The government has approved the Vision Rail 2040 plan of the Minister of Mobility, Georges Gilkinet, who wants to double the share of rail in transport. Its financing is still to be discussed.
The party was a bit spoiled for Georges Gilkinet, Federal Minister for Mobility. He managed to get his Vision Rail 2040 plan approved by the government, which promises a train every half hour to each destination, and every 15 minutes around major cities. And an increase in the modal share of rail from 8% to 15% for passengers, from 12% to 20% for freight.
The party was a bit spoiled for Georges Gilkinet, Federal Minister for Mobility. He managed to get his Vision Rail 2040 plan approved by the government, which promises a train every half hour to each destination, and every 15 minutes around major cities. And an increase in the modal share of rail from 8% to 15% for passengers, from 12% to 20% for freight. A nice program, certainly, except that it is not funded. La Libre has published the remarks of the Finance Inspectorate criticizing this gap in Vision Rail 2040. However, rail weighs heavily. The current level of subsidies is around 3 billion euros per year (Infrabel and SNCB), nearly 300 euros per inhabitant. The minister’s spokesman, Pascal Devos, believes that this is not the subject. “The Vision Rail 2040 plan is not budgeted and was not intended to be, it indicates the objectives, he says. The question of subsidies will be discussed within the framework of the negotiations of the management contracts with the SNCB and Infrabel.” These management contracts will have to comply with the new European framework on competition for domestic rail. Member countries can postpone the opening of the market by awarding a public service contract to the existing operator for a maximum of 10 years. It is the choice of Belgium. But it will be necessary to establish a management contract, called public service contract, much more precise than what has been done so far. The document will have to demonstrate an improvement in performance, to be submitted to the European Commission. Entry into force: December 2023 at the latest. “This contract will be accompanied by a multi-year investment plan,” says Henri-Jean Gathon, professor of transport economics at ULiège. The money discussions will therefore be organized in the weeks to come. So far, Ecolo Minister Georges Gilkinet has had no problem obtaining tens of millions more for rail, to offset the impact of covid or that of the increase in energy. Because the budgetary constraints, provided for by the European treaties, were suspended during the pandemic. The pressure to aim for a balanced budget was gone. This period is coming to an end. Galloping inflation is changing the financial framework of States, with the end of zero interest rates, and therefore of free debt. The European Central Bank is preparing to stop its massive purchases of public bonds which help the financing of States. Budget constraints from before covid will return, and with them the one-off cuts. “The successive governments had then regularly planed the financing of the rail to arrive at the objectives as regards deficit”, recalls Henri-Jean Gathon. No, funding for Vision Rail 2040 will not be a mere formality.