Over the last 2 years, SNCB train and station staff have increasingly been the victims of assaults in the course of their work. In 2022, 1,900 cases of assault were recorded. This trend is continuing this year too, with 200 assaults in January, an increase of 50% compared with 130 in January 2022. Four out of 10 assaults degenerate into physical violence. The SNCB strongly condemns all forms of aggression and is launching a new campaign to put an end to it. Today, to make this appeal heard, SNCB employees gathered at Brussels North station to blow the final whistle on aggression. This was a clear signal from SNCB, which is calling for its employees to be respected.

Sophie Dutordoir, CEO of SNCB: "Day after day, our staff are at the service of passengers. They are present on trains and in stations to ensure their safety and comfort, and to help, guide and inform them. Their work deserves respect. I strongly condemn all forms of physical and verbal aggression. For any acts of violence against our staff, SNCB will demand the most severe penalties. We are also asking the courts to apply zero tolerance and to severely punish any aggression. Furthermore, an increased and visible presence of the railway police and local police in stations and their surroundings as well as on trains is a necessity to support our security services".

Georges Gilkinet, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Mobility: "Railway staff play an essential role in the mobility of each and every one of us and deserve respect. A protected staff member is a safe passenger, even more so for the most vulnerable. Because feeling safe is an essential condition for travelling by train. As Minister for Mobility, it seemed obvious to me to call for an amendment to the Criminal Code to increase the penalties for any assault, whether it is directed at Securail staff or all train staff. We need to send out the signal that each attack is one too many and will be systematically prosecuted. Furthermore, close support will continue to be provided to victims in the event of an attack. Greater protection for railway staff means improved quality of service."

The figures are still far too high

The number of assaults currently faced by staff on trains and in stations is unacceptably high. In 2022, no fewer than 1,900 cases of assault were recorded, an average of 5 per day. This figure is similar to 2021 and 60% higher than in 2019. This trend is also continuing this year: in January 2023, there were already 50% more assaults than in January 2022.

Four out of 10 assaults involve physical violence. The rest are verbal assaults ranging from insults to threats. Needless to say, this has a serious impact on the people concerned. Last year, 450 employees were absent from work because of an assault, representing a total of 9,200 days of incapacity. Attacks are also having a growing impact on punctuality and the number of trains cancelled.

A collective call for respect

The new campaign features members of SNCB staff who have already been confronted with aggression. Close up and staring into the camera, they appeal for respect. The broken window at the front symbolises this violence and the impact it has on them.

SNCB employees gathered in the concourse of Brussels North station this morning also blew the final whistle against the attacks, on behalf of SNCB and its 17,000 staff.

SNCB calls for tough prosecution

As an employer, the SNCB is calling for any aggression with which staff are confronted to be treated seriously by all players in the legal chain, with each situation being the subject of a complaint by the police force and each complaint being the subject of a full and serious investigation and appropriate punishment for the perpetrators. To this end, it collaborates with the various public prosecutors' offices and is in contact with the College of Public Prosecutors.

In addition to immediate psychological support, for which the SNCB calls on professional help and 250 specially trained employees, the SNCB offers its employees legal assistance after each attack, so that they can lodge a complaint and have the facts investigated. In each case, SNCB will turn to the courts as the injured party and, in the event of prosecution by the Public Prosecutor's Office, SNCB will also systematically act as a civil party.

Cases resulting in criminal prosecution can lead to suspended or suspended prison sentences. Offenders are also liable to fines or community service. Assaulting public service staff is also considered an aggravating circumstance.

Vincent Van Quickenborne, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice: "It is regrettable that respect for rail staff is deteriorating to such an extent that it is leading to an increase in aggression and violence. The justice system provides for stronger penalties for those who commit violence against train staff, and the Public Prosecutor's Office has a directive that, in the event of injury, action must be taken systematically against the perpetrator. And this does happen. Unfortunately, we still find that 30% of cases are not prosecuted. This is mainly because the unknown perpetrator has already fled before being apprehended by the police or Securail, or because of a lack of evidence. The strengthening of Securail's teams is therefore a good thing, and it is also essential to improve the burden of proof, particularly with video images."

Annelies Verlinden, Minister for the Interior: "Violence against railway staff remains unacceptable and disrespectful, and has a huge impact on the victims. This awareness-raising campaign helps to make this clear to all passengers. Different partners, such as the railway police and safety officers, are working together and organising constructive actions to make rail travel safe for everyone. Rail services deserve nothing but the utmost respect".

Avoiding heated discussions on trains

Staff in direct contact with passengers are trained to recognise and respond to potentially conflictual situations. These concepts are already well integrated and applied on the ground by our staff, but the call for respect remains necessary. The awareness campaign is part of a wider SNCB initiative to put an end to aggression.

Although every passenger is required to have a valid ticket before boarding the train, fraud is still rife. Discussions with passengers without a valid ticket are the main cause of assaults.

Securail will therefore be carrying out ticket checks more frequently at stations. Agents will check that passengers are in possession of a valid ticket before boarding the train. If this is not the case, they will be refused access to the train and Securail will refer them to the sales channels: website, SNCB application, ticket machines or ticket offices. In 2022, this specific check was carried out before the departure of 55,000 trains, a number that will be further increased in 2023.

In 2023, SNCB will recruit more than 100 new Securail security agents to reinforce its presence in stations and on trains. These officers are authorised to carry out identity checks and issue penalty notices in the event of breaches of the Railway Police Act. In addition to patrols and interventions, Securail also manages more than 10,000 surveillance cameras in stations, trains and on railway property, the images of which can be made available to the police.

In addition, an increased and visible presence of railway police and local police in stations and their surroundings as well as on trains, together with targeted surveillance operations, are a necessity to support our security services.

However, the options for buying a ticket have been extended and simplified in recent years, both via ticket machines and online. As a result, half of all tickets are bought from ticket machines and 30% from the SNCB website or app. From 1 May 2023, only electronic payments will be possible for on-board payments and fines, in order to increase the security of train attendants.

$name title