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VRT Radio host Sylvia intervenes as rail rage unfolds in front of her: “I saw the aggression in their eyes”

VRT Radio host Sylvia intervenes as rail rage unfolds in front of her: “I saw the aggression in their eyes”

Last weekend VRT radio host Sylvia Broeckaert witnessed an attack on a train conductor during her train journey from Bruges to Brussels. She intervened and filmed what was happening, until one of the perpetrators took her phone and destroyed it. Only one of the two attackers could be arrested.

The attack happened on Saturday on a service from Bruges to Brussels Airport. "I had been to a funeral in Bruges and was on my way home. I took a seat in the first carriage," says Sylvia Broeckaert, who is a host on Klara, VRT classical radio station.

"In the aisle between our carriage and where the train driver sits there were two men, in their thirties. They looked very restless and acted quite aggressively. The train conductor, a small woman, came and sat opposite me, along with a trainee, a young man."

It soon became clear that there were problems with the two men. "The conductor told me that the two were not allowed to enter the carriage because they had no ticket and no identity card on them. She told them to wait in the aisle. She seemed calm and to have acted correctly."

"From time to time the men tried to pull open the sliding door and shouted at the conductor asking her to let them through, but the woman was able to prevent that. She was sitting with her back to the two men, I could see them and saw the aggression in their eyes."

Moments before, the train conductor had notified Securail, the rail security services, and the police. Police would be waiting for the two at the next stop: Brussels-South. "Just before we got there, the two guys became very aggressive. Maybe they had already seen the Securail people. They wanted to get through the door and hit the train conductor’s arm. I too tried to stop the men."

"Then I very demonstratively started filming, which may have been stupid of me. I thought maybe they would leave us alone then, but one of them somehow managed to get through the door and threw himself at me, grabbed my phone and threw it on the floor. It was completely shattered."

One of the attackers was able to escape through another exit, the other was detained by the police. "I then went to the police to make a statement and file a complaint. The conductor was taken to hospital in an ambulance, with injuries to her arm."

Federal police have confirmed that an intervention took place at the Brussels South station following acts of aggression targeting a train conductor. Spokesperson An Berger says the perpetrator who was arrested has been questioned and is still in detention. He is staying in our country illegally. The second suspect is still on the run.

Sylvia largely got off with a fright. "I will go to the doctor tomorrow just to be on the safe side, because I do have severe pains in my neck and shoulders. I don’t know how I could have been so stupid to be so brave. I didn’t give it a second thought. I think I did it because I sympathised with the train conductor."

"The woman conductor told me that she had only been back at work for a few weeks after a previous case of aggression. She had been slapped, again by someone who had not paid for their ticket. Why had she acted so bravely yet again? ‘I’m not an ostrich,’ she said during our conversation before the incident. ‘I don’t stick my head in the sand.’ At the station, when the emergency services arrived, she collapsed."

"I’m not going to do this a second time. The police and Securail did thank me for intervening, but the incident could have had a far more unfortunate ending for me. I could have lost my teeth. Of course, you think, there are other people around, but they didn’t do anything. It all happened so fast."

Sylvia hopes her story will help to warn against lawlessness. "The train conductor told me that her colleagues usually let things take their course and do not act out of fear, but if they no longer dare to do anything, perpetrators know they can get away with it. If people can no longer do their jobs properly because they feel unsafe, we as passengers are also unsafe."

NMBS: ‘Totally unacceptable’

The publicly owned rail company condemns what happened. "These people are also doing their job," says spokesman Bart Crols. "This is totally unacceptable behaviour, and we want action."

The NMBS is seeking zero tolerance and for people to be prosecuted and punished. In recent years the rail company has increased checks on trains, as well as checks on passengers before they board.

The conductor was able to leave hospital the same day. She suffered bruises to her hand and arm. "She is incapacitated and needs to recover," Crols says. "She is also going to file a complaint with the judicial authorities."

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