Offside: Off the rails


The federal mobility ministry recently made a sizeable mistake in its spending cut calculations

Confusing numbers

If to err is human, to err to the tune of more than €1 billion must be quite superhuman. When the news came out that the national rail authority NMBS was facing savings of €2.1 billion, most people probably just shrugged and put it down to the austerity that’s taken over the Western world. The public transport users’ group TreinTramBus warned that the savings would cut a swathe through rail services. The planned GEN regional express network around Brussels could no longer go ahead, the group said.

In the end, it didn’t get worse and now even feels a whole lot better. Last weekend the papers published a correction: Those savings would not after all amount to €2.1 billion, but only €663 million. Somewhere along the line, things had got confused, and you know how it is, €1,473,000 give or take, it’s a mistake anyone could make.

“We got it wrong,” a spokesperson for the cabinet of federal mobility minister Jacqueline Galant admitted. “How the mistake happened, we don’t know. There may have been some confusion with the debt of infrastructure agency Infrabel. That happens to amount to €2.1 billion.”

Sighs of relief are being heard from rail users – and that’s the most brilliant part of the whole story. We can now be thankful for €663 million of spending cuts, as if we’d put on an old jacket and found a tenner in the pocket. Had that been the original news, of course, it would still have been shocking. It’s so brilliant, it’s a wonder nobody thought of it before. 

Photo by Jens1503/Wikimedia

The federal mobility ministry recently made a sizeable mistake in its spending cut calculations.

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Belgium’s national railway system was established in 1926 and is the sole provider of passenger train traffic in the country.
Overhaul - Starting in 2014, the railway system will operate under a two-pronged structure with transport division NMBS and infrastructure operator Infrabel. The umbrella organisation, NMBS Holding, will disappear.
Trio - NMBS comprises three organisational units: NMBS Mobility, NMBS Europe and NMBS Technics.
Criticism - The rail authority has frequently made headlines with continuing delays. The most common causes for delays are malfunctioning trains and infrastructure glitches.

million travellers in 2012


percent of trains on time in 2012


percent increase in female employees since 2005