The Maas valley line from Nijmegen to Venlo, Roermond, and Maastricht originally had 8 lateral connections into Germany. Two are still in use: Venlo to Mönchengladbach, and Sittard / Maastricht to Aachen (via Heerlen). The proposed high-speed rail line Nijmegen – Köln, and its connecting HSL from Venlo would carry most passenger traffic to the Rhine-Ruhr region. However, regional links eastwards from the Maas are also necessary. Logically, they would start in the cities along the Maas: Venlo, Roermond, Sittard-Geleen, and Maastricht.
With a population of 46 000, Roermond is the regional centre for a population of about 200 000. The old line eastwards from Roermond was built as an Antwerpen – Ruhr line – the Iron Rhine (1879). It is in use for Regionalbahn services, between Dalheim and Mönchengladbach. The Roermond – Dalheim section is closed, and reopening of the Iron Rhine route is controversial.
The proposal here is a new 62-km regional line, south-east from Roermond. The alignment to Heinsberg would be entirely new. From there, it would use an existing line to Lindern. With a new link to Linnich, it would join the existing line to Jülich and Düren. Lindern station would be an interchange station for the Aachen – Mönchengladbach line. The line closely parallels the river Roer / Rur, crossing it north of Linnich.
From Roermond, trains would use the existing line for about 3 km. Even without a HSL corridor, this section would need extra tracks. (A new station serving Herten and Merum is possible, but the station location would be peripheral). The new line would diverge further south, and cross the A73 motorway, toward Sint Odiliënberg (population 3500). To preserve the landscape of the Roer valley, the line would pass south of the village, with a station on its southern edge.
South-east of St. Odiliënberg, the line would join the alignment of the N293. The next station would be at Polsterholt (population 4500). The road by-passes the village, but the station would be only 600 m from its centre. The line would then pass the eastern side of Karken (population 3500). This village has a more diffuse structure, but again a station can be located about 500 m from the centre.
Approaching Heinsberg, the new line must avoid a gravel pit, and then connect to the existing alignment, at the former station. A tunnel in the built-up area (shown in red) is unavoidable, with some demolition. The former station was well located, so it should be re-used, possibly with underground platforms. The length of the new section would be about 17 km, and Heinsberg would be 20 km from Roermond. Heinsberg station was the terminus of the Heinsberger Bahn (1890), a 13-km branch line. The rail alignment is intact, and there are plans to extend the Euregiobahn to Heinsberg.
The existing rail line is almost a straight line, with three distinct settlements: Heinsberg, Schafhausen and Grebben. Each would have a station: Grebben station would also serve the industrial zone at Oberbruch. The station spacing (about 1500 m) allows for a future S-Bahn service from Mönchengladbach.
At Dremmen, the next village, the line is confined by housing and industrial building: a short tunnel is needed here. After Dremmen, the line turns south at Porselen, toward Lindern. There were formerly stations at Porselen, Horst, and Randerath, but Horst is probably too small to justify reopening. All these settlements, from Karken to Randerath, are part of Kreisstadt Heinsberg (population 41 000), capital of Kreis Heinsberg (256 000).
At Lindern, the line turns east to join the Aachen – Mönchengladbach line. Lindern station is just after the junction: there is sufficient space for an extra platform, for trains from Roermond / Heinsberg. (It is not necessary to share tracks with the Aachen – Mönchengladbach line). Just after the station and the overbridge, a new 5-km link line to Linnich would start. It would cross the existing line, and then turn east to Linnich. The new line would cross open fields, generally flat, but with one slope of about 10-15 m. With some demolition of industrial buildings along Erkelenzer Strasse, it could join the existing line just north of Linnich station.
The station is close to the river Rur, across from the small town of Linnich itself (population 14 000). From here, trains from Roermond would continue over the existing line, operated by the DKB/Rurtalbahn. The line includes 10 km of the Dalheim – Jülich line (1911). That line originally crossed the Aachen – Mönchengladbach line at Baal, where there was a two-level station. Although re-opening of this section has been considered, there is new housing and commercial development beside the alignment. Lindern would replace Baal as transfer station, for instance for Jülich – Mönchengladbach journeys.
The line from Linnich to Düren would be upgraded to a double-track electrified line. With the new line from Roermond, it would have a regional and inter-regional function. The station locations at Tetz, Broich and Jülich Nord would be retained. Jülich itself is a a secondary regional centre, with 33 000 inhabitants. It once was a rail junction with lines in 5 directions. There are long-term plans to re-open the line from Aachen via Würselen as part of the Euregiobahn network. Reopening of the line from Aachen via Inden would be a logical extension of the proposed urban-regional metro in Aachen.
South of Jülich, the 15-km line to Düren (1873) has six intermediate stops: Jülich Forschungszentrum, Selgersdorf (population 850), Krauthausen (750), Selhausen, Huchem-Stammeln (3500), and Im Grossen Tal. With only 391 inhabitants, Selhausen would not justify a station on an upgraded regional line. The halt ‘Im Grossen Tal’ is at the back of a commercial zone, adjoining open fields north of Düren. With sufficient bus connections, a station here could serve northern Düren: otherwise, it too could be closed.
Trains from Roermond would terminate at Düren, population 93 000, the regional centre for Kreis Düren (270 000). Bahnhof Düren is also a logical interchange station, served by the ICE Aachen – Berlin, and 4 S-Bahn and Regional-Express lines to Köln and further. From late 2009, Euregiobahn trains from Heerlen via Aachen will be extended to Düren, and it would be served by the proposed urban-regional metro in Aachen.
With a regional service, end-to-end speeds can not be high. However, a Roermond – Düren journey time of one hour is certainly feasible.
An alternative for the route proposed here would be, to route trains over the Iron Rhine, to a new connection west of Dalheim. It would link to a re-opened Dalheim – Jülich line via Wassenberg and Ratheim – instead of Heinsberg. With some demolition, the line under Baal station could be reopened, so that trains could reach Linnich. However, the new link would cut through Nationaal Park De Meinweg, and the Naturpark Maas-Schwalm-Nette, which is the main objection to reopening of the Iron Rhine.
The line proposed here could also share tracks with a new S-Bahn service to Hückelhoven and Heinsberg, from Mönchengladbach, described separately.