New rail line Wijlre – Gulpen – Vaals
This line is an alternative for the reactivation of the section Richterich – Schin op Geul, as part of an Aachen – Valkenburg – Maastricht urban-regional line. Both proposals are part of the proposed urban-regional metro Aachen (S-Bahn Aachen).
Re-opening of the section Richterich – Schin op Geul could be done without further new infrastructure. Trains from Maastricht could use the existing line, from Richterich into Aachen Hauptbahnhof – although capacity is limited. However, the Wijlre – Vaals line proposed here, only makes sense in the context of the proposed central tunnel in Aachen, and its branch to Vaals.
Click to enlarge: central tunnel in Aachen, with Vaals branch…
The proposed line follows part of the route of the former steam tram line Limburgsche Tramweg-Maatschappij (LTM, 1921-1938). That line ran from Maastricht to Vaals – but a line without a connection to Aachen, would not make sense in post-Schengen Europe.
The line would be difficult to construct: the area is characterised by hills and stream valleys, the landscape is often protected, and there are many historic buildings. The Wijlre – Vaals variant is shorter than Richterich – Schin, but serves fewer people. The best option for intercity journeys is a dedicated high-speed line Aachen – Maastricht, but between Gulpen and Vaals, it uses a similar (or identical) alignment. The two projects therefore conflict.
Starting from Maastricht, trains would use the existing double-track line for 15 km, to Schin op Geul. The connecting line to Richterich (and Aachen) was closed in 1992, but the section to Vetschau is in use as a museum line, the Zuid-Limburgse Stoomtrein Maatschappij (ZLSM). The alignment and stations are intact.
After Schin op Geul, the next station is at the village of Wijlre (2700 inhabitants). The station name was Wijlre-Gulpen, since it was intended to serve the larger village of Gulpen (3700 inhabitants). Gulpen is 2 km south of the station, but it is on the other side of the Geul valley. When the LTM built its tram line to Vaals in the 1920′s, it begun by connecting the station at Wijlre to Gulpen. The alignment of the old tram line is still visible: it passed just behind Cartils Castle toward Gulpen, descending about 20 metres.
A rail line at the rear of the castle would no longer be acceptable. In any case, the tram line approached Gulpen in the wrong direction. The proposed rail line would run east of the castle, near the sewage works, with a station in Gulpen near the present tennis courts. This alignment probably requires a short tunnel near the station in Wijlre, and demolition of some houses there: it would be about 1600 m long, station to station.
Click to enlarge: new station at Gulpen…
From Gulpen, the proposed line runs parallel to the main road, the N278. (This is part of an old east-west highway, in Germany the former Reichsstraße 1). The N278 follows the south flank of the valley of the Selzerbeek (Senserbach in German). From Gulpen to Nijswiller, the best option is to follow the road, which is relatively level here. A possible station location at Partij-Wittem is shown, but their combined population is only 750 inhabitants. (Wahlwiller has only 380 inhabitants).
Approaching Nijswiller, the N278 climbs over a low ridge (about 25 m). An alignment on the north flank of the valley here would be less steep, but would cut through the village. The best option is a tunnel parallel to the N278, in the valley flank just south of the village. The rail line would rejoin the route of the N278, at its junction with the N281 road (to Simpelveld). The junction would be a possible site for a station, but Nijswiller itself has only 750 inhabitants.
Click to enlarge: from Wijlre to Nijswiller…
After Nijswiller, the valley narows, and the sides are steeper. The narrowest point is about one kilometre further, at the Benedictine Abbey Benedictusberg. The only real option here is an alignment next to, or under, the main road, as far as the next village, Lemiers. The road climbs about 30 m between the N281 and Lemiers, a slope of only 1%. In Lemiers itself, the very wide main street allows sufficient room for a shallow tunnel, with a station: Lemiers has 1200 inhabitants.
300 m outside Lemiers, the alignment of the former tram line diverges from the road. The road climbs 40 m up the flank of the valley, in less than 2 km, from Lemiers to the edge of Vaals. The old tram line stayed closed to the Selzerbeek stream (at the bottom of the valley), for an easier gradient. That is not a problem for modern trains: the new line can either follow the old alignment (blue), or run under the N278 through Vaals (red).
Click to enlarge: from Nijswiller to Vaals…
The old alignment is easier to connect to the proposed Aachen S-Bahn. The old tram station at Vaals is intact: from there a new line would cut through low-grade industrial buildings and sports fields, and cross the Senserbach (= Selzerbeek). It would directly enter a tunnel, to climb to a station at the academic hospital (Klinikum), on the RWTH campus. It is also possible that the lines make an end-to-end junction, either at the old tram station in Vaals, or on its eastern edge (directly on the border).
Click to enlarge: Vaals to RWTH AAchen…
What if a dedicated high-speed line Aachen – Maastricht was built? The HSL would almost certainly pass south of Gulpen, and join the line of the N278, near Partij or Wahlwiller. From Partij, it would be possible to build a link to Wijlre, using the alignment described above. Trains from Aachen would leave the high-speed line, stop at Gulpen and Wijlre, and continue along the existing line, to Valkenburg and/or Maastricht. That option requires high-speed regional trains, to operate on the Aachen – Partij section.