This is a proposed alignment for a high-speed rail line (HSL) from Sittard to Aachen. It is an extension of the proposed HSL Utrecht – Eindhoven, and the direct HSL Eindhoven – Sittard. (The Amsterdam – Utrecht line is already upgraded). Aachen would become the terminus of services from Amsterdam via Eindhoven. At present these services end at Maastricht – which is smaller than Aachen, but on Dutch territory. The idea of a “national railway” serving the national territory is outdated. From a European perspective, Aachen is the logical centre and transport interchange for the region.
The existing line from Sittard to Aachen is 45 km long. The section to Herzogenrath was built in 1896. There it joins the older Düsseldorf – Aachen line (1853). The trip takes 1 hour 9 minutes, including a 20-minute wait at Heerlen, to change to the euregiobahn trains. The local services would be fully restructured for the proposed Aachen regional metro (S-Bahn), including a more direct Heerlen – Aachen regional metro line.
Sittard, with the proposed HSL from Eindhoven
Sittard station would become a HSL interchange station: the HSL from Amsterdam would cross the Maas valley line from Nijmegen to Maastricht, with its proposed extension to Liège. The Sittard agglomeration has about 140 000 inhabitants. The new line to Aachen would first follow the existing tracks out of Sittard station, for about 3 km. From there, the existing line follows the valley of the Geleen stream (Geleenbeek), almost to Heerlen. To avoid the curve around the hills, the new line would cross the stream, and enter a tunnel, at the southern edge of Munstergeleen. The 4-km tunnel would pass approximately under the village of Puth.
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The line would exit the tunnel, just under the village of Schinnen. It would again cross the Geleen stream, and rejoin the existing alignment, about 2 km north of Nuth station. The curve at this station is too sharp for high speeds, but an alignment on the east side of the old railway yard could avoid it. (A variant, shown orange, could use the old mine railway alignment, at Kathagen). It would then cross the A76 motorway in tunnel, and turn to join its alignment. For a short distance, the new line is then on the south-east side of the motorway, and the old line on the other side.
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At the junction A76 / N281, the new line would turn to follow the A76, in an almost straight line toward Aachen. As it passes Bocholtz, it would be running parallel to the proposed Heerlen – Aachen S-Bahn, but that line would be on the other side of the motorway. At the border, the motorway crosses the old Maastricht – Aachen line: the S-Bahn would turn away from the motorway to join it.
Line along the A76 motorway…
Just after the old rail line, the motorway (now Bundesautobahn 4) turns east. From here, the new rail line would descend in tunnel, to join the existing line north of the Aachen marshalling yard, near the Aachen ring road. The 3-km tunnel passes under two hills, and avoids a curve on the old line through Richterich. The tunnel entrance would be at 195 m, the exit at the Wildbach valley (Schurzelter Strasse) at about 180 m. The regional metro line from Heerlen, and the re-opened line to Aachen might use parallel tunnels here. (See the separate post on the tunnels at Laurensberg).
In Aachen, the line would cut the north end of the IKA vehicle test track. The ring road (Pariser Strasse) is in an underpass anyway, so it is not an obstacle. There is more than enough room for a junction at the underused marshalling yard.
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From this junction, trains would use the existing curving line, around the historic centre of Aachen (about 3 km long). It would lose most of its local trains to the proposed central Aachen S-Bahn tunnel, but it would carry some regional trains from Mönchengladbach. The curvature is a problem: the semicircle has a radius of only 700 m, and locally there are sharper curves. Widening to 4 tracks would be difficult, especially on the west side of the historic city centre (the line cuts the old city walls). Closing Aachen Schanz station, and upgrading the line for maximum through speed, is probably sufficient.
The line would end at Aachen Hauptbahnhof, where it would connect with the Paris – Brussel – Lille – Köln TGV. The university city of Aachen has a population of 258 000, the new Städteregion Aachen 565 000. The new line from Sittard to Aachen would be 33-35 km long, allowing a journey time of 15 minutes.