear”, suggesting an airport connection might not be out of the question. However, additional information provided by SNCB to Travel Tomorrow reveals that the station stops currently being looked at are: Bruxelles-Nord, Bruxelles-Central, Bruxelles-Midi, Mons, Aulnoye, Creil and Paris-Nord.
SNCB told Travel Tomorrow that the proposed budget service embeds both operators’ ambitions to develop European rail services and increase train travel’s market share.
4. What are my options until then?
At the time of writing, an attempt to book a Thalys standard adult day return between the two cities, one week ahead of schedule, resulted in a ‘lowest offer’ round trip price tag of 190 euros. The journey takes one hour and 22 minutes, one way.
The same direct journey on the same date by plane (using the eDreams comparison site), would cost 450 euros, and takes just over an hour (not including check-in time and travel to/from the airport).
Carbon emission comparisons between different means of transportation are made based on energy consumption per passenger-km. Thalys’ figure is e 8.6 g CO2eq/pkm. According to Our World In Data researchers, travelling by train cuts carbon emissions by passenger by around 84%.
Driving takes twice as long as by train and four times as long as by plane. If travelling alone and in a medium-sized car, emissions are 192g per passenger per kilometre.