Brussels Central and South Stations / Belgium


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Photos Mr.Guigon UIC 2013.

Belgium, central and south stations:

Belgian railway system

**Organisational structure of the Belgian railways

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SMGG “stations” study - Organisational structure of Belgian railways -UIC 2013

Recent years have seen major structural reform in the Belgian railways, with a shift in 2005 from an integrated model to a group model under a holding company. This model still exists in 2013, with a split between the incumbent operator SNCB and the infrastructure manager Infrabel due to take place in 2014.

The state remains the majority shareholder of SNCB Holding as a company under public law, and is thus the owner of the Belgian network.

Belgian railway network:

General features:

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SMGG “stations” study - Belgian railway network - UIC 2013
  • Densest network in the world 3518 km (2003)
    • Standard gauge track (1435 mm)
    • 2631 km of the network are electrified (direct current, 3000 volts)
    • Four international HSLs, alternating current, 25 kV: one running to Paris, two to Germany and one to the Netherlands
  • Hub-and-spokes network with Brussels at the centre
  • Due to the small size of the network, there is no distinction between long-distance / suburban / urban transport
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    SMGG “stations” study - Belgian railway network - UIC 2013
  • All Belgian rail traffic traverses one junction:
  • the Brussels node, which is experiencing congestion problems
  • Infrabel owns and manages the track, electrical signals and access areas to stations
  • The network is open to competition in international traffic. SNCB has a monopoly over domestic traffic. In 2011 charges for infrastructure use ranged from €0.54-6.95/train-km, depending on the train type.
  • In the European context, the network is at a strategic crossroads between north and south.

Governance and financing of Belgian stations


Ownership: The 213 stations in the network are owned by SNCB Holding. Infrabel owns the access platforms.
Management: SNCB Holding manages the 37 major stations in which mixed or international traffic is operated. SNCB manages the 176 other stations.

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SMGG “Stations” study - Governance of Belgian stations - UIC 2013


  • Financing of construction and renovation of Belgian stations: SNCB Holding, SNCB, the Federal Government, Infrabel and public-private partnerships.
  • Operating costs of stations: Operating costs are covered by two sources, SNCB Holding and SNCB, depending on the type of station and commercial revenue.

General organisation of stations in Belgium:

Belgian stations are classified according to traffic volume (number of passengers) in six categories (figures provided are based on number of passengers taking the train per week):

  • Category A: Over 70 000 passengers / week.
  • Category B: 20 000 to 70 000 passengers / week.
  • Category C: 5 000 to 20 000 passengers / week.
  • Category D1: 2 500 to 5 000 passengers / week.
  • Category D2: 700 to 2 500 passengers / week.
  • Category D3: Under 700 passengers / week.

Renovation policy for stations in Belgium:

A new strategy aimed at defining stations of the future has been implemented. It has three main objectives:

1/ Boost intermodality in stations:

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SMGG “Stations” study - Station intermodality diagrams, Source : SNCB website - UIC 2013

2/ Increase station size: SNCB Holding has title deeds, and traffic is set to increase according to forecasts.

3/ Open stations up to the cities and towns around them by multiplying services and improving their integration:

A major modernisation project for Belgian stations, due to be completed by 2020, was launched in 2010:

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SMGG “Stations” study - Modernisation of Belgian stations 2020, Source: SNCB website - UIC 2013

The recent drive to renovate Belgian stations is a response to a need for modernisation due to the risk of serious congestion. Emphasis has been laid on improving intermodality in stations, currently considered to be largely insufficient.

Case study, Brussels Central station

Geographical context:

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Brussels is a densely populated city with

  • 1 300 000 inhabitants.
  • It is the economic capital of Belgium.
  • Urban context: central.
  • At the heart of a dense urban fabric.

Distance between main airport / station:

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The distance between Brussels Central station and the city airport is 14 km – 15 minutes by suburban train.

Station’s position on railway networks:

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International hub at the heart of the European network.

**Brussels Central, key figures and accessibility

Construction year: Number of metro lines:
Year of last renovation: Number of regional lines:
Total station surface area: m² Number of bus routes:
Number of passengers / year: Number of metro stations with direct services from station:
Number of visitors / day: Number of public car parks / parking spaces:
Retail space: m² Cost of parking near station: euros/day
Number of retail outlets: Parking surface area: -
Restaurant space in station: m² Bike rental price: -
Infrastructure manager: Presence of checkpoints in station:
Operator: Transfer time in station:minutes
Number of tracks in station: , of which are dedicated to HS traffic

Number of trains / day:

Mode of access:
 % taxi, % metro, % suburban trains, % regional trains, % pedestrian / bikes

**History of Brussels Central station

The idea of a central station dates back to the late 19th century, with a project aimed at creating a so-called North-South junction between two terminus stations, Brussels-North and Brussels-South.

The project took a long time to be completed: the architect Victor Horta was entrusted with the design in the 1930s, the tunnel between Brussels-North and Brussels-South took 15 years to build and construction work on the building itself only began in 1947. The station was officially opened in 1952.

Due to a rapid increase in traffic, by the end of the 1980s the station’s capacity was already in need of a boost. However it took until 2001-2012 for the station to undergo a significant renovation.

To meet new demands, important and painstaking readjustments were needed to allow additional lifts and escalators to be installed. Finally, the underground platforms were lengthened to adapt to new train lengths, especially as with the new junction, HSTs and intercity trains can pass through Brussels and connect it to other Belgian cities and foreign capitals without any stopovers.

**Renovation of Brussels Central station

Progress status: completed



Financing: Holding (via state subsidy) and Infrabel for all platform and access related costs.


  • State
  • Infrabel
  • SNCB Holding
Conclusion / expected outcome:
  • Improve station accessibility for persons with reduced mobility.
  • Increase station capacity.
  • Description of station renovation project:


    • The Belgian network is one of the densest in the world. Within Europe it lies at a crossroads and traffic is on a constant increase.
    • The station is old, built in the ’50s, and originally designed to accommodate 70 000 travellers. Travellers now number twice that figure and traffic is expected to increase by 20% by 2020.


    • Increase the station’s capacity by increasing its size.
    • Restore the station’s historical building.
    • Modernise the station by reorganising surface areas.

    Renovation work (description):

    The station and more specifically its façades, the ticket office and the building structure have been classified since 1995 as historically significant by the Royal Commission for monuments and sites in the Brussels-Capital region. The body in question will be closely overseeing the transformation process of the edifice.

    The station is being modernised as part of a large-scale project, STAR 21, for modernising the domestic railway network.

    The plan includes:

    • At station level:
      • Better use of available space.
      • Easier transit for travellers and more functional use of space in the station.
      • Installation of more user-friendly signage.
      • Improved customer information.
      • Improved safety.
    • At city level:
      • Reorganisation of roads around the station to improve its accessibility.

    Renovation work has been organised in four phases:

    1 - Clean-up of façades:

    Façade restoration work was launched in May 2000. Two methods were used: non-abrasive cleaning to remove the dirt and specific treatment of the façade so it could regain its original aspect.

    2 - Renovation of the ticket office and creation of a travel centre:

    Since August 2001, the ticket office area has been reorganised, with the retail area being moved from the centre to either side of the main staircase leading to the platforms (no. 1 on the map).
    The travel centre is a new Belgian concept that SNCB is aiming to roll out in several stations, including Brussels Central station.

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    Map of Brussels Central station Source, SNCB website - UIC 2013

    The travel centre has six open ticket desks and serves to provide travel information and ticket sales for international travel (no. 2 on the map). This area at the centre of the station is accessible to persons with reduced mobility and it improves interoperability in the station by ensuring easier access to information and thus to other modes. This phase was completed in 2003.

    Considerable improvements were also made to the main hall in terms of spatial quality (lighting, noise insulation, etc.), in line with the aim of improving service quality in the station. The retail area has been brought to the fore and has a place of choice in the new set-up.

    3 - Organisation of the mezzanine and platforms:

    The lower levels of the station, in particular the mezzanine and the platforms, were marked by a lack of space and a complicated structure.
    Works also brought improvements to accessibility on these floors, by means of additional escalators and lifts which give persons with reduced mobility full access to the platforms.

    A new central corridor was created at this level, with retail areas on either side and waiting rooms offering high levels of comfort.
    The platforms were also completely renovated.

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    Map of Brussels Central station Source, SNCB website - UIC 2013

    4 - Modification of signage:

    Station renovation work provided the opportunity to modernise the signage in the station. The improved signage is now suitable for persons with cognitive impairments.

    • Expected outcome of renovation:
      • Improve station accessibility for persons with reduced mobility.
      • Increase station capacity.
    • Financing of renovation work:
      With investments amounting to over 30 million euros, this is one of SNCB’s most ambitious projects. These investments form part of the twelve-year plan for 2001-2012 (which represented over 17 billion euros of investments for the Belgian railways).

    Case study, Brussels-South station: (ongoing)

    Geographical context:

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    Brussels is a densely populated city with

    • 1 300 000 inhabitants.
    • It is the economic capital of Belgium.
    • Urban context: central.
    • At the heart of a dense urban fabric.

    Distance between main airport / station:

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    The distance between Brussels-South station and the city airport is 18 km – 20 minutes by suburban train.

    Station’s position on railway networks:

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    Principal stations on the Thalys and Eurostar European mainline.

    **Brussels-South, key figures and accessibility

    Construction year: 1952 Number of metro lines: 2
    Date of last renovation: 1990-1995, project for 2014 Number of tram lines: 8
    Total station surface area: 51 500 m² Number of bus routes: 5
    Number of passengers / year: 50 million Number of metro stations with direct services from station:
    Number of visitors / day: 70 000 Number of public car parks: 1650 parking spaces and 256 bike spaces
    Retail space: 7 200 m² Cost of parking near station: 21 euros/day
    Number of retail outlets: 34 Parking surface area: -
    Restaurant space in station: 2 710 m² Cost of cycle hire: -
    Infrastructure manager: Infrabel Presence of checkpoints in station: yes
    Operator: SNCB Transfer time in station:6 minutes
    Number of tracks in station: , of which are dedicated to HS traffic

    Number of trains / day: 1 220, of which 684 long-distance (dom.: 570, int.: 114), 277 regional, 259 suburban

    Mode of access:
    10% taxi, 15% metro, 35% train, 40% pedestrian / bike

    **History of Brussels-South station

    Originally built as the terminus for the “Midi” (south) line created in 1939 to connect Brussels to the French border, the initial wooden structure was at a different location from the current station.

    The success of the railway sector brought rapid growth to the Belgian railway network, and soon it became one of the densest networks on the continent. In the face of such success, the idea of linking Brussels-North station to Brussels-South station had already surfaced in 1869, ultimately coming to fruition with a north-south link in 1952 and a much bigger station being built where Brussels-South now stands. Most of the existing buildings, designed by the architect Auguste Payen, were built between 1939 and 1954. Only one building, designed by the architect Marc de Vreese, was built more recently (1992) on Victor Horta square.

    The next major changes came with the arrival of high speed in 1993.

    **Renovation of Brussels-South station

    |Progress status: plans for 2014, latest work in 1995
    Duration: Reconstruction project due to be launched in 2014

    • Work on the station itself
    • Work on the immediate surroundings of the station
      Financing: Holding (via state subsidy) and Infrabel for all platform and access related costs.
    • State
    • Infrabel
    • SNCB Holding|Conclusion / expected outcome:
    • Increase number of tracks and platforms.
    • Increase public and retail surface area.
    • Improve visibility and accessibility in station.
    • Increase retail surface area.
    • Improve intermodality.
    • Improve comfort and service quality.
    • Improve station integration within city.|

    Description of station renovation project: planned for 2014

    In 2008:

    An initial stage of minor renovation work involved the opening of “Midi Village”, a new retail area in Brussels-South station, by STIB, the Brussels Intercommunal Transport Company, before the retail outlets leading up to Tour du Midi (South Tower) were renovated.

    “Midi Village” is a new retail area set to open by the end of 2013, before a final phase of works is undertaken, including the renovation of retail outlets leading up to Tour du Midi (South Tower). A retail area of over 450 m2 has been renovated since 2008, the aim being to make it a “genuine village” where the 30 000 travellers passing through the station daily will enjoy a “modern, welcoming and light” space. “It is a major challenge for STIB to provide travellers with a pleasant environment and a variety of services”.

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    Project as of 2014:

    Brussels-South station will soon be renovated by Jean Nouvel. It is the largest station in Belgium. This is an innovative and astonishing project, combining transparency with height, for one of the busiest stations in Europe.

    A modern, 550m-long façade and a transparent V-shaped building.
    This project, imagined by Jean Nouvel and the fruit of two years of study, is based on the construction of a 120 m-high V-shaped structure rising above the railway tracks. This V-shaped building will reflect trains and the city like a mirror. Passengers will see “the city reflected on one side of the façade, and on the other side the place they have travelled from”. Passers-by will see trains moving along the façade of the V-shaped building. The building will essentially house offices, as well as a congress centre and a restaurant with a panoramic view open to the public. Jean Nouvel’s plans will see the station include 250 000 m² of offices, a conference centre and several retail outlets. Here is a view of the project from the Europe esplanade. The preliminary project was submitted at the end of 2011.

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    The overall project ties in with the Brussels-Capital regional authority’s “International development plan for Brussels”. The plan involves promoting Brussels-South station and its surrounding area as a modern and innovative development hub within a move to promote the international role of the Brussels-Capital region. SNCB has tasked Euro Immo Star with studying and constructing a public building. A private group (composed of 99.9 % of public shareholders: SNCB Holding and Tuc Rail).

    This project for renovating the station forms part of a wide-scale plan to renovate the Brussels-South neighbourhood by creating an “extrovert” station which is more visible and accessible. The station becomes an urban signal.