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TESTED FOR YOU: NMBS innovation for cyclists and people with small bladders

TESTED FOR YOU: NMBS innovation for cyclists and people with small bladders

From today, you can find out which cars your train has on the NMBS website. The location of first class, bicycle compartment or toilets can be tracked instantly. We still have to wait (a while?) to get this functionality in the app.

This morning, my eyes still deep in sleep, I am standing in the south of Brussels on platform 12, on the way to… talent-Editorial. Ten minutes before my train departed, I arrived with my bike in hand. Plenty of time for a peaceful journey.

Unfortunately, my assumption is wrong! The bicycle carriage was not located at the back of the train – as I had hoped – but at the front. I have doubts: riding a bike illegally on the platform and endangering myself and other passengers? Or walk? the second choice. I run at the top of my lungs and jump into the right carriage of my bike just in time. Oh, I just made it.

A recognizable scenario for cyclists. A sixth sense is needed to know where you should ride the bike. As of today, this scenario is usually a thing of the past. on nmbs.be You can now see in the journey planner which cars and facilities your train has. Icons show where first and second class are located, where the toilets are (suitable for wheelchairs), and where bicycles are welcome. It is also indicated whether the train is equipped with air conditioning, heating or luggage lockers.

© Nimbus

Things went wrong during our testing this morning. Unfortunately I did not see the train formation appear. I sent screenshots of the problem to NMBS spokesman Dmitry Timmerman: “This is due to a bug, which means that the information is not appearing very exceptionally.” We'll get rid of that anyway.

Since November, the train configuration has been successfully tested by 6,500 passengers. It is available today to the general public in the route planner on our website. We will also launch this functionality in the app before the summer. The exact date has not been determined yet.

I change trains at Brussels Schuman. “First class seats are in the first and last carriage,” a computer voice echoes through the elegant terminal below the European Quarter. This time the symbols on the route chart confirm this information and also indicate that there is room for my bike in the last carriage. Great: No boom this time. I wait pensively on the sidewalk where I suspect the last car will stop. Fortunately for me, the last car had already stopped at this place, so I could get on easily.

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This potential problem will also be eliminated, Timmerman promised: “We will test this in northern Brussels in the coming months. We will indicate on the screens on the platform which carriage the traveler is standing on and whether the carriage that will stop in front of his nose has a toilet or a place for bicycles. In addition To the technical test, we also have to educate our train drivers: they must stop in the right place on the platform and the ambition is to roll out this system at more stations later.

Innovation Lab

An eight-member Innovation Lab team within NMBS developed the train configuration. “They were given the freedom to try things for five years,” says Timmerman. “This may fail, but if it succeeds, as it is now, it will be widely disseminated.” Train configuration is not yet fully automated. The latest carriages are equipped with a tracking device, but for older models the conductor must indicate which carriages are in his train.

Of course, these strollers remain the Achilles' heel of ease of travel. By the end of 2026, every new double-decker (type M7) at NMBS must have an independently accessible carriage. This cart has a door with an entry height of 76 cm, which is the standard height for new platforms. Before the door opens, a step automatically slides out to bridge the space between the platform and the train. This way, passengers with limited mobility, strollers or bicycles can get in and out safely and independently. NMBS has ordered 130 vehicles.

You can use the BikeOnTrain trip planner to see how feasible a train trip by bike is.

M7 recently scored a goal Knack's rating of the most beautiful trains Eight out of ten. Slightly better than the Pig's Nose (7/10) and the Lounge (5/10), both without air conditioning. From today, train lovers can also find out what type of carriage will transport them via the train configuration. To do this, you need to know this trick: Click on “Train Data” in the route planner and then place the cursor on a carriage and you will see the icon of that carriage appear. The example below shows “M7BUH” (red frame). In Knack rankings You can then see what the M7 carriage looks like.

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very tired? actually. Timmerman: When we launch the updated version of the app with the train configuration, we will also present the different train models visually. This way, the traveler knows which type of train will stop where. This will come in the next stage, before the summer.

Bicycle carts are crowded

There is less frustration for bike train riders, but most Belgian stations and carriages are barely adapted to two-wheeled bicycles. Via Trip Planner BikeOnTrain You can find out how feasible a train trip is by bike. You will often get the result “stressful” or “difficult.” NMBS is trying to be transparent “so travelers on bicycles know where to stand and can take the most appropriate train.”

From mid-April 2024, NMBS passengers can see the location of the train's bicycle car in the route planner.

Crowded bicycle carts, especially at events, are still common today. Reserving bicycle spaces is also not possible with NMBS. “By 2032, we want to dramatically increase the number of cycling spaces on each train,” says Timmerman. “The new trains already have eight bike spaces per train as standard. We are adding more in the existing trains.

It's quiet on the train between Brussels Schuman and Bordet, with plenty of room for my bike. The first introduction to the train configuration seemed like a step in the right direction. In the land of King Auto, we hope that the Emperor's Bike and the Tsar's Train will enter into a stronger harmony in the future.

After a short bike ride from the station to the editorial office, I arrived in good spirits thanks to – and it still seems strange – a piece of innovation from NMBS. Soon after, a colleague from Antwerp rushed inside, steam rising from her ears: after a canceled train, her journey had taken two and a half hours. I can't make her happy now with the new icons in the route planner.

Punctuality, which is the main barrier to more people getting on the train, remains the most important point of NMBS. Although an innovative train configuration can also help a little. If passengers are ready where they want or need to board, the train can also depart on time.