General

Industry structure

How is the rail transport industry generally structured in your country?

As a European Union member state, Belgium has implemented the EU legislative package liberalising the rail market sector, through Directive 2012/34/EU establishing a single European rail area and the other EU directives and regulations. In this regard, one of the key legislative acts transposing EU legislation is the Law of 30 August 2013 on the Railway Code (the Railway Code). In accordance with the EU rules, the rail transport market has been fully liberalised for domestic and international freight transport by rail, as well as for the international transport of passengers by rail. Unlike some other EU member states, Belgium has not yet liberalised the market for the domestic transport of passengers, which remains the exclusive competence of the National Railway Company of Belgium (SNCB). The market for freight has seen new market entrants over the years and currently has 12 operators in this segment. Three rail undertakings operate in the international passenger transport segment. Nevertheless, the market continues to be dominated by the SNCB, which provides 86 per cent of all train kilometres circulated on the entire Belgian rail infrastructure (including passenger and freight).

The role of infrastructure manager is provided by Infrabel, which is a separate legal entity from the SNCB. Both Infrabel and the SNCB are established as public autonomous companies; however, they remain controlled by the Belgian state. In addition, despite being separate entities, some aspects of vertical integration are stipulated by law. For instance, both companies must conclude a transport convention with each other, establishing the conditions and means of operational collaboration for the discharge of their public service obligations on, among others, the punctuality and circulation of trains, the reception and information of passengers, the management of incidents (including emergency interventions) and the coordination of the implementation of investments by Infrabel and the SNCB.

Ownership and control

Does the government of your country have an ownership interest in any rail transport companies or another direct role in providing rail transport services?

The state directly owns several important rail stakeholders, including the SNCB, which continues to be the main market actor in the Belgian rail sector, enjoying a legal monopoly to provide domestic transport at least until 2023. In addition, the state also owns Infrabel. Finally the state controls HR Rail, which handles recruitment of Infrabel’s and SNCB’s employees.

Are freight and passenger operations typically controlled by separate companies?

Freight and passenger operations are typically controlled by separate companies. There are currently three international passenger rail undertakings and 12 freight operators, with no overlap between the two types of operators.

The SNCB used to provide freight services through its sister company SNCB Logistics, though it has formerly disinvested the business following a large-scale restructuring effort. In 2011, SNCB’s freight division was sold to a private company and rebranded as Lineas, with the SNCB only operating in the passenger transport market.

Regulatory bodies

Which bodies regulate rail transport in your country, and under what basic laws?

Rail transport is mainly regulated by the European Commission, Council and Parliament, the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA), the Belgian parliament and the Federal Public Service Mobility and Transport (FPSMT), Directorate General Sustainable Mobility and Rail Policy.

The European Union has adopted a series of legislative packages that have gradually liberalised the internal rail market with the aim of creating a single European railway area. This process was completed with the fourth EU railway package of 2016.

Following the entry into force of Regulation (EU) No. 2016/796 on the European Union Agency for Railways (part of the technical pillar of the fourth EU railway package) on 15 June 2016, the ERA replaced and succeeded the European Railway Agency. The ERA’s main objectives are interoperability of the Trans-European Rail system through the draft of mandatory technical specifications for interoperability (TSI), which are then adopted by European Council decision. The ERA also provides recommendations to the European Commission on common safety indicators, methods and targets, and on the system of certifications of bodies in charge of safety.

The Belgian parliament has adopted numerous laws governing the rail sector, notably the Law of 30 August 2013 on the Railway Code, as implemented by royal and ministerial decrees.

The FPSMT is a public administrative body whose main objective is preparing and implementing Belgium’s transport policy. The sector regulator is the Regulatory Service for Railway Transport and for Brussels Airport Operations (the Regulator), which has the following objectives: undertake sector investigations; monitor compliance of Infabel’s network statement with the legislation, levied user charges and competition on the market for railway transport services; and determine the genuinely international character of international passenger transport. The National Safety Agency is the Department for Railway Safety and Interoperability (DRSI).

Market entry

Regulatory approval

Is regulatory approval necessary to enter the market as a rail transport provider? What is the procedure for obtaining approval?

Yes. For a rail undertaking to provide transport services in the already liberalised market segments, it must hold several types of authorisations:

  • Rail operator licence: a Belgian licence may be used or any licence issued by an EU member state’s competent authority. Any company established in Belgium may request a licence from the FPSMT. The procedure for issuance of the licence is laid down by Chapter II, Title 3 of the Rail Code and articles 3 and 4 of the Royal Decree dated 16 January 2007 on the railway undertaking licence.
  • Safety certificate: in order to have access to the infrastructure, the railway undertaking must be in possession of a safety certificate issued by the DRSI. The certificate has two parts: Part A (certification confirming the acceptance of the railway undertaking’s safety management system in the country of origin and a safety certificate) and Part B (certification confirming the acceptance of the arrangements made by the railway undertaking with a view to satisfying the specific requirements necessary for the safe operation of the network concerned in Belgium). The safety certificate is issued under the conditions laid down by the Royal Decree dated 16 January 2007 on the safety licence, the safety certificate and the annual safety report.
  • Cover of liabilities: applicants for a railway undertaking licence are required to have civil liability cover (article 13, section 1). The Royal Decree of 8 December 2013 concerning the setting of the minimum amount for the cover of civil liability for travel on the railway infrastructure stipulates that the minimum amount is set at €50 million. An amount is also set at €70 million for the provision of rail transport services for passengers.

In addition, the rail operator will have to conclude a utilisation contract with Infrabel covering, among other things, the means of implementation of safety rules. Finally the admission of rolling stock on the tracks is subject to a traffic admission certificate, confirming the conformity of said rolling stock with the applicable legislation, and is issued by the DRSI in accordance with the Royal Decree of 1 July 2014 adopting the requirements applicable to rolling stock for the use of train paths.

Is regulatory approval necessary to acquire control of an existing rail transport provider? What is the procedure for obtaining approval?

If the acquisition of an existing rail transport provider amounts to a concentration then prior merger clearance might be required from the Belgian Competition Authority (BCA) or the European Commission if merger thresholds are met.

There are no additional sector-specific rules relating to acquisition of control of a rail transport provider. However, in effect a new rail operator licence is required as the licence is non-transferable.

Is special approval required for rail transport companies to be owned or controlled by foreign entities?

No special approval is required for acquiring control over a rail freight transport undertaking or over an undertaking providing international rail carriage of passengers. However, as national rail carriage of passengers is attributed exclusively to the SNCB, a state-owned company, it is legally impossible to acquire control over it.

Is regulatory approval necessary to construct a new rail line? What is the procedure for obtaining approval?

Infrabel builds and develops the Belgian rail network. Private companies can also build private tracks and then ask for their connection to the rail network. In all cases, an urbanism permit is required before any works may commence. The issuance of an urbanism permit is governed by legislation in the regions (Flemish, Walloon and Brussels-Capital) and the procedure usually involves a public investigation.

Market exit

Discontinuing a service

What laws govern a rail transport company’s ability to voluntarily discontinue service or to remove rail infrastructure over a particular route?

Infrabel’s yearly network statement reminds a rail operator that it must respect the traffic schedule that has been communicated by Infrabel. Should the rail undertaking use, on average, less than 80 per cent of the scheduled weekly planned trips during the preceding weekly timetable, this constitutes an automatic termination cause of the utilisation contract concluded by the rail undertaking with Infrabel.

A rail undertaking may nonetheless choose to relinquish the utilisation of part or all of its allocated capacities.

Finally, a rail undertaking cannot remove rail infrastructure since the utilisation contract states that a rail operator is prohibited from unilaterally modifying, damaging or using the rail infrastructure for purposes other than those for which it was conceived, prepared or provided.

On what grounds, and what is the procedure, for the government or a third party to force a rail transport provider to discontinue service over a particular route or to withdraw a rail transport provider’s authorisation to operate? What measures are available for the authorisation holder to challenge the withdrawal of its authorisation to operate?

The standard utilisation contract concluded between Infrabel and the rail operator provides that Infrabel may discontinue service in the following circumstances:

  • if the rolling stock has not obtained a traffic admission certificate, or where the rolling stock does not correspond to that described in the aforementioned certificate. If the rail operator does not remove the rolling stock of its own accord, this may be done by Infrabel, or tasked to another rail operator by Infrabel. All costs associated with removal of rolling stock from the tracks lie solely with the infringing rail operator; and
  • if it considers that the operator’s safety personnel does not comply with the applicable safety norms and rules. If this is the case, the rail operator must remove such personnel, and, if necessary, remove the rolling stock as well. If this cannot be achieved, Infrabel may request the personnel of another rail operator to evacuate the tracks. All associated costs remain with the rail operator, including infrastructure fees, regardless of actual usage of the infrastructure.

Insolvency

Are there sector-specific rules that govern the insolvency of rail transport providers, or do general insolvency rules apply? Must a rail transport provider continue providing service during insolvency?

There are no sector-specific insolvency rules. Instead, the new general rules of Book XX on insolvency of undertakings of the Code of Economic Law (CEL), which entered into force on 1 May 2018, applies. In case of judicial reorganisation, in principle the debtor may continue to operate its business during the moratorium period until the end of the insolvency process. Exceptionally, if the debtor’s actions amount to a serious mismanagement and threaten the continuation of the business, then the court will appoint an administrator to continue business operations on behalf of the debtor. As such, all ongoing contracts will continue to be performed. However, within 14 days of the commencement of proceedings, the debtor may decide to cease to perform its contractual operations if necessary for the successful reorganisation of the business.

Infrabel’s standard contract on usage of the rail infrastructure, which must be concluded by any rail undertaking, states that a contract may be automatically terminated in case of bankruptcy or judicial reorganisation of the rail undertaking. Moreover, should the reorganisation of the operator fail and the proceedings conclude with a court judgment declaring bankruptcy, this will result in the automatic revocation of the rail operator licence.

Competition law

Competition rules

Do general and sector-specific competition rules apply to rail transport?

There are no sector-specific competition rules governing the rail sector.

General Belgian competition law mirrors EU competition legislation and is contained in Book IV of the CEL, introduced by the Competition Act of 2013, the Royal Decree of 30 August 2013 on the notification of concentrations, and the Royal Decree on the notification of concentration of undertakings referred to in article IV.10. The CEL covers typical competition areas, such as mergers, cartels (article IV.1, section 1, the national equivalent to article 101 TFEU) and abuse of dominance (article IV.2, the national equivalent to article 102 TFEU).

Regulator competition responsibilities

Does the sector-specific regulator have any responsibility for enforcing competition law?

The Regulator is entrusted with the supervision of competition on the market for provision of rail services, though this is limited to issuing non-binding opinions. The enforcement of competition rules remains with the BCA.

Competition assessments

What are the main standards for assessing the competitive effect of a transaction involving rail transport companies?

The substantive test for transactions covered by the CEL is similar to the test used under the EU Merger Regulation. The BCA will clear a transaction provided it does not ‘significantly impede effective competition in the Belgian market or in a substantial part of it’ - the significant impediment to effective competition test. The BCA will assess the actual or potential overlap between the parties (horizontal effects), as well as vertical links and conglomerate effects of the concentration to assess the risk of market foreclosure. Various factors will be taken into account, such as the market shares of the parties and their competitors, the effectiveness of actual or potential competition, actual or potential barriers to entry or expansion, the bargaining power of customers and suppliers, market structure, the maturity of the market, the economic and technical level of the market, and alternative sources of supply. The BCA will clear concentrations if the parties’ market share on the relevant market is less than 25 per cent.

Price regulation

Types of regulation

Are the prices charged by rail carriers for freight transport regulated? How?

The Rail Code establishes that prices charged by rail undertakings whether they are privately owned or state owned are undertaken in accordance with commercial practices. In particular, article 9 of the Rail Code provides that rail undertakings are free to control the provision and commercialisation of their services, including pricing.

The Rail Code makes no distinction between passenger transport and freight transport.

Are the prices charged by rail carriers for passenger transport regulated? How?

In terms of passenger transport, a distinction must be made between state- and privately owned rail undertakings. For private companies, the provisions of article 9 of the Rail Code remain applicable, which means that they are free to set the prices for their services.

On the other hand, state-owned companies such as SNCB are subject to price control in accordance with the Law of 21 March 1991 reforming certain economic public companies. Thus, public autonomous companies, such as SNCB, will establish tariffs and tariff structures when discharging their public service obligations within the limits of the specific management contract concluded by the public company and the state. For pricing elements not provided for by the contract, such as the maximum tariff or the price calculation formula, these elements will require prior approval by the ministry to whom the public autonomous company is subordinated. However, for the provision of services other than public service obligations, the SNCB is free to determine such tariffs and tariff structures.

Is there a procedure for freight shippers or passengers to challenge price levels? Who adjudicates those challenges, and what rules apply?

Before the adoption of new transport fares by the SNCB, the Advisory Committee for Railway Travellers (the Committee) must issue an advisory opinion on the fares. The Committee was created by the Law of 21 March 1991 and is an independent advisory body whose main objective is to deliver opinions on the services granted to travellers by rail undertakings that are charged with public service obligations (such as the SNCB and Infrabel). In exercising its objective, the Committee is entitled, in accordance with article 35 of the SNCB’s management contract, to request information from the latter in order to express its opinion on price increases. However, the Committee’s ex ante opinion is non-binding.

Must rail transport companies charge similar prices to all shippers and passengers who are requesting similar service?

Sector-specific rules do not address this topic, though generally charging different prices for similar services can be seen as a form of price discrimination, which conflicts with EU and national legislation in consumer protection, competition law and possibly constitutional law. The following national legislation governs equal treatment and the right to non-discrimination: the Anti-Racism Law of 30 July 1981, the Law of 10 May 2007 promoting equal treatment between women and men, and the Anti-Discrimination Law of 10 May 2007, among others.

Network access

Sharing access with other companies

Must entities controlling rail infrastructure grant network access to other rail transport companies? Are there exceptions or restrictions?

Infrabel must grant access to the Belgian rail network in a fair, transparent and non-discriminatory manner to any railway undertaking established in an EU member state for provision of transport of freight or international carriage of passengers, provided they fulfil the legal requirements to do so.

Access pricing

Are the prices for granting of network access regulated? How?

The prices for granting network access are regulated at EU level through the Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No. 2015/909 of 12 June 2015 on the modalities for the calculation of the cost that is directly incurred as a result of operating the train service. In addition, national legislation governs network access pricing, such as the Royal Decree of 9 December 2004 on the allocation of the capacity of the railway infrastructure and the railway infrastructure utilisation fee; the Ministerial Decree of 9 December 2004 adjusting the calculation rules, the value of the coefficients and the unit prices involved in the calculation of the railway infrastructure charge; the Royal Decree of 16 January 2007 on the rail undertaking licence; and the Royal Decree on the annual fee for holding a railway undertaking licence. These are reflected in Infrabel’s network statement, which has a breakdown of how charges are calculated and for which services.

Competitor access

Is there a declared policy on allowing new market entrants network access or increasing competition in rail transport? What is it?

There is no declared policy in this respect.

Service standards

Service delivery

Must rail transport providers serve all customers who request service? Are there exceptions or restrictions?

While rail transport undertakings must serve all customers who request service in a fair and non-discriminatory manner, certain exceptions exist. For instance, a rail undertaking may refuse service to, or escort off the train, passengers who are a danger to the safety of other passengers or to the rail undertaking’s personnel. This can be as a result of various factors, such as the passenger’s violent conduct, the existence of prohibited dangerous goods in his or her luggage, such as drugs or weapons, the consumption of drugs or other antisocial behaviour.

Are there legal or regulatory service standards that rail transport companies are required to meet?

Yes. A rail undertaking must use at least 80 per cent of the network capacity allocated to it during a given weekly time schedule. Otherwise, this can lead to termination of its utilisation contract with Infrabel and loss of network access.

Challenging service

Is there a procedure for freight shippers or passengers to challenge the quality of service they receive? Who adjudicates those challenges, and what rules apply?

Regulation (EC) No. 1371/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2007 on rail passengers’ rights and obligations stipulates certain rules in favour of rail passengers. This Regulation has applied in full in Belgium since 3 December 2014. In order to comply with its EU obligations, Belgium has implemented national legislation on complaint handling, enforcement and sanctions through the Law of 30 December 2009 and the Law of 15 May 2014 on the rights and obligations of rail passengers. These set out the general framework relating to administrative sanctions, the rights of the defendants and the right to undertake inspections. Belgium designated the FPSMT as the National Enforcement Body (NEB). Passengers can submit a complaint to the NEB if they feel that their rights have not been respected.

Safety regulation

Types of regulation

How is rail safety regulated?

The general safety rules are those set out by Directive 2004/49/EC on safety on the Community’s railways, which was implemented in Belgium through the Law of 30 of August 2013 concerning the Railway Code. A national plan for railway safety does not exist; instead, safety measures are implemented through public service contracts entered into by the SNCB and Infrabel, which also include safety-related investments. In the context of those contracts SNCB and Infrabel are developing a master plan for the improvement of safety on the railway network in Belgium. This plan foresees the quick installation of the TBL1+ system. Infrabel has also worked on a programme to implement the European Train Control System (ETCS) and aims to equip all lines of the entire network with some type of ETCS by 2022. From 2025 onwards, the ETCS should be the only protection system in operation.

According to the DRSI’s annual report, as of 2015, railway undertakings have been subject to inspections and monitoring on-site by the DRSI. In addition, 2016 saw the introduction of the auditing system aimed at determining the maturity level of the various elements constituting the safety management system.

Competent body

What body has responsibility for regulating rail safety?

The role of National Safety Agency pursuant to article 3 of Directive 2004/49/EC is entrusted to the DRSI. The authority was established following the transposition of the second EU rail legislative package into Belgian law. The DRSI is independent from any rail undertaking or from the infrastructure manager. Its independence is safeguarded by its organisation, legal structure and the manner by which it takes decisions, and the fact that it is under the direct authority of the Ministry responsible for the Middle Class, Self-employed, SMEs, Agriculture and Social Integration.

Manufacturing regulations

What safety regulations apply to the manufacture of rail equipment?

Directive 2008/57/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008 on the interoperability of the rail system within the Community lays forth that each part and subpart of the European rail system must comply with certain TSI. These TSI must also be taken into account by manufacturers in order to establish the EC declaration of conformity or suitability for use of an interoperability constituent.

Maintenance rules

What rules regulate the maintenance of track and other rail infrastructure?

The maintenance of the rail infrastructure is entrusted to the infrastructure manager pursuant to article 199(1) of the Law of 21 March 1991 reforming certain economic public companies. In practice, Infrabel maintains several infrastructure logistics centres throughout Belgium, which serve as a basis for carrying out maintenance work on rail infrastructure.

What specific rules regulate the maintenance of rail equipment?

Commission Regulation (EU) No. 445/2011 of 10 May 2011 on a system of certification of entities in charge of maintenance for freight wagons, amending Regulation (EC) No. 653/2007, establishes a system of certification of entities in charge of maintenance for freight wagons. In Belgium, the certification of entities in charge of maintenance (ECMs) is entrusted to accredited bodies (by Belac) for product certification (according to the standard EN ISO/CEI 17065). To date, Belgorail is the only Belgian body authorised to certify ECMs and has certified four rail undertakings.

Furthermore, the SNCB is the owner and provider of rolling stock maintenance throughout the maintenance workshops network under its property. The SNCB will grant access to its maintenance services to other rail undertakings in accordance with article 9 of the Railway Code, transposing the requirements of Directive 2012/34/EU. The pricing principles and the amount owed for these services are established in accordance with articles 49 and 51 of the Railway Code.

Accident investigations

What systems and procedures are in place for the investigation of rail accidents?

The organisation competent within this area is the Investigation Body for Railway Accidents and Incidents (the IB) within the Federal Public Service Mobility and Transport. The IB investigates serious operational accidents that result in the following: the death of at least one person; serious injury to five or more persons; or extensive damage to the rolling stock, the infrastructure or the environment (ie, more than €2 million), occurring on the Belgian rail network. It may also investigate accidents and incidents with consequences for railway safety. The safety investigations carried out aim to determine the circumstances and causes of the event, and are not intended to apportion blame.

The investigation procedure is initiated with a notification to the IB of the accident. The IB then communicates the opening of the investigation to the ERA, the DRSI, the railway undertaking and the infrastructure manager concerned. The first stage of the investigation commences with factual data collection by investigators on the site of the accident or incident. All the information, proof and declarations available are assessed to evaluate the most probable cause of the accident. The IB will prepare a preliminary report, which is sent to the parties to the accident in order to allow them to make comments. At the conclusion of the investigation, the IB will make recommendations. After one year, the parties to whom the recommendations were addressed must follow up on the actions undertaken in this regard.

Accident liability

Are there any special rules about the liability of rail transport companies for rail accidents, or does the ordinary liability regime apply?

Regulation (EC) No. 1371/2007 on rail passengers’ rights and obligations establishes special rules for the liability of the rail undertaking in article 26. The payment of damages in case of death is provided for in articles 27 and 28. In other cases of bodily harm, national law shall determine whether and to what extent the rail undertaking must pay damages.

Financial support

Government support

Does the government or government-controlled entities provide direct or indirect financial support to rail transport companies? What is the nature of such support (eg, loans, direct financial subsidies, or other forms of support)?

The SNCB receives an endowment from the federal government for the realisation of investments and for the operation of the service. Furthermore, the SNCB also receives state subsidies for the implementation of antiterrorist safety measures. In total, the rail sector receives the majority of state aid in Belgium, which amounts to roughly €3 billion per year.

Requesting support

Are there sector-specific rules governing financial support to rail transport companies and is there a formal process to request such support or to challenge a grant of financial support?

EU state aid rules that prohibit the granting of unlawful aid in accordance with article 107 of the TFEU are applicable to the rail sector. In addition, the European Commission adopted interpretative guidelines on state aid for railway undertakings in 2008, which explain the EU rules on state aid for the public funding of railway undertakings and provide guidance on the compatibility of state aid for railway companies with the EU treaties. As there is no body in Belgium that can hear claims contesting the grant of state aid, competitors and interested parties that feel that the obligation to notify state aid pursuant to article 108(3) has been encroached may only seize the national courts.

In addition, there are financial schemes open to rail undertakings that allow them to benefit from state funding, including the following:

  • combined transport aid: commenced in 2005, this measure provides aid for operators that contract to transport intermodal transport units (UTI) by rail; and
  • single wagon market aid: commenced in 2013, this measure provides aid to rail undertakings providing rail transport by single wagon in Belgium.

To benefit from this aid, eligible candidates must submit their application form to the FPSMT at the latest one month after the end of the trimester that gives right to the subsidy, pursuant to the Royal Decree of 15 July 2009 regarding the promotion of combined rail transport of intermodal transport units as amended. Article 1 of the Law of 5 May 2017 regarding aid for combined transport and for single wagonload traffic 2017-2020 defines ‘trimester’ as the period that runs from 1 January until 31 March, 1 April until 30 June, 1 July until 30 September or 1 October until 30 December.

Labour regulation

Applicable labour and employment laws

Are there specialised labour or employment laws that apply to workers in the rail transport industry, or do standard labour and employment laws apply?

Infrabel, the SNCB and HR Rail (the state-owned companies) have two distinct labour regimes for their employees. One labour regime is covered by the Law of 23 July 1926 concerning the SNCB and the staff of the Belgian railways, and the Royal Decree of 11 December 2013 concerning the staff of the Belgian railways. Employees under this regime have a special status akin to that of civil servants. In effect, they cannot be laid off for economic reasons, but only for disciplinary reasons. Furthermore, these employees also get additional benefits. About 85 per cent of SNCB’s workforce is covered by this regime.

The other labour regime is covered by the Employment Contracts Act (3 July 1978). Employees under this regime work on the basis of an employment contract (temporary or permanent) similar to the private sector.

Other rules govern access to certain rail professions. For instance, becoming a train conductor requires a European or national licence issued by the DRSI, and the applicant must undergo medical and psychological examinations.

Environmental regulation

Applicable environmental laws

Are there specialised environmental laws that apply to rail transport companies, or do standard environmental laws apply?

Following the Belgian state reform of the 1980s, the Flemish, Walloon and Brussels-Capital regions are competent to regulate on most environmental matters. However, the federal government maintains limited environmental competence, such as in the area of product standards, protection against radiation or asbestos and permits for offshore activities. Belgian environmental legislation is based on EU treaties and their corresponding regulations and directives, and are regulated nationally by each region’s environmental regulatory authority.

Special rules in case of damage or imminent threat of damage to the environment apply as stipulated by the Royal Decree of 8 November 2007 on the prevention and reparation of environmental damage caused by transport by road, rail, waterway or air.

Update and trends

Update and trends

Are there any emerging trends or hot topics in your jurisdiction?

On the proposition of the Minister for Mobility, the Council of Ministers has approved a draft law modifying the Rail Code in order to transpose Directive 2016/2370/EU - the Market Pillar Directive. This will allow other providers (not just the SNCB) to access the domestic rail transport market, and allows for the possibility to bid for public contracts on access to routes already served by rail undertakings. Furthermore, it will strengthen the independence of the infrastructure manager. The draft law has been sent to the Council of State, the supreme administrative court of Belgium, for commentary.

The expected date for the liberalisation of the domestic market is 2023. In preparation, it is expected that more legislative changes will be enacted to prepare the SNCB commercially for competition in the rail transport market.