There are two public transport options to reach Brussels Airport from the city. One is the number 12 bus, which takes about an hour, and in the direction of the airport comes at the price of a regular ticket and €7 on the way back.
The other option is the train, which is more convenient when coming from other cities, be it Belgian or international, like Paris, Cologne or Amsterdam, as it offers a direct line instead of having to come to the city and then changing for the bus. However, the line to the airport has a surcharge of €5.7, no matter the direction, which is sometimes more expensive than the ticket itself. What is this surcharge for?
The answer is the Diabolo tunnel. The tunnel was built under the airport between 2009 and 2012 by the private company SA Diabolo under a public private partnership with the Belgian government and the national rail company SNCB. According to the contract, SA Diabolo built and financed the tunnel in exchange for the 35-year ownership of the infrastructure.
Until 2047, the company owns the tunnel, which is why there is a €5.7 surcharge on the airport lines, for the repayment of the construction. Currently, SNCB needs to have a minimum number of passengers to be able to reach the yearly repayment amount, otherwise the surcharge might even be increased. When the contract expires in 2047, Diabolo will sell the tunnel to the Belgian government for the symbolic price of €1.
According to Jef Van den Bergh, the federal MP for the Christian democrat CD&V party, the contract “seems to be set in stone”. Thus, while most of the federal government is in favour of the abolition of the surcharge, there is not much that can be done about it. Van den Bergh also added that an attempt at renegotiation might lead to even more disadvantageous terms.
It is completely absurd that someone who takes the train to Zaventem [Brussels Airport] is punished. In some cases, even a taxi can be cheaper.Stefan Stynen, chairman of the passenger association TreinTramBus
Both the Flemish and Walloon green parties (Groen and Ecolo) are trying to find ways that will accelerate the abolition of the surcharge. “Anyone who makes a sustainable choice to go to the airport today will be punished for it. That is strange”, said Kim Buyst, Federal MP for Groen.
Their proposition is to replace the train surcharge with the flight tax on short flights, however Federal Finance Minister Vincent Van Peteghem reminded them that the short flight tax has a different purpose, not to make trains cheaper.
Discussions are still on-going in the parliament, but even after a resolution is reached among the parties, there question of renegotiating the contract still remains. It is yet to be decided whether or not it is possible for the surcharge to disappear any time before 2047.