FROM the start of this year private-sector companies throughout Belgium have been allowed to set up arrangements for their employees to travel to and from work without charge. This option had previously been open only to public-sector enterprises.

As many as 500 firms signed agreements with the transport ministry in January covering travel arrangements for 20000 staff. The companies are required to pay 80% of the cost, the remaining 20% being funded from state coffers. The government has set aside €20·2m for this purpose during 2005, rising to €28·7m in 2007.

Free travel for employees of public-sector organisations Belgacom, La Poste and Belgocontrol was introduced in March 2004, but the nominal funding split of 20% from the companies and 80% from the government is meaningless because of state ownership. Similar arrangements have applied since 2003 in Flanders, where local authorities reimburse operator De Lijn.

During 2004 about 106000 commuters were taking advantage of the free travel deal, for which the government paid Belgian National Railways €4·7m in compensation. SNCB is contesting this, demanding an additional €800000 to meet the agreed ’financially neutral’ criterion.

  • SNCB has called bids for between 40 and 90 multi-system electric locos. Bombardier is offering its Traxx 140MS, Siemens a Class 189 and Alstom a Prima variant. SNCB is currently assessing five bids for EMUs to work the Brussels RER(RG 11.04 p730) and expects to place an order within the next few months.