Liège is the largest city of Wallonia. With a population of 200 000, and an agglomeration of 600 000, it is large enough to justify its own regional metro, on the model of the French RER or the German S-Bahn. As the former industrial centre of Belgium, Liège also has enough railway lines. Given the short distance and the combined populations, a regional metro service to Maastricht is also justified.
The two cities lie 30 km apart on the river Maas / Meuse. The rail line between them crosses the Dutch-Belgian border at Visé. From Maastricht to Visé, the line runs through the broad floodplain, south of Visé it runs at the foot of a escarpment. The boundary between the two landscapes is at Visé Station itself.
The line in 1901, click to enlarge: base map from Uni Greifswald, with some German place names…
The line, Belgian Line 40, is underused. That is partly due to the indirect route into central Liège. Line 40 originally served a terminal station at Longdoz, on the right bank of the Meuse, opposite the historic centre of Liège. Trains could reach the main Liège-Guillemins station, but only by reversing. The present connecting line through Froidmont was built during the First World War, and is of low quality. Trains from Maastricht must cross the exit tracks of the high-speed line to Aachen, to reach Liège-Guillemins.
The Belgian section once had stations at Liège-Vennes, Cornillon, Bressoux, Jupille, Souverain-Wandre, Wandre, Château-de-Cheratte, Cheratte, Sarolay, Argenteau, Pont-d’Argenteau, and a second station at Visé for transfer to the elevated Montzen line. All but Bressoux and Visé are closed. In the Netherlands, there are intermediate stations at Maastricht-Randwyck and Eijsden: the stations at Gronsveld and Maarland are closed. The remaining stations are served by an hourly local train: a direct connection to Brussels was abandoned in 2011.
The proposal here is primarily to improve the route into central Liège, by connecting Line 40 on the east bank, to Line 34 on the west bank. The proposal can be combined with a high-speed line Maastricht – Liège, but neither is a precondition for each other.
Railways in Liège
The main station Liège Guillemins is on the old Brussels – Aachen line, and is now also served by the TGV Paris – Brussels – Aachen – Köln. The location was determined by the need to descend into the Meuse valley, not for proximity to the city centre. Line 34 to Tongeren and Hasselt diverges just north of Liège Guillemins, and runs in tunnel past the historic centre. There are two stations on that section: Liège-Jonfosse and Liège-Palais. Both are below street level, in a short cutting between tunnels. Liège-Palais Station is just behind the Palace of the Prince-Bishops and the main square of the city, and is well served by bus lines.
Both stations are served by some Intercity and InterRegio trains via Liège Guillemins, which start or finish at Herstal or Lier – in fact they are being used here as local stopping trains.
The line from Maastricht along the Maas/Meuse valley does not pass through central Liège. After passing through Bressoux, due east of the city centre, trains cross the bridge over the river and enter Liège Guillemins from the south. The proposal here is to create a line following the most logical route from Maastricht: along the valley, through central Liège, into Liège Guillemins. That can be done by connecting Line 34 to Line 40, across the Meuse, downstream from central Liège. The only practical location for a new link line is at the Ile de Monsin. The planning association UrbAgora has already proposed a similar link at Bressoux. A Monsin link is longer, but easier to build, and gives a shorter route from Maastricht.
The new 4-km link would diverge from Line 34 between Liège-Palais and Herstal. The station at Vivegnis can be re-opened at its original location (Place Vivegnis). West of that station, the line would be realigned by cutting into the hillside (at Rue des Vignes). A new alignment would diverge here, toward the river, toward the Coronmeuse roundabout. Obviously that requires demolition, but this is a former industrial area with very low-quality housing.
The new line would cross the roundabout on viaduct, and run alongside the Rue Ernest Solvay. A station here would serve the exhibition centre Halles des Foires de Liège, and offer interchange with the planned tram line, which runs roughly parallel to the river. The link line would then cross the mouth of the Albert Canal, just avoiding the existing road bridge here. It would continue along the south end of the Ile de Monsin – an artificial island, created when the Albert Canal was cut parallel to the river channel.
There might be a station on the island, close to the Monsin Barrage, but only if the area was redeveloped. The link line would then cross the Meuse and the A25 motorway, to join Line 40 at Souverain-Wandre. Most of the new link line would be on viaduct – to cross roads, to cross the river, and to pass existing bridges.
North of the new link, the regional metro would have re-opened stations at Wandre, Cheratte, and Argenteau (former Pont-d’Argenteau station). In the Netherlands, the station at Gronsveld can be re-opened, and a second station added in the south of Maastricht. The regional metro line would then have 11 intermediate stations, between Liège-Guillemins and Maastricht.
With a total length of 32 km, the average station spacing is 2700 m. That is normal for outer sections of a regional metro, such as the S-Bahn in Germany. Stations would normally be closer on a central section, but there are no suitable locations for extra stations in central Liège.
The rest of Line 40 (through Bressoux) would be used for a a right-bank regional metro line, for instance from Flémalle-Haute through Seraing and Bressoux to Visé. With a 4-track station at Liège-Palais, there is sufficient capacity for an urban-regional service on Line 34 as well, at least as far as Tongeren. With an intensive urban service from Liège Guillemins to Liège-Palais, it would no longer be necessary to extend Intercity and InterRegio trains over that section.