Belgium’s SNCB reveals impact rising energy costs are having on operations

2 min read

Belgium’s national rail operator, SNCB, has revealed that it is experiencing an “energy crisis” due to the sharp rise in energy costs and as a result has implemented several measures to reduce its consumption to avoid services having to be cancelled.

The firm noted that its energy costs, which amounted to €123 million in 2020, are set to rise to €223 million in 2022 and €432 million in 2023, and therefore it needs to “limit as much as possible” energy consumption.

SNCB stressed that although at present no measure has been taken to limit the supply of trains, additional compensation from the government will be necessary to maintain this situation.

SNCB operates 3,800 trains per day, with more than 90% of these powered by electricity. As a result, SNCB is Belgium’s largest consumer of electricity. The traction electricity used to run the trains accounts for around 85%, or 1.1 TWh per year, of its total electricity consumption. 

At this stage, SNCB wants to avoid affecting the supply of trains, which would have a negative impact on the hundreds of thousands of travelers who rely on the train every day to travel in a safe, comfortable, and sustainable way.

To achieve this, SNCB has implemented an energy saving policy within its buildings and installations. These measures are in addition to those taken before the energy crisis. Several measures will also be taken at stations, but the “impact on travelers will remain limited,” the company said. 

To reduce heating costs, SNCB will regulate the heating of all its office buildings at 19°C. In the workshops, where the trains are maintained, the heating will also drop by 1°C. In station waiting rooms, the heating will be set to 15°C. In halls or rooms not in use, the heating and air conditioning will be switched off.

Lightning in offices will also be optimized and staff will be asked to pay attention to the unnecessary use of heating, air conditioning, lighting, and elevators. Station lighting will be reduced by 10%, both on platforms and in waiting rooms.

Thanks to these additional measures, the use of fuel oil and gas at SNCB will decrease by 7.5%. Electricity consumption (excluding rail traction) will decrease by 3%.

SNCB stressed that it did not wait for the crisis to restrict its energy consumption. Since 2005, the energy consumption (gas, fuel oil and electricity) of SNCB's buildings and fixed installations has already been reduced by more than 20%. 

Electricity consumption for running trains has also decreased by more than 10% in recent years. SNCB wishes to pursue these efforts relentlessly over the coming years.

In terms of its trains, since 2019, eco-driving has been part of the training and mission of train drivers. To this end, the train driver receives speed alerts during the journey, to know how and when the train can optimally speed up or slowdown to run in the most energy-efficient way possible. 

With the arrival of SNCB’s new M7 double-decker trains, the train fleet is also becoming more energy efficient. The most recent trains are, for example, equipped with LED lighting and a driving energy recovery system. These measures will also reduce CO 2 emissions from trains by 15% in five years. and 25% in 10 years compared to 2019.

SNCB also produces its own green electricity. More than 20,000 solar panels have already been installed on the roofs of several stations and workshops, which corresponds to an annual production of 6 GWh. In the short term, this figure will be extended to 10 GWh per year.

SNCB noted that the energy saving measures implemented will not be able to cover all the additional energy costs. The firm is, therefore, currently in consultation with the government to obtain compensation for, among other things, the increase in energy costs linked to the maintenance of supply.