We reviewed the wheelchair accessibility of a Thalys train from Paris to Brussels in Summer 2022. The update regarding the SNCB App was January 2023.
We journeyed on a Thalys train from Paris to Brussels for a day trip. Thalys was the only train company that ran non-stop from Paris to Brussels.
Gare du Nord to Brussels-Midi via Thalys
Our trip started in Gare du Nord, which was about a mile walk from our hotel. At Gare du Nord, we checked in with the Acces Plus office, which was well marked with signage and had a tactile strip running to it from all the building entrances. The office had a nice private bathroom. The Acces Plus agent met us at the office half an hour before our departure, and walked us to the train. The agent then used a lift to get the scooter up to the height of the train, and I was able to scoot onto the train and turn into my parking space. The 1.5 hour train ride was smooth, but the car was pretty tired (albeit clean and functional).
Note: Thalys has since merged with Eurostar, so a future experience may be different. My prior experience with Eurostar was from London to Paris in 2018, and Eurostar was a step above Thalys in quality. I am excited to see what, if any, refresh happens after this merger.
Brussels-Midi to Grand Place
We had planned to take the Brussels Metro lines 3/4 from Midi to the Bourse Station. My prior research had confirmed the Metro was wheelchair accessible at those locations–see map and general information. But the elevator to access the Metro at Midi was down for repairs, and we could not find another way to access the Metro.
So switched up our plans and took the city bus. The bus was accessible, but not smooth. The kneel system on the bus did not work, and so the ramp to get on/off the bus was very steep. The bus also made a lot of loud clicking noises as the kneel system misfired as the bus rounded corners and accelerated. The bus driver also drove faster than I would have liked and my wife had to hold onto me to keep me stable. But the bus got us to the Manneken Pis statue without incident, so it was a successful trip.
Click here for our exploration around Brussels. We took a bus from the Grand Place back to the Brussels-Midi train station. It was smoother, but still a bit of an adventure with the bumps and driving.
Brussels-Midi Back to Paris
The accessible meeting location at Brussels-Midi was confusing. The Thalys help desks were still permanently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Thalys lounge was outside the station. We located the accessible meeting location, which was by the main ticket purchase counter and help locations. The accessible assist agents were understaffed, and our agent told us he had to run to get two more people onto a different train and would hopefully be back in time to make it to our train. He did make it back on time, but another person in a wheelchair was already loaded onto our train. Although both of our wheelchairs were under the size limits and there were two wheelchair spots, our two wheelchairs could not both fit in the passenger car compartment–it wasn’t even close. So I had to ride in the space outside the car compartment, next to the bathroom–people literally had to squeeze past me and bang the bathroom door into my scooter to get in/out of the bathroom. Thalys also refused to provide food to us, saying they could not serve food outside the passenger car compartment. The ride was loud, bumpy, and hot…but at least it was only for an hour and a half.
We filed a complaint when we get back, but Thalys did not respond…except to offer us a 20 euro voucher due to their lack of response.
On January 23, 2023, I received an e-mail from the National Railway Company of Belgium announcing its new SNCB Assist app. This app promises some really exciting accessibility features, including:
- A personal login via the My SNCB account. As a result, you no longer have to enter your details for every request. The app also remembers the type of assistance previously requested.
- A custom trip planner. The app makes it possible to show only the assistance stations according to the type of assistance.
- Customizable choices. You choose your train and the request for assistance. This is then forwarded directly to the teams in the stations.
- The possibility to submit several applications at once, up to 30 days in advance.
- Follow- up of your request in real time.
I am very excited to try these out on my next trip, and hope they will continue to increase the wheelchair accessibility of Thalys trains from Paris to Brussels.