The purpose of a high-speed line (HSL) between Hasselt and Liège, is to extend the proposed Antwerpen – Hasselt HSL. That would create a second east-west high-speed corridor in Belgium, across the Kempen region. The corridor would also extend to Maastricht, via the proposed HSL Hasselt – Maastricht.
The original version of this proposal was a new line alongside the A13 motorway. The exit line from Liège could have been shared with a HSL Maastricht – Liège, but that would make both routes longer, without any other advantages. The new version here is a direct HSL across the agricultural Hesbaye / Haspengouw region, to join the Maastricht line east of Hasselt.
This alignment is not only shorter, it can also run through the existing Tongeren station, halfway between Hasselt and Liège. The shorter route will partly compensate for the extra stop, but journey times might be slightly longer. With two 20-km sections, a line speed of about 250 km/h is appropriate.
The existing railway
Hasselt and Liège are 38 kilometres apart in a straight line. The railway between them, Belgian Line 34, is far from straight, however: journey time is one hour. The line diverges just north of the main Liège Guillemins station, and passes the historic centre at Liège-Palais station. It then runs west, climbs out of the Meuse valley, turns east, and then follows a winding route toward Tongeren.
From the edge of Liège to Glons, the line is single-track. The Glons – Hasselt section, on the other had, is part of the Montzen freight route to Germany, which limits capacity for passenger trains. Service on Line 34 also suffers, because it crosses the language boundary in Belgium. Neither Flanders nor Wallonia are interested in the ‘cross-border’ line, preferring to develop their internal infrastructure. As always, this blog ignores politics and boundaries.
The new HSL would also diverge from the existing line, north of Liège Guillemins station. This is the main line to Brussels, which climbs out of the Meuse valley on the former inclined plane of Ans. The line out of the station is first elevated, but from the Rue Saint-Gilles it is in cutting. The line is briefly level with the terrain here, and this is a optimal site for a junction with a new tunnel. However, the proposed HSL to Maastricht would diverge first, so the tunnel portal for the Hasselt line would be further north, near the Rue Saint-Laurent. Four tracks out of Liège Guillemins are essential, so the motorway on viaduct above the line must be rerouted.
New exit line…
The tunnel portal would be at about 110 m elevation. Before climbing to the plateau above Liège, the alignment crosses the secondary valley leading to Ans, also at 110 m elevation. After about 900 m in tunnel, the new line would emerge from tunnel, cross the valley on viaduct, and dive into the valley flank again, to climb toward Rocourt. The viaduct alignment would cross three streets: demolition is inevitable, but this area is filled with decaying substandard housing anyway.
Approximate location of the viaduct…
The HSL would emerge on the plateau above Liège, at about 150 m elevation, near the Lantin prison. The longer tunnel would be about 4 km long, so the gradient is not a problem. As with all tunnels in this region, its alignment must take account of old coal mines. The line would surface near the N20 road, and it would simply follow that road across the plateau to Tongeren. The terrain is not flat, but local relief of 10-20m is not an obstacle, and this is mostly farmland. To avoid the villages, the line would probably run west of the N20 road as far as Wihogne, and then east of it.
Approaching Tongeren, the new line would drop about 50 m, crossing several low ridges at right angles. It would pass the eastern edge of Vreren, and cut through the industrial zone Overhaem. (The alignment would cross a car transporters depot, which is simply a large car park). From this last ridge, it would descend on viaduct to join the existing line into Tongeren station, avoiding the built-up area. A grade-separated junction is preferable, to allow cross-platform interchange, but the new line could have separate platforms on the western side of the station. In both cases, the station must be reconstructed.
The new route from Liège to Tongeren would be 19 km long, station to station. Of that about 17 km is new alignment, mainly on surface on the plateau.
On to Hasselt
To avoid a complex tunnel under the built-up area at Hasselt, the new line would run north from Tongeren, to join the existing line east of Diepenbeek. Just outside the station, part of the old Line 23 can be used for a new exit tunnel, under higher ground. The most direct alignment is a 5-km tunnel under Henis and Riksingen, to clear the built-up area. A longer alignment would run on surface east of Henis (parallel to the main road N730), and then turn north-west, using a shorter tunnel. Local elevation differences, up to 40 m, make some tunnels and/or viaducts unavoidable here.
The HSL alignment is not given in detail, but it would probably pass east of Sint-Huibrechts-Hern, and west of Romershoven. Between those two, it might pass east or west of Schalkhoven. North of Schalkhoven, the line would cross flat open farmland, to join the line into Diepenbeek. The new section of line would be about 14 km long.
Obviously, the line from Diepenbeek into Hasselt must be upgraded for high speed, but that can be combined with the construction of a HSL Hasselt – Maastricht. The line through Diepenbeek is dead straight: in Hasselt itself it curves around the old town centre.
The new route from Tongeren to Hasselt would be about 23 km long. Allowing for deviations to avoid subsidence and protected landscapes, the total length of the new high-speed route would be 42-44 km, station to station. Even with one stop at Tongeren, journey time would still be under 20 minutes.
New function of existing line
The section of Line 34 line through central Liège, would become part of a regional metro, including a regional metro line Maastricht – Liège. Services, comparable to those on the French RER or the German S-Bahn, would extend to Tongeren. The local service Hasselt – Tongeren would be unaffected by the new line.