ON MARCH 12 Belgian National Railways launched a new facility allowing passengers to book domestic rail tickets over the internet and print the travel documents using their own printer. Online payment is made by credit or debit card.

The railway had developed the technology itself, and claims that it is the first application of its type in Europe. ’Ticket On Line’ is accessed via a link from the existing SNCB web site www.sncb.be, and is available 24 h per day. As well as issuing tickets, the site also provides real-time timetable and journey planning. Because the tickets can be printed off immediately, the system can be used for immediate travel. According to Director of Passenger Services Leo Pardon, SNCB expects to convert around 4% of its ticket sales to online transactions by the end of 2004.

To book a ticket, customers are taken through a seven-step process, selecting their origin and destination, date of travel, and ticket type. When these have been confirmed, payment is made through a secure page provided using the Banksys service. Once the payment has been confirmed, the ticket is downloaded to the browser for local printing. A second copy is sent by e-mail as a back-up or to be printed later.

Each ticket issued contains security coding and other elements designed to prevent fraud, including an illustration which changes every day and a unique barcode which allows on-train staff to verify the validity of the ticket.

Ticket On Line forms part of SNCB’s new ticketing strategy, which seeks to adopt the principle of ’Anywhere, Anytime, Anyhow’. Tickets are also available from station booking offices, automatic vending machines, and by telephone. In future SNCB is also planning further distribution channels, such as public libraries.