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Trainjane in Belgium: CN and CP Should Visit Too!

by on October 23, 2014
Antwerpen Centraal Train Station, Belgium

Antwerpen Centraal Train Station, Belgium

Brussels to Antwerp Train at Antwerpen Centraal, Belgium

Brussels to Antwerp Train at Antwerpen Centraal, Belgium

Antwerpen Centraal

Antwerpen Centraal

Trainjane is currently in Belgium, having landed in Brussels by plane out of Toronto, and then by train to Antwerp.

(Above: Antwerpen Centraal Station)

Although this blog is primarily concerned with how Canada’s railways operate from an environmental and social perspective in the movement of freight, it took a ride between two Belgian cities to show me just how far back in the stone ages rail really is back home in Canada.

I arrived at Brussels airport seeking my rail connection to the north part of the country. I was able to quickly purchase a ticket for the train at a kiosk in the airport. I was then told to walk down two flights of steps to the train station, right there.

Once downstairs, the first thing that astounded me was how QUIET the trains are here. When they’re not needed, they’re NOT left running, the engines are turned OFF. I stood directly next to one set of engines as the engineer went inside to fire them up.

Everybody there sure knew I was a foreign tourist in that moment. There was no disgusting vibration, no noxious fumes to breathe. In fact, a janitor driving past in a motorized sweeper was noisier than the train that had just started up, right next to it. Unbelievable.

There was no soot coating every penetrable surface anywhere; the place was clean, and so was the air.

Now, before the usual posse of naysayers spring into action pointing out it is not fair to compare a Belgian passenger train to a Canadian freight train, let me go further.

These trains were quieter than many of the public light rail systems we have in Canada. It’s truly a shocking difference.

But where CN and CP completely fall flat with thinking that they’re “world class” railways, come over for a visit and see how it’s really done, and what it really takes to actually be one.

I have never in Canada seen tracks so incredibly well maintained as they are here in Belgium. Quite simply, there is no comparison.

No rotten ties. No worn out rails. No missing hardware.

And no excuses.

Every single tie and rail that I looked at along the way was in perfect condition.

The railway system is impeccably well-maintained here. It’s safe, it’s fast, it’s ultra-efficient, it respects both its customers and the communities it operates in. Facilities are well-maintained, train stations are not eyesores, and Antwerpen Centraal is utterly magnificent.

Imagine having the rail employee who checks tickets sit and chat with the railway’s customers as he makes his way through each railcar. He took one look at the Canadian tags on my luggage, greeted me warmly in English, and answered all my questions for me.

There’s a thing or two that Canadian railways could learn about how to treat people as well, it seems.

The obsession with the relentless pursuit of profits at all costs for Canada’s big rail comes with a very big cost to communities and to the environment, one that cannot be deferred forever.

Our two largest railways have a lot of catching up to do.



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