This proposal is complementary to the proposal for a new regional rail line Gent – Terneuzen – Middelburg. It would use the same tracks into Terneuzen, for about 5 km. However, it has its own logic, and could be built separately.
Except for the section Axel – Terneuzen, the proposed line uses the alignment of the former Belgian line 54, from Sint-Niklaas, through Hulst and Axel to Terneuzen. The old line was built by the Société du Chemin de fer international de Malines à Terneuzen: it opened in 1871 and closed in 1951. Urban expansion (since 1951) may require diversion of the alignment in some places. The line would carry a regional service from Station Antwerpen-Centraal to Terneuzen, also stopping at Zwijndrecht and Beveren on the line out of Antwerpen (Antwerp).
The line would start at Sint-Niklaas Station, 24, 7 km from Antwerpen-Centraal via line 59. The city of Sint-Niklaas has 70 000 inhabitants, and is the regional centre of the Waasland. The old rail line turned north, at the western end of the station, on a sharp curve. The alignment itself is still there (black line), partly as a cycle path – but new construction along it makes a simple re-instatement difficult. An alternative alignment is possible, descending to platforms in a cut-and-cover tunnel, parallel to the Noordlaan and the Herdersstraat (on the north side of the station). From there, the tunnel (in red, about 1500 m long) would turn north to leave the built-up area, and rejoin the original alignment.
The old railway ran in almost a straight line toward Hulst. The alignment to St-Gillis-Waas, about 4 km, can probably be re-used. In St. Gillis itself, there is some new construction beside the old line: it could be re-aligned to the west or east of the original route (blue and red lines). In any case, there would be a station here, on the original Stationsstraat. North of St. Gillis, the line crosses the N49. Although the old alignment may be intact, the nearby roads and housing would necessitate a tunnel here (at Kluizendijkstraat).
The alignment north of the N49 is dead straight, and it is still intact. At De Klinge (3 000 inhabitants), only a short tunnel or cutting is necessary, where the line crosses the main street (Buitenstraat / Heidestraat). The station would be located here.
North of De Klinge, the straight alignment continues to the outskirts of Hulst (11 000 inhabitants), a historic fortified town. The line turned turned almost due west here. In Hulst, a shopping centre was built on the original alignment (it retained the name ‘Stationsplein’). Fortunately, there is an obvious alternative route for the new line, along the N60 by-pass. The station would still be less than 1 km, from the historic core of the town.
West of Hulst, the old line ran in a straight line to Axel, through open countryside. On the outskirts of Axel, it turned slightly north: the station was located north of the town (8 000 inhabitants. The area around the line has been built-up, but there is still an open strip through the housing. The best option is a short tunnel with station, on the old alignment along the Emmastraat: it would require some limited demolition. The station would be about 500 m from the town centre.
West of Axel, the new line would first follow the old alignment, then turn north-west, to run alongside the N253 road into Terneuzen.
In Terneuzen (28 000 inhabitants), the road continues as a wide north-south axis (Guido Gezellestraat). The new line would run in cut-and-cover tunnel, to a station ear the crossing with the Alvarezlaan, at a shopping centre. This would be the only station also served by trains on the proposed Gent – Terneuzen – Middelburg line. If both lines are built, it would be an interchange station: passengers from the Antwerpen – Terneuzen line to Middelburg would change here. North of this station, the line to Middelburg would begin its descent into deep tunnel, to cross the Schelde/Scheldt estuary. The line from Sint-Niklaas would continue in shallow tunnel, to terminate at a station near the start of the Scheldeboulevard, and about 500 m from the historic town centre.
The old line from Sint-Niklaas to Axel was 24 km long, the new alignment from Axel to Terneuzen adds another 10 km. The distance from Antwerpen to Terneuzen would be about 60 km. With modern rolling stock, several straight sections, and 8 intermediate stations, a journey time of around 45 to 50 minutes is feasible.