Maintaining the rail network

Keeping the Belgian rail network well maintained, so that trains can run under the safest possible conditions every day; this is one of Infrabel's main tasks.  A well-maintained rail network is the best protection against faults and disruptions.

1. Checking and maintaining the rail network

The Belgian railway network is heavily used. Nearly 4,000 trains run on our network every day. In order to ensure they run safely and on time, the railway infrastructure needs to be regularly checked, maintained and, if necessary, replaced.

The tracks, signals and equipment such as switches, level crossings and overhead lines, are checked at least twice a month. If problems arise, we quickly solve them.

Depending on the intensity and weight of the rail traffic, the railway infrastructure has an average lifespan of between 20 and 40 years. Infrabel keeps a constant eye on the railway infrastructure. When the tracks, overhead lines or switches come to the end of their lives, we replace them.

Where possible, Infrabel groups tasks when carrying out works.

If a rail line has to be taken out of service temporarily for essential renewal or maintenance works, we take the opportunity to carry out as many planned works as possible at the same time. This means that Infrabel can work more quickly and safely, thereby minimising the inconvenience to both passengers and local residents.

We also constantly study how we can and implement measures to:

  • make the railways even safer;
  • make the equipment last longer;
  • bring down maintenance costs.

2. Protecting our teams on the ground

Every day, thousands of Infrabel staff work to maintain the Belgian railway infrastructure. They work in all weather and often at night to make sure rail traffic runs smoothly and safely. Infrabel ensures that these people can carry out their work in complete safety.

How do we do this? First of all, we check whether the tracks where work needs to be carried out can be taken out of service. This means that no trains can travel on these tracks and the works can be carried out in complete safety. 

Sometimes, the track cannot be taken out of service because this would have too great an impact on rail traffic. In that case, we put safety systems in place to protect the railway workers, such as:

  • The lookout: they stand next to the tracks, ready to warn their colleagues by radio or with sound and light signals, when a train is approaching so that they can move away from the tracks in good time.
  • The traction power distributors: they make sure the current in the overhead lines is switched off, so that our staff cannot be electrocuted while working.
  • Automated announcement systems: these systems warn workers on the tracks in good time when a train is approaching and do not allow the train to pass until everyone has moved away from the tracks. This reduces the risk of accidents due to human error, and makes the working conditions for our staff even safer.

Do you work for an external contractor and are you going to work on the Belgian railways? Check out our e-learning website about working safely on the tracks

3. Analysing and identifying incidents

If, despite all this, an incident occurs, we want to learn from it. Because incidents never just "happen". If, for instance, it turns out that someone was not following the rules, we must check whether the rules are clear and workable. In that way, we can continue to improve safety on the tracks. How do we do this?

  • Every incident or fault is thoroughly investigated. We seek to identify the causes and propose measures to avoid such an incident reoccurring.
  • There are a number of external factors that pose a threat to safety on the railways. These are proactively identified and eliminated by taking additional precautions.
  • We carry out risk analyses of existing and planned projects, regulations and procedures. This gives rise to recommendations on how to avoid or limit the risks identified, such as changes to regulations and procedures, training, taking measures regarding infrastructure, etc.

We monitor the trends in safety levels on the rail network very closely. If safety levels are falling, we plan measures to resolve the situation.

4. Dealing with incidents and accidents efficiently

In order to be able to deal with incidents and accidents quickly and efficiently, it is important to draw up emergency plans.
For this, Infrabel works closely with the municipalities and the provinces, the fire brigade and the police. Like this, we can respond as effectively as possible in the event of an accident and co-ordinate assistance as efficiently as possible

In the event of an accident involving a goods train carrying hazardous substances, specialist firms will be called in to deal with the situation. To this end, Infrabel has been working with Solvic and BASF since 2008. 

It is our task to make sure train services can resume safely as soon as possible. Sometimes this can take a while, for instance because the police or the public prosecutor's office need to carry out investigations at the scene.