I was just reading a ‘tweet’ about a friend who cannot get the Eurostar on 11 November from Brussels to London as it is a public holiday in Belgium, (whereas in the UK it is not). Seems rather odd not to have an international rail service running despite it being a public holiday. The Belgians observe Armistice Day as a public holiday, (and so they should), whereas in the UK it is not a bank holiday, to my knowledge. This reminded me of my many trips via Brussel-Zuid/Bruxelles-Midi railway station on my way to either London or Paris. Sometimes I feel like I have arrived in a Failed State.
Belgium is a great country, Brussels is a great city. For train travellers their first introduction to both is usually a very bad first impression. Some time ago I read an opinion piece in the Financial Times about this very topic. In my humble attempt, I offer three suggestions to improve the train travellers entrance to the capital of both Europe and the Belgian Kingdom.
1. Call it Brussels International: Forget Bruxelles-Midi or Brussel-Zuid. Many people (who should not be given a visa or passport) do not know that Belgium is officially bi-lingual. I can guarantee on every trip to Brussels I am often asked “Is this Zuid”, I say “yes”, they ask “Why does it say Midi, are you sure?” I then proceed to give them a history lesson on Belgium and then question why they have a passport. The conversation sometimes starts with “Is this Midi?” The process is similar. If Bruxelles-Midi/Brussel-Zuid is the main international gateway to Brussels, then just call it that, Brussels International Railway Station. Easy for everyone.
2. Proper tri-lingual signage: The signage is terrible, unless you know where to go you can get up going around in circles. The traffic flow for people boarding and disembarking is awful. It functions more as a suburban railway station than an international hub. Better signage to have better human traffic.
3. A effective information desk: The lines are long and the information not informative. With all due respects to the staff, at times I think it is the unwilling chosen from the unfit to do the unnecessary. I feel sorry for them to be cooped up in a booth. They should be “free-range” info people. Have a proper walk-in info section, with proper signage, staffed with multilingual people. Offering info to both the leisure and business traveller. Perhaps the EU should fund it and have EU literature proclaiming the greatness of the Union!
The final point is to get rid of the beggars, drunks and drug addicts who occupy the south exit. But That is another story. I just hope to see a new Brussels International Railway Station inaugurated in time for Summer 2010. But we wait in hope.