Postcard from... Brussels


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The Independent Online


Few people in Europe love to complain about their rail services more than the Brits. After the weather and house prices, leaves on the line and other maladies afflicting the network appear to be one of the top topics of conversation.

The efficiency of continental Europe’s railways, meanwhile, are held up as an example to follow. But there are glitches over here too.

Last year, to great fanfare, Belgium and the Netherlands unveiled the Fyra high-speed rail link, which was to connect Brussels to Amsterdam in two hours.

The sleek Italian-designed trains (pictured), however, only lasted a few months on the tracks before being withdrawn from service for safety concerns.

The problem? They were unable to cope with the winter weather, despite Belgium being pretty reliably blanketed in snow most winters.

Since May the 16 Fyra trains have been languishing in depots just outside Amsterdam and last week the Dutch finally asked the Italian maker to come to the Netherlands and pick them up. “We want rid of them,” a spokesperson for the Dutch railway operator said. “It’s a one-way ticket to Italy.”

Since Fyra – which means “pride” – ground to a halt, Brussels-Amsterdam commuters are relying on a patchy service using stock from around the region.

When I travelled the route in May it took me six hours to get from Brussels to Amsterdam. The train was coming from Paris, and an incident on the track at the French border meant services in three countries were delayed.

The return was quicker, but despite having purchased a first class ticket – one of the only seats left – they had overbooked the train and I had to sit in the corridor. It was enough to make me nostalgic for leaves on the track.