Oostende – Brugge – Knokke triangle

The earlier proposed coastal rail line from Calais would terminate at Oostende – the only large city on the Belgian coast (population 69 000, with Middelkerke and Bredene about 103 000).

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The 30 km of coast, eastward from Oostende to Knokke, is almost entirely developed for tourism. There are four rail lines to the coast, radiating from Brugge, which is 15 km inland. The main line from Brussels (Belgian line number 50A), continues from Brugge to Oostende itself. Line 51 was built in 1863 from Brugge to Blankenberge, at the time already a coastal resort. In 1868, an extension was opened to Heist. In 1906 a cut-off line was built, shortening the route to the new artificial port of Zeebrugge. This became line 51A. In 1920, it was extended 3 km from Heist to Knokke. When a new harbour cut line 51a in the 1980’s, a diversion line was built, starting at Dudzele station: line 51B. The result is, that three lines reach the coast near Zeebrugge, but they are only connected by the coastal tram line. (Unlike the trains, it uses bridges over the dock entrances).

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A line from Oostende Station to Blankenberge is possible, but has limited utility. It would use the existing route toward Brugge, cross the Oostende – Gent Canal, and turn north and north-west. An alignment through the developed coastal villages is difficult, so it could run parallel to the coast, 3 km inland. The 17 km of new line to Blankenberge would have no intermediate stations: it would reach the station via a cut-and-cover tunnel. Given the indirect inland route, improvement of the coastal tramway is probably a better option.

blankenberge-zeebruggeEast of Blankenberge, new construction would allow a more logical structure of the rail network. It would start from the existing station at Blankenberge, which is well located, close to the beach and centre. A new line would begin just outside the station, turning north-east toward Zeebrugge, through the polders. Just west of Zeebrugge-Dorp station, it would cross the main road (N31), and join the existing line 51A. The new section would be about 5 km long.

Zeebrugge itself (3900 inhabitants) consists of some housing, completely surrounded by port installations. The station is not even served in the summer, when trains terminate at a station on the beach. It does give passenger access to the port zone, although the passenger ferry terminal is served by bus from Brugge. In the context of the port zone, and its adjoining settlements, the new line has an almost urban character.

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West of Zeebrugge-Dorp station, a tunnel would restore the original alignment to Knokke. It is now cut by a dock basin, part of the port expansion of the 1970’s. Ship access is via a sea lock, 500 m long and 18,5 m deep. The tunnel would be south of the lock itself, but it must drop 30 m, to pass under the channel. With a gradient of 25/000, the line could climb back to ground level at Heist station. There it would join the old alignment (now line 51B). There is one more intermediate station at Duinbergen. The line would end at Knokke station: 1400 m from the beach, but well placed for a possible extension into the Netherlands.

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The new/restored line, from Blankenberge to Knokke, would be 12 km long. It could be served either by a shuttle service, connecting with Intercity trains at Blankenberge, or by extending local trains from Brugge (reversing at Blankenberge). The diversionary line 51B would be closed for passenger traffic.

Oostende – Brugge – Knokke triangle

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