The European Investment Bank (EIB) has granted a EUR 600m loan to the SNCB (Société nationale des Chemins de fer Belges – Belgian National Railway Company) to invest in modernising its rolling stock. The new trains will provide comfort, service and safety to rail users across Belgium from September 2018. For the EIB, the operation aims to support and promote rail over road transport and falls under its priority objective of tackling climate change, of which developing sustainable transport is a part.

A EUR 400m loan contract was signed at SNCB headquarters in Brussels. It follows an initial EUR 200m tranche allocated in December 2016. The EIB financing will cover part of the order the SNCB has placed with Bombardier-Alstom for 445 double-decker M7 railcars, which will make it possible to retire old rolling stock while also expanding the SNCB's services for users. This is a long-term (25-year) loan with favourable conditions, which the EIB – as the EU bank – is able to provide for sound projects supporting EU priorities.

EIB Vice-President Pim van Ballekom stressed “the importance of SNCB’s investment for its users. A good quality and efficient service, and modern and reliable rolling stock, are key to attracting and keeping customers. Getting on track new trains equipped with state-of-the-art transport technologies that provide more seats and ensure greater comfort and safety, and increasing the frequency of service, will help to boost the use of railways in both Belgium and its neighbours.”

The Vice-President also emphasised that: “Supporting sustainable and innovative transport is one of our top priorities at the EIB, the financial arm of the European Union. And building Europe means concrete engagement in every Member State, fostering development, growth and the improvement of people’s daily lives.”

In concrete terms, customers will be able to travel on the new, comfortable trains offering more seats and equipped with modern safety systems (European Train Control System – ETCS). The SNCB requires 190 000 additional places by 2030, including 105 000 by 2023, mainly to refresh its rolling stock, replace old trains (which are not compatible with ETCS) and add more seats. The new double-decker M7 rolling stock will make a vital contribution to this.

Double-decker trains were chosen mainly because of the limited capacity of the Nord-Midi junction. The order for 445 railcars includes a selection of different rolling stock types (motorised cab cars, multiple units and trailer cars) composing a total of 90 double-decker trains.

In addition, the M7 railcars will be compatible with the existing double-decker M6 cars, making coupling simpler. Another advantage is that, as traction units will be supplied, it will be possible to operate the M7 trains both in a multiple unit configuration and in a traditional configuration with a locomotive and trailer cars. This will improve the operational flexibility of the rolling stock. The railcars will also be fitted-out with all the equipment needed to install modern communication and information systems.