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Entry 1111 posted in: 1. General Mish Mash

When I opened my eyes and went to work I knew that 2009 was going to be business as usual. At Brussels train station ‘North’ the monitor at platform 7 was still out of order, as it was before Christmas. I felt strangely relieved when I accepted the fact that the Belgian railway company NMBS, with its 38 522 employees, can’t find a repairman or that there isn’t one single spare monitor in their stock for any of their 582 train stations.

But on the other hand the Belgian railway company is virtually bankrupt. Its previous director had the magnificent idea of starting an international courier company, a DHL or Fedex competitor called ABX and when the plug was finally taken out of it the Belgian railway found a hole of 1 874 000 000 Euros. That is one billion eight hundred and seventy-four million Euro or about 190 Euro per living soul in Belgium, including me. Its ever enthusiast CEO had always declared that the debt was only one third of that, still a load of money, if you ask me.

Q: So was Etienne Schouppe, who lied to the public about the debts ABX had, publicly executed?
A: Well, that wouldn’t be nice and rather uncivilised, would it? We don’t even execute murderers anymore.

Q:So was he put in jail?
A: Well, actually nobody is very hot to bring this before court because it smells so bad and so many politicians are involved.

Q: Obviously the man must be a pariah nowadays, afraid to show his face on the street fearing he will be spit on?
A: Not quite right either. Etienne Schouppe, the man who gave the Belgian railways an immense money problem and who openly misled the general public, government and parliament about that, is now… minister of mobility. In other words, he is now the political, rather than the financial, boss of the Belgian Railways.

But that is of course not entirely his fault, over ninety five thousand Belgian citizens voted for this nincompoop, and if in a democracy people vote for poop, poop is what they’ll get.

Normally I would never have written this entry but past week the Belgian railway system broke down due to a technical problem near Louvain. Four hours later people were still standing, in the freezing cold, in Brussels, Antwerp or Mechelen waiting for trains that would never arrive. No information whatsoever was given in the stations and in the end I just took a taxi to bring me home.

Accidents will happen. Especially when it’s freezing. But that the Belgian railways don’t have an emergency plan and aren’t able to tell the passengers where their trains are four hours after the situation occurred is a bit unprofessional, even for Belgian standards. Questions have been asked in Parliament and the NMBS solemnly declared that they would communicate and solve the problems faster in the future. If my memory is correct, and this time it is, this is exactly the same answer they gave on the 14th of May last year when a fire in a signalisation centre virtually halted all trains in Belgium as well…

One Flemish blogger with an extremely good memory found a newspaper article from the winter of 1985 criticizing the NMBS for not informing the passengers waiting at –20 degrees for a train that didn't arrive… like I said… business as usual…

And Etienne Schouppe,… He’s simple, he’s dumb, he’s the pilot…

(Whenever I hear that song, especially when the keyboard’s come sweeping in at 7 minutes and a few seconds I cry a little bit… thinking of RWW and RKB… this one’s for you Bea, this one’s for you.)

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Just like Belgium