High-speed rail line Nijmegen – Köln

This proposed high-speed line (HSL, Schnellfahrstrecke, Neubaustrecke) south from Nijmegen, is an extension of the proposed high-speed rail line Amersfoort – Wageningen – Nijmegen. Together, they would create a complete alternative route, from Amsterdam to the Rhine-Ruhr region, complementing the existing main route along the right bank of the Rhine (Utrecht – Arnhem – Oberhausen, 1856).

The new line would be a successor to the 146-km Linksniederrheinische Strecke, the ‘left-bank Lower Rhine route’ from Nijmegen to Köln, via Kempen and Krefeld. That line lost its international passenger traffic in 1988: it is still in use from Kleve to Krefeld, but the Kleve – Nijmegen section has been lifted.

Planning for the high-capacity freight line from Rotterdam, the Betuweroute, included a ‘southern branch’ extending south from around Nijmegen. It is indicated on the regional plan Noord-Brabant as a straight line from Valburg to Venlo. The project has been deferred until at least 2020. A high-speed passenger line southwards from Nijmegen, parallel to the existing Maas valley line to Venlo, was never seriously considered. The proposal here uses an alignment entirely east of the Maas, which does not appear in any official proposals.

Nijmegen lies on the Rhine, not the Maas. It is a large regional centre and university city, with 161 000 inhabitants. Together with Arnhem, 15 km to to the north, it forms the Urban Region Arnhem / Nijmegen with around 720 000 inhabitants. The city is built on a low plateau, and the station is at its western edge. The Maas valley line (built 1883) first follows the older rail line to Kleve, in the forested plateau south of the city. It then turns south, descending to the Maas at Mook, 11 km from Nijmegen station. It crosses the Maas, and then passes through towns such as Cuijk and Boxmeer, to Blerick. This 50-km section is an almost straight line, through flat land on the western side of the river. At Blerick, the Maas valley line crosses the river again, into Venlo, and then continues toward Maastricht.

Via Venlo is not the shortest route, from Nijmegen to anywhere in the Rhineland. The HSL alignment proposed here is more direct. It leaves the Nijmegen plateau at a low escarpment (near the Reichswald), and runs through flat agricultural land along the river Niers.

The new high-speed line would start at a fully reconstructed Nijmegen Station. With a platform west of the existing island platform, the line would need to cross the tracks to/from Den Bosch. The line would then use extra tracks, alongside the existing line southwards, passing Heyendaal Station.

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South of Heyendaal, the line has several curves, which would need improvement. (Shifting the line here, in forest or sports fields, is not a problem). Where the old line to Kleve splits from the Maas valley line, the new line would continue south-east through the forest, parallel to the road Biesseltsebaan.

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The line would reach its highest point at the edge of the forest, at about 80m. From there, it would descend across undulating farmland, south of Groesbeek. At the edge of the Reichswald, there is a drop of 30m, to the flood-plain of the Niers and Maas. At this point a combination of cutting and viaduct would be needed. The total 70 m descent, over 3 km, is well within the capacity of high-speed trains.

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The line would pass east of Milsbeek, through open flat farmland on reclaimed marsh. It would then cross the Niers, just east of Ottersum. The alignment would run alongside a meander of the Niers east of Gennep (crossing the former Boxteler Bahn). It would pass the small village of Hommersum, and cross the A77 / A57 motorway, just east of the border post.

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The alignment continues through flat, open countryside, passing the eastern edge of the forests of Broedersbosch and Eckeltse Bergen. (The proposed line passes areas of intensive farming, and these forest remnants are the only protected zones). The HSL is now parallel to the Kleve – Krefeld line, about 8 km further east.

The HSL would then approximately follow the Spanische Ley drainage channel and the L486, past Weeze airport. The airport is on slightly higher ground, hidden behind trees. It is a former British airbase, built during the Cold War, at a deliberately remote location. It is now used by low-cost carriers, who are not deterred by the inconvenience: Ryanair tells passengers it is in Düsseldorf. Closure of this airport is a more rational option, than connecting it to the HSL.

South of the airport, the line would turn slightly more to the east. It would pass the south edge of the former US weapons depot west of Twisteden (part of it is used as a bungalow park). The line would pass 1 km south of Twisteden, and then pass the north end of the Steprather Heide forest. This is slightly higher ground (10 m at most), surrounded by intensive horticulture: the HSL would pass just south of the Thielen flower distribution centre.

The line would parallel the K17 road, south of Lüllingen, and then pass between Geldern and Pont, crossing the B58 road. It would then cross the Niers again, about 500m north of the prison at Pont. In the fields beside the river, the HSL would cross the former Venlo – Wesel line.

After the Niers, the HSL would cross the Kleve – Krefeld line. It would then run parallel to it, at the northern edge of Nieukerk and Aldekerk, through open fields. Here the HSL would be exactly parallel to the existing line, and about 600 m from it. After passing Aldekerk, it would turn more to the south, crossing the Autobahn A40, about 500-1000 m west of junction 6.

The HSL would pass either east or west of Haus Gastendonk. It would continue through open farmland between St. Hubert and Hüls, passing close to the B9 road. The power line on the image is important, because it provides a corridor along the western edge of Krefeld. It is a straight line, almost entirely free of buildings (the power line itself would probably go underground).

As it enters this corridor, the HSL would cross the Kleve – Krefeld line again. At this point, there would be a connecting curve (shown in red), for trains into Krefeld. The city has a population of 238 000, and is the regional centre for the Niederrhein region. With a new link across the Rhine, trains could continue to Düsseldorf Airport and Düsseldorf Hauptbahnhof.

At the end of the power line (at the ThysenKrupp steelworks), the new HSL would cross the old line from Krefeld to Mönchengladbach via Willich. It would turn south-east here, and cross the Autobahn A44. The proposed high-speed link line from Venlo would join the line here.

The new line would pass between Willich and Osterath, and then cross the A57 (avoiding gravel pits). It would then join the existing rail line from Krefeld into Neuss. This is also part of the Linksniederrheinische Strecke: it would be upgraded, and widened to 4 tracks. The line crosses the Autobahn A52, and enters Neuss from the north-west. It joins the 4-track line from Düsseldorf, and turns south to the station.

Neuss has a population of 151 000, but trains on the HSL would stop there primarily to offer a connection to Düsseldorf (population 582 000), on the other side of the Rhine. The two main stations are 11 km apart, with an intensive service (at present three S-Bahn and two Regional-Express lines). South of Neuss Hauptbahnhof, there are four connecting rail routes: to Köln, to Grevenbroich, to Mönchengladbach, and the S-Bahn line to Kaarst (which turns north-west).

The line Nijmegen – Neuss would be about 95 km long, station to station. It could be built for 300 km/h, allowing a journey time of around 25 minutes.

South of Neuss, the existing main line to Köln would be upgraded (Ausbaustrecke). This section is almost a straight line, and it is only 36 km long, so a complete new line would offer no advantages. Conversion to a 4-track line, separation of all local and freight traffic from the fast tracks, and a line speed of 200 km/h, are sufficient. From Worringen into Köln Hauptbahnhof (15 km) there are already separate S-Bahn tracks.

Widening this line will require some demolition of line-side housing, for instance in southern Neuss. Even there, however, much of the line passes sports fields and allotment gardens. At Dormagen, the line passes through Chempark Dormagen, a 570-hectare chemical industry zone, around the original Bayer plant. A 4-track tunnel seems the only option here.

The total length of the route from Nijmegen to Köln would be about 135 km. With a Neuss – Köln journey time of under 20 minutes, a time of 45 minutes for Nijmegen – Köln should be feasible. That is an average speed of 178 km/h, realistic for a second-generation HSL. In combination with the high-speed rail line Amersfoort – Wageningen – Nijmegen, an Amsterdam – Köln journey time of around 1 h 40 min should be feasible. The present best time is 2h 38 min (ICE via Oberhausen). For comparison, an alignment via Venlo would be substantially longer, and it is not necessary for any specific routing. (The proposed high-speed link from Venlo would allow trains from Rotterdam and Eindhoven, to access the Nijmegen – Neuss HSL).

Construction of the new HSL would reinstate a link from Nijmegen to Krefeld, which was one of the arguments for re-opening of the Kleve – Nijmegen section. It might then be more logical to extend the regional service Krefeld – Kleve north across the Rhine, to Elten, and on into Arnhem. That would require a new 10-km line from Kleve to Elten, with a Rhine bridge or tunnel.

High-speed rail line Nijmegen – Köln

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