On 14 June 2022, on a crisp summer morning, I was the only passenger on an international train from Mons to Aulnoye-Aymeries, and would go on from there to the EU Agency for Railways in Valenciennes – the official start of the #CrossBorderRail project. Josef Doppelbauer, the boss of the agency, greeted me at the station:

Jon Worth and Josef Doppelbauer shake hands outside the station in Valenciennes.

Some ERA staff even accompanied me on their bikes as we cycled back to Belgium – where 2km of the track from Valenciennes to Quiévrain is missing at the border, preventing staff from the agency easily getting from Valenciennes via Mons to Bruxelles by train.

Pic 1: ERA staff cycling towards the border. Pic 2: Track French side of the border. Pic 3: Electrification ends at Quiévrain, Belgium.

Little did I know at the time that #CrossBorderRail would, as a project, take on a life of its own. And, perhaps more importantly, how that meeting in Valenciennes would mark the start of an excellent collaboration with the the EU Agency for Railways. The friendly, knowledgeable, open and collaborative approach of all the staff I have met at the there has been remarkable. Their approach stands in marked contrast to much of the railway sector, so often rather closed and conservative.

Over the past two years I have met many different staff from the Agency, we have worked on events together, and we also have some interesting plans for Innotrans 2024 (more about that soon). And most importantly short term I am going to be back in Valenciennes on Thursday 25th April for the event to mark 20 years of the EU Agency for Railways. Also having rather rushed to Quiévrain 2 years ago, I am going to take more time to cycle there slowly on 26th April and film more of the missing link with the drone, before pedalling onwards to a further old railway line between Bettrechies-Bellignies and Mons. The route I will take is mapped on Komoot here.

The problem of course is that – try as they might – the Agency lacks the power to manage to get railway lines at the Belgium-France border re-opened. For that you currently need political will from the respective governments, and that – especially French side – is sorely missing just now.

One Comment

  1. This may be a very unhelpful comment, but if you change the first sentence a bit, it would fit the melody of The Gambler by Kenny Rogers (unsure of the Aulnoye-Aymeries bit):

    Back in June 22,
    on a crisp summer morning,
    When I was the only rider
    On an international train
    from Mons to Aulnoye-Aymeries,
    and from there I would go on
    to the EU Railways-Agency
    in a town called Valenciennes.

    You have to search for a ticket,
    read through the thicket
    of a bad timetable
    for your french train.

    You never trust your planning
    Trains might be jamming
    and french railway applications
    will just bring you pain.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *