France - General Information

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National Railway System

Société Nationale des Chemins der fer Belges (SNCB) and Nationale Maatschappij der Belgische Spoorwegen (NMBS) are the formal titles of the national railway system in French and Dutch respectively. However, these are usually shortened to "Chemins de fer Belges" and "Belgische spoorwegen". On rolling stock, station signs and publicity material the letter B in an oval is used instead of SNCB or NMBS. Since 1 Jan. 2005, the infrastructure (Infrabel) and train operation (SNCB/NMBS) companies have been subsidiaries of the SNCB/NMBS Holding company.

Thalys services are managed jointly with the French, German and Netherlands railways. Eurostar was originally operated jointly with SNCF and Eurostar (UK) Ltd. but from 2010 is a unitary undertaking (Eurostar International Ltd), owned by the same partners with SNCF holding a controlling interest (55%), London & Continental (owners of Eurostar (UK) Ltd) (40%) and SNCB/NMBS (5%).


Belgium consists of three Regions: Flanders, to the north of the provincial boundary line running roughly between Menin and Visé, in which Dutch is the official language; Wallonia, to the south of that line, where French is the official language, and the Capital, Brussels, which is officially bi-lingual but mostly French-speaking. German is officially recognised in the area around Eupen and Malmedy. By law, public bodies must use only the official language(s) of each Region for texts in that Region, so travellers should be aware that, for example, the name of a train's destination may change significally during the journey (eg: Bergen = Mons, Luik = Liège). All railway personnel whose duties involve contact with the public are required on recruitment to show they can speak both languages, and some (especially in Flanders) are also fluent in English etc., but of course others may become rather out-of-practice in their second language. Railway tickets are normally issued from computer terminals and at bilingual stations may be issued in either language, depending on how the passenger requests it; some types of ticket purchases and reservations can now be made via the internet.



UIC code

numeric 88; alpha B


Journey Planner

Downloadable Timetable

Printed Timetable

The Spoorboekje/Indicateur officiel, with some text in German and English as well as French and Flemish, is published shortly before the annual change (second Sunday in December). Weekday services for all lines in numerical order are shown first, followed by the corresponding weekend services. The timetable is also available as a series of free leaflets, suitable for holding in a ring binder. A separate free "IC/IR" booklet with details of the regular-interval limited-stop services identified by letters, including diagrams showing the service pattern between the principal stations on weekdays and at weekends, is similarly available at SNCB/NMBS stations. Traditional long-distance international services to and from Belgium are given at the back of the timetable but they have been largely replaced by high-speed trains (Eurostar, Thalys, ICE, TGV), details of which are given in separate leaflets.

Engineering Information

Forward information on engineering works can be obtained from either


Timetable Maps

The timetable map contains a fold-out route diagram showing timetable numbers.

Other Maps

An SNCB/NMBS plan shows the current network, while the infrastructure provider has two useful plans: detailed schematic layout plan and overview route plan, identifying line numbers (note that these URLs may change in future years so a little experimentation may be necessary to get later versions). An unofficial map shows the maximum extent of the Belgian system, identifying passenger, freight and closed lines.




3kV dc. However, 25kV 50Hz is used on high speed lines and for the recently-completed electrification work in the Ardennes. The Liège to Luxembourg line via Gouvy is 25kV south of Martinrive, as is the line from Dinant to Athus (and on into Luxembourg or France). Dual-system motive-power is used on both these lines.

Rule of the road

Left (but most lines are signalled for operation in either direction).

Other railways

None (but note that part of the existing nework was orginally built and operated by numerous private companies under concessions that required technical compatibility and inter-operation). Although ticketing for travel on international passenger services by Eurostar, Thalys etc. is handled by the SNCB/NMBS, their tariffs and conditions for reimbursement etc. are completely independent of those applicable to rail travel wholly within Belgium. Suitably-equipped motive power from neighbouring networks has long worked through into Belgium (and vice versa). And new rolling stock produced at Bombardier's factory in Brugge may occasionally be seen on test nearby.

Tourist lines

Standard gauge, unless otherwise noted.


Bruxelles, Antwerpen and Charleroi. The two latter networks consist of the central sections of metre-gauge tram routes.


City networks in Antwerpen, Bruxelles, Charleroi and Gent. The Kusttram operates along the coast in either direction from Oostende. In Bruxelles, the Musée du Transport Urbain Bruxellois - in the former Woluwe tram depôt - operates historic trams to Tervuren, and sometimes elsewhere around the city, as advertised, while in Antwerpen the Vlaams Tram- en Autobusmuseum - in a former depôt near Berchem station - similarly operates in the city, as advertised. See also the references to tramways under Tourist Lines.

Recent and future changes

Most of the Belgian railway system is now electrified. Further electrification is not foreseen, except for the new high-speed lines now being built and the proposed extension of the Brussel/Bruxelles Airport branch. Major upgrading and new infrastructure (four-tracking) work has begun within a radius of about 30 km around Brussels in order to enable a "Regional Express Railway" (RER/GEN) to be created.

Two new high-speed routes have recently come into use: from Brussel to Aachen and to the Netherlands. The route to Germany is used both by Thalys (TGVs) and ICE3, and (on the Brussel - Liège section) by the hourly Oostende - Eupen (IC A) trains. As well as the the new line, work has included "Soumagne" tunnel (some 6 km long), new stations at Liège and (less dramatic) Leuven, and four- tracking between northern Brussels and Leuven. The route to the Netherlands - now in use - has involved extensive rebuilding at Antwerpen Centraal station, and excavation of a through tunnel running beneath it, thus

serving the city centre without reversal.

The next stage of plans for improving rail access to Brussels Airport - which already sports a triangular grade-separated junction with the Brussels - Leuven line - should see the airport branch extended north to a triangular junction with a proposed new direct Brussels - Mechelen line running along the middle of the E19 motorway. The restoration of scheduled local passenger services across the French border on the "classic" Nord main line from Quévy to Maubeuge and Aulnoye-Aymeries has been tried twice but EU policy requires cross-border services (unlike wholly internal ones) to be commercially viable; this proved impossible as this (and similar services), unlike competing road services, generally suffer from the need to comply with two independent sets of national standards, yet have a relatively small potential traffic. European "harmonisation" has yet to succeed in such instances. Other recent line (re-)openings include the Brussel west belt (see <a href="">obscure line</a> BE10/22) and layout changes in the Schaerbeek - Leuven area (BE10/14 to 16). Closures are only those noted under <a href="">obscure lines</a> as Deletions since previous edition.

A new short cutoff line through a tunnel is currently under construction on the 'classic' route between Liège and Verviers. This will avoid the sharply curved section through Dolhain-Gileppe with its 40 kph speed limit.

Special notes

In principle, all passenger services within Belgium run at intervals of one hour or less (two hours, in the case of the routes with the least traffic) between approximately 06:00 and 22:00, grouped into three categories:

  • Intercity (IC, stopping only at main stations)
  • Inter-regional (IR, stopping at stations of at least medium importance)
  • Local (L, stopping at all stations en route).

Where possible, the schedules are designed to ensure convenient connections between L trains and limited-stop services. Additional trains are scheduled outside the fixed-interval framework in the early morning and late evening, at peak hours (P), and for tourist traffic in the holiday season (T). Seat reservations are available only on long-distance international services (they are mandatory on TGV-type services such as Thalys and Eurostar).

Many trains consist of electric multiple-units and some such services split en route to go to different destinations. Older units don't always carry a label to show where they are going, with reliance on ticket checks and public address announcements (making reference to the unit number, also displayed over the internal doorways) to ensure passengers are in the correct part of the train.

Ordinary tickets for travel between two SNCB/NMBS stations are valid only for direct journeys on the date of issue, in both outward and return directions. If it is desired to break one's journey, to travel other than via the direct route, or to travel on a later date, this must be specified when buying the ticket. The fare for such tickets is calculated from the distance shown in the timetable (which may include some fictional km, eg to finance exceptional infrastructure) and a fixed terminal charge. Numerous discounted fares are available (generally expressed as a % of the ordinarly fare apart from the terminal charge). A summary of the various options for travelling with reduced fares, such as minigroup and weekend returns, is given in the timetable, but for full information you should consult the booklet "Guide du Voyageur - Billets, Pass et Cartes" (or the equivalent in Dutch). Note also that tickets at the special fares applicable in several cases for short cross-border journeys can be bought only at the stations concerned. The Benelux-Tourrail card is particularly useful to tourists, allowing five days unlimited travel on the railways of Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg during a period of one month. A penalty charge is levied if a ticket is purchased on the train while the ticket office at the station is open. When boarding without a ticket at an unstaffed station, inform the conductor immediately upon joining the train if you wish to avoid the penalty.

Considerable efforts have been made to improve integration between the various public transport services in Belgium. As well as timetable coordination, this has taken the form of through ticketing, so that travellers can buy a rail ticket valid for connecting travel by bus/tram/métro within the flat-fare zone of major cities. In Brussels, standard flat-fare single, multi-ride and 1-day tickets valid on the urban bus/tram/métro network are now similarly valid for travel by rail between any of the city's stations.

Each rail line in Belgium is identified by a line number, which is usually the same as the corresponding table number in the public timetable. Line numbers are displayed in white on blue hexagonal boards beside the track at junctions. Information intended for railway staff only (eg depots and stabling points, types of equipment) is conveyed by means of telegraphic codes; FSD = Ostend , HLE = electric loco etc.). Other trackside boards indicate line speed-limits (in tens of km/h), gradients over 12/1000, prohibition of 3-phase motive power ("DMT") etc.

Other General Information

Signal post numbering

  • in controlled area: F37 = signal F of blok (= block post or signal box) 37.
  • automatic signals on open line: A806 = signal on track A at km 80,6; BX753 = signal on track B for trains running in "wrong" (right-hand) direction at km 75,3, where the X denotes "wrong" direction; signals for use in the wrong direction show occulting aspects - the V of small white lights above certain signals is lit when the signal is cleared for a movement starting or ending such 'wrong direction' running.

Passenger train numbering

  • the concept of "up" and "down" (or pair and impair in French practice) to describe the direction of movement does not apply in Belgium; on a double track line one will be "A" and the other "B", with direction "A" being that in which the trackside km increases.
  • internal trains carry three or four digit numbers of which the first two digits denote route (and indicate direction) while the final digit(s) provide unique train number within that route - whether the final digit is odd or even carries no significance.
  • trains between SNCB/NMBS and NS or CFL adopt Belgian practice throughout.
  • trains between SNCB/NMBS and SNCF carry different numbers within France (following the French pair/impair numbering practice) from those carried in Belgium.
  • International trains (classified as such) may have two (adjacent - one odd, one even) numbers, to accommodate the numbering systems of those adjacent administrations where odd and even numbers do denote direction; for motorail (AutoTrain) services originating in Benelux, the odd number will be one less than the even number.

See also