• Meuse-Rhine Gazette

Sunday 13 December – more than just timetables are changing across Euregio Meuse-Rhine

Sunday 13 December 2020 is public transport timetable change day for most Belgian, Dutch and German providers across the Euregio Meuse-Rhine. However there's more than just tweaks to the timetables happening. There are also new train models and versions being introduced in Germany, Parkstad in the Netherlands gets an updated urban bus network and in Belgium changes have been announced for New Years Eve public transport provision, there are tariff changes expected for early next year and tomorrow also sees a big change in Belgian rail's network strategy.


On Sunday 13 December 2020, Belgian national train network NMBS/SNCB will begin the implementation of their plan to expand their train services by 4.7% by 2023. There will be new IC connections, more trains on the existing connections and extra early and late trains around the cities. The suburban train offer around Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, Liège and Charleroi will also be further expanded. Travellers will be able to find out what this means for their route via NMBS's online route planner.

The expansion by 4.7% of the train offer is taking place in several phases. This is necessary in order to take into account the available infrastructure, train equipment and staff. The first phase will start on Sunday 13 December, when a large proportion of the projects will already be carried out. By 2023, all the extensions should be in place, which represents 3.77 million additional train kilometres per year compared to the current transport plan.

According to the new plan, by 2023 there will be almost one thousand additional trains will be running every week. On an average weekday, there will be 161 additional trains across Belgium. This means that on a number of lines, the frequency - the number of trains per hour - will be increased.

By 2023, more than 90% of passengers will be able to take the train in a station with at least two trains per hour during rush hour. The range of trains will also be extended at the weekend. On a Saturday, 97 additional trains will be available by 2023. On a Sunday, there will be 92.

They also have a number of changes to their timetables, these can be found in French and Dutch on their website.

Belgian bus operator De Lijn implemented new timetables in June this year, however they have announced recently that they will not be operating their New Years Eve shuttle buses and there are tariff changes planned for early next year.

As a result of Covid-19, De Lijn have decided not to use special buses and trams on New Year's Eve this year. Due to the fact that events and fireworks displays are cancelled en masse and residents have been asked to stay at home as much as possible, the buses and trams are in danger of running almost empty.

"The cancellation of New Year's Eve rides is a regrettable break with a long tradition in which over 300 of our employees dedicate themselves with heart and soul to some 150 routes in order to bring partygoers to their destination safely and smoothly on New Year's Eve. Together with them, we regret the necessary decision to cancel the New Year's Eve tours this year."

On 1 February 2021, De Lijn is going to adjust the fares of some tickets. Below is an overview of the changed fares. Other fares will not change.

Image: © NMBS/SNCB


On 13 December, the Düren and Heinsberg bus networks timetables will change . In addition to the extension of the express bus routes in the Heinsberg district, mainly smaller changes will be implemented. Aachener Verkehrsverbund (AVV) has compiled all the changes in German on their website.

At the same time, the service times of the SB3 express bus line between Geilenkichen and Sittard in the Netherlands will be significantly extended. The Heinsberg district public transport authority was able to acquire funding from the state of North Rhine-Westphalia for the expansion of express bus routes in rural areas. This means that the service times of the SB3 express bus line from Geilenkirchen via Gangelt and Tüddern to Sittard will be significantly extended. As with the SB1 line running from Geilenkirchen via Heinsberg and Wassenberg to Erkelenz, the SB3 buses will start and end one hour earlier and later on Mondays to Fridays and will also operate at weekends. This means that on Saturdays there will be an hourly service from 08:00 to 20:00 from Geilenkirchen and from 09:00 to 21:00 from Sittard. On Sundays, the buses will run every two hours from Geilenkirchen from 9:00 to 19:00 and from Sittard between 10:00 and 20:00.

Thanks to a grant from the AVV, new buses were purchased for use on the SB1 and SB3 lines. In addition to the already existing high-quality safety equipment, such as video surveillance, air conditioning and cornering assistance system, the buses on the two express bus routes now also have WLAN access and USB connections for mobile devices. In addition, there will be two more express bus lines in the Heinsberg district, with the new line SB5 being a significant acceleration of the existing line 495 between the station in Baal, Hückelhoven, Ratheim and Wassenberg with an hourly frequency between 5 am and 8 pm. The future SB8 line connects Wegberg directly with Erkelenz - as far as the station there.

The new timetable for Deutsche Bahn the coming year also includes a number of national changes, but not much will change for NRW. Firstly there will be more choice of connections, e.g. between Hamburg and Berlin, as well as service improvements on some routes and thus also for regular-interval services throughout Germany. Secondly, DB are launching some new trains: The ICE 4 will have two versions: one a shorter and one as an XXL version and DB's oldest ICE model is getting a modernisation.

  • More vehicles: In December, 15 new ICE trains will be put into service - more than ever before in one month.

  • More journeys: Around 100 special trains will be on the main axes at Christmas 2020.

  • More seats: By the end of the year, 13,000 additional seats will be available every day.

  • More connections: With the new timetable from 13 December, we are once again significantly expanding the timetable. Between Hamburg and Berlin, trains will run every half hour for the first time. All information on this can be found in this article below.

  • More space: Only 60 per cent of seats on long-distance services can now be reserved. We inform about the occupancy of the trains currently on the network.

  • More mask checks: DB is once again increasing the presence of its security forces in December: security teams are on board in up to 50 per cent of all long-distance trains to ensure that the mask requirement is complied with.

  • More cleanliness and hygiene: 4,300 cleaning staff are on duty to ensure cleanliness and hygiene in trains and at the station. Innovative cleaning concepts such as UV light for disinfection on escalators or special varnish to protect against viruses and bacteria on stair handrails and control buttons in lifts ensure even more cleanliness. 650 disinfection dispensers are available to our passengers free of charge.

  • More customer guidance: Guidance systems, minimum distance markings on the floor in front of all DB information, in the travel centres and in front of many shops in the stations help passengers to keep their distance.

Image: The ICE 1 modernised for the future © Deutsche Bahn

The Netherlands

On Sunday 13 December NS will start the 2021 timetable. For many passengers (99%) there will be no drastic changes: many connections will remain as they were in 2020. Passengers will notice shorter journey times and shorter changeovers on a few routes. There may also be minor changes in departure and arrival times. So check the travel planner carefully for the current times.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic NS are now operating at 90% capacity. This will continue to be the case at the start of the new timetable, with the same adjustments that are already in place. That is enough for the low number of passengers that are currently travelling on NS trains. This means that the number of trains per hour that NS now runs will remain the same, but that departure and arrival times may be different. The updated Spoorkaart for 2021 has also been released.

"We want to keep the Netherlands accessible, even in times like Corona. Although little will change for passengers in the 2021 timetable, we can make many improvements in the years thereafter. That is very important. In order to better connect different regions and to be able to transport more passengers in a sustainable way."

Marjan Rintel, President and CEO of NS

Arriva will start the new train and bus timetable in Limburg on 13 December. This new timetable contains various optimisations and adaptations, on bus lines in particular. Major changes include the introduction of the city bus network in Parkstad. According to Arriva, the introduction of an urban network in Parkstad will make the situation much clearer for passenger, with a clearer distinction between city and regional buses.

The bus numbering system has been simplified. The city buses have all been given a low number, ranging from 1 to 9. And bus number 9 only runs on Sundays and in the evenings. After changes last year, Arriva's regular customers are getting used to the new network with adapted operating times. Buses 20 to 26 and 29 have been scrapped. The routes of these lines have largely been incorporated into the new routes. Lines 27 (Parkstad Stadium-Herzogenrath) and 28 (Nuth-Voerendaal) will continue to exist, partly in modified form.

According to Arriva, the largest centres in the region will retain a regular bus service to Heerlen. In addition, regional buses with the destination Heerlen will run as fast as possible towards the NS railway station when entering the city.

Image: Arriva's new urban bus network for Stadsregio Parkstad © Arriva Nederland

Starting with the new timetable on Sunday, eleven regional buses will operate in the Parkstad region and the adjacent Heuvelland region, numbers ranging from 36 to 56. From 13 December the regional buses numbered 58 and 127 will no longer operate.

From 13 December, Arriva will have a customised timetable for all its bus routes. This timetable – including school lines (600 series of line numbers) - corresponds most closely to the holiday timetable on the signs and can also be found in the online travel advice.  During the winter holidays, all buses run the holiday timetable (no school lines). After the winter holidays, the custom-made timetable for buses with a number of additions, such as the school lines, will be picked up again and the trains run the normal timetable. 

Arriva's new timetable will have little impact on rail traffic to and from Parkstad. The Kerkrade centre-Sittard and Heerlen-Maastricht Randwyck routes will remain unchanged. From now on, the first and last Arriva train on the Aachen-Maastricht line will no longer be based in Maastricht, but in Heerlen.

Journeys can be planned in advance using the Arriva travel planner or head to the overview (in Dutch) for more information.

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