This proposal would in effect create a a new rail line along the North Sea coast, from Calais to Oostende (Ostend, Ostende). It includes new alignments and upgrading of the existing coastal line from Calais to Dunkerque, re-opening of the line from Dunkerque to Adinkerke, and a new coastal rail line to Oostende.
There is no historic precedent for a coastal railway all the way from Calais to Oostende, but the littoral region is densely populated. The line would serve three cities, and the smaller towns between them. The short Belgian coastline between De Panne and Oostende is almost fully developed.
Apartment blocks along the Belgian coast: image by Luna04, CC3 licence…
The proposed rail line would be double-track and electrified: depending on the exact alignment, it would be about 90 km long. It is not intended as a high-speed line, and the journey time Calais – Oostende would be over one hour.
The existing lines fall into three categories. The line from Calais to Dunkerque runs inland, rather than along the coast. It re-opened in December 2014 after modernisation and electrification, carrying Line 9 of the regional network TER Nord-Pas-de-Calais. The line is still mainly single track, and service is minimal, with 8 trains per day on weekdays.
In Dunkerque, the line joins the main line from Paris, which is at right angles to the coast. So is the main station. Trains from Calais would need to reverse, to join the line to Bray-Dunes and Adinkerke, but that line is out of service anyway. The cross-border section is completely abandoned, like so many cross-border lines in Europe. On the other side of the border, Adinkerke is now the terminus of Belgian regional line 73. It is also a route inland, rather than along the coast: at Deinze, it joins line 75 to Gent.
Adinkerke station, renamed De Panne, is a transfer point for the coastal tramway to Oostende. Unlike the railways, the tram does follow the coastline very closely. The proposed rail line from Adinkerke along the coast is completely new: it would run parallel to the tram line, but further inland, except near Oostende.
Coastal tram line: image by Jkan997, CC3 licence…
The main line from Paris approaches Calais from the south-east, and then turns east into the main station, Gare de Calais-Ville. It is aligned parallel to the shore: a through platform allows trains to continue to the port zone. However trains to Dunkerque use the main line as far as Fontinettes station, where the line to Dunkerque turns east, toward Marck.
The exit line is at the southern edge of the built-up area, and does not serve the eastern side of Calais. The existing line can be substantially upgraded with new alignments across the A16 Autoroute, and along the edge of the built-up area, parallel to the Av. St.-Exupéry. Both are shown in blue on the image below. Beau-Marais station would then be relocated to the new Centre Hospitalier, not visible on the image. An alternative location is Rue de St.-Omer, at the old St.-Pierre halt, shown in red.
A more radical option is a new 5-km exit tunnel, starting just east of the station (shown in orange). To descend under the nearby Canal de Calais, the tunnel might begin in the station itself, at subsurface platforms. The new tunnel might follow the canal alignment, but it is probably simpler if it passes under the low-rise housing, east of the canal. The line would continue in tunnel under Av. Saint-Exupéry alignment, and rejoin the existing line near the ring road (Rocade Est). It could have two intermediate station: the locations shown are indicative only. In both variants, Marck station would be re-opened.
From Marck, the railway continues in an almost straight line, to Gravelines (12 000 inhabitants). The station there is close to the old fortified town, but remote from the new housing, the port, and the industrial zone (with the largest nuclear power station in the EU). The line then turns south-east to Bourbourg (population 7000). That is a deviation, but any alternative route through Gravelines would be complex.
The line from Bourbourg approaches Dunkerque parallel to the coast and the A16 motorway, though peripheral industrial zones. When it meets the main line from Paris, it turns 90 degrees: Coudekerque-Branche station is just after the junction. On the other side of the station is the junction with the line to Adinkerke, but it is not worth connecting the two lines here – it would not serve the city centre.
The alternative is a complete new line, in tunnel through the urban area. Dunkerque (Duinkerken, Dunkirk) is a port with a concentration of heavy industry. The city itself has 91 000 inhabitants. The Communauté urbaine de Dunkerque, which extends about 30 km along the coast from Gravelines to Bray-Dunes, has a population of 200 000, sufficient to justify a new east-west line. With several new stations, the line would function as a regional metro in the agglomeration.
The new alignment would leave the existing railway at Loon-Plage, and turn towards the old main highway along the coast, the former Route National 1. The old station at Loon-Plage would be relocated to this new line, nearer the village. The alignment would join the road alignment, and cross the new Mardyck port canal into Grand-Synthe.
Here, at the edge of the built-up area, the new line would descend into tunnel, and follow the road alignment through Grand-Synthe. Limited demolition is needed here, as some housing was built on the old road alignment. The tunnel would follow the Avenue de Petite-Synthe through Petite-Synthe: this is the alignment of the old Mardyck canal.
In the central area, the alignment follows canals and quaysides. There is sufficient space, but a cut-and-cover tunnel would require demolition and reconstruction of many bridges and quays. For that reason a bored tunnel, north or south of the canal, might be better. In any case, the tunnel would have a station almost under the existing Gare de Dunkerque.
East of the centre, the canal continues as the Canal de Furnes (Veurne canal). The disused railway to Adinkerke and Veurne runs parallel to their canal, and the N1 highway runs beside it. The new line could rejoin the existing line where it crosses the canal. (Some limited demolition would be needed at the junction). The tunnel would be about 9 km long. The existing line into Dunkerque Station via Coudekerque-Branche would be retained, for regional services from Gent via Adinkerke.
From the old Rosendael station, at the edge of Malo-les-Bains, the railway is relatively straight. It can easily be upgraded to double-track, with two reopened stations (Rosendael and Leffrinkckouke). At the edge of the built-up area is the Ascometal steelworks, which had some freight traffic. From there eastward, the line is effectively abandoned. It runs at the edge of the coastal dunes, through Zuydcoote and Bray-Dunes, both beach resort towns. This section was closed for passengers in 1958, and for freight in 2001. The line could be relocated to the southern edge of Bray-Dunes, but it is generally well separated from housing, and the main road already has an overbridge. There is no major obstacle to reopening, doubling and electrification of the old line.
The disused section ends at Adinkerke station, the present terminus of the Belgian line, and the westernmost station of the Belgian network. It needs little upgrading, since it was redeveloped as a transfer station for the coastal tram, with large car parks.
Adinkerke, station top right: image by Scillystuff, CC3 licence…
The proposed new line to Oostende would start here. It would turn toward the coast, as the existing line turns inland. That could be just east of the station at Adinkerke, in which case some demolition at Koksijde would be needed. Alternatively, the new line could diverge at the northern edge of Veurne, and turn toward Oostduinkerke. The new alignment along the coast would be about 1 or 2 km inland from the coastal tram route. It is described in the second part of this proposal: Coastal line Adinkerke – Oostende.