Regional rail line Hasselt – Genk – Sittard

The line from Hasselt to Maaseik (Belgian line 21A, opened 1874) was intended to cross the Maas, toward Roermond. The river crossing was never built, and from 1914 the line primarily served the coal mines of the Kempen. When they closed, most of the line did too, although the section to Genk was re-opened in 1979. Re-opening of the section to Maaseik is less logical, because there are no intermediate settlements. A Maas crossing further south would also serve more people on the east bank of the Maas.

hasselt-sittard

The proposal here combines relocation of the line in Genk, extension over the former coal line to Eisden, and a new line across the Maas to Sittard. The line would connect at Hasselt to the proposed high-speed line Antwerpen – Maastricht (HSL). Both Hasselt and Sittard would become HSL junctions, with these other proposals:

The line would start in Hasselt, using the existing double-track line to Genk. Hasselt (population 72 000) is the capital of the (Belgian) Province of Limburg (population 827 000). The line exits Hasselt station to the west, and turns north-east to Genk via Kiewit station. This curving section is now within the built-up area. A replacement alignment is possible, assuming the upgrading and four-tracking of the line eastwards (existing Tongeren line). Diverging east of the Hasselt ring road, a new cut-off line would serve a new station for the Hasselt University campus, and then enter a tunnel under the Albert Canal, to join the Genk line west of Bokrijk station. This would shorten the route to Genk, by about 1500 m.

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uhasselt-bokrijk

12 km north-east of Hasselt is Genk. Although it has a population of 64 000, it is officially a ‘city’ since only 2000. After 1914, the original village of Genk was surrounded by miners housing, at three large coal mines. The present ‘city centre’ developed since the 1960’s, along the main east-west road (N75/ Europalaan), itself built on the former alignment of line 21A. This is the only option for extension eastwards, and since it is now a shopping street, the line must go in tunnel. The tunnel would start at Boksbergheide on the eastern edge of Genk: apart from four houses, the original alignment is intact. If the tunnel starts further back, a new station would be possible at its entrance, for instance at the Landwaartslaan. The existing Genk station would be replaced by a new underground station, right in the centre.

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boksbergheide

The new line would follow the N75 / Europalaan out of Genk, climbing out of tunnel and onto a viaduct. It would cross the A2 motorway, and then join the alignment of the ring rail line around Genk (to the coal mines). The line can be routed away from the N75 here, with a new station closer to the centre of As.

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genk-as

It would then rejoin the former line at the old station of As (in fact closer to Niel-bij-As). This is the base for the museum line Waterschei – Eisden, and as a visitors centre for the Nationaal Park Hoge Kempen. There is more than enough room for new platforms and facilities.

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as

From here, the new line would take over the former line to the mine at Eisden. This line drops about 45 m from the Kempen plateau, from 85 m to 40 m elevation. The former station at Eisden was 6 km from As, between Mechelen-aan-de-Maas and Eisden-Tuinwijk. Coal trains reversed here, onto a semicircular line to the mine itself. The new line would cross the main road N78, and the the canal (Zuid-Willemsvaart), passing just south of the original village of Eisden. There would be a station at the crossing with the N78: a viaduct is probably the best option here. The station would have interchange with the proposed left bank regional tram line Roermond – Maastricht.

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as-eisden….eisden-station

From here, it is only 1 km to the dike of the Maas river. East of the Maas is the Juliana Canal, which generally follows the edge of the Maas terrace (seen from the Maas, a plateau). A tunnel seems the only option to cross the dike, river and canal, while avoiding the protected landscape along the Maas. The exact route would de determined by the alignment across the river, on into Sittard.

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eisden-urmond

The shortest tunnel would re-emerge alongside the existing freight line to the Maas harbour at Stein. The freight line connects to the Maastricht line at Geleen-Lutterade, running via the chemical industry zone of Geleen. The new line would cross the A2 motorway, and then run alongside the N294 (Urmonderbaan, in Sittard Berger Weg). There would be a station in the south-east corner of Urmond. Trains would terminate at Sittard. They do not need to use the existing platforms, so the line could terminate at a new platform (approximately alongside Bergerweg). The disadvantage of this route is that it serves no built-up area, between Urmond and Sittard.

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sittard-west

One possible alternative is a tunnel further south (shown in blue), approximately under the Heidekampweg, and then via the industrial line to Geleen-Lutterade. Another option (shown red) is a bored tunnel under the Maas and the Juliana Canal, to a station in the centre of Stein. From there, a cut-and-cover tunnel would pass under the motorway junction A2/A76, emerging in the rail yard, about 1000 m from Geleen-Lutterade station. This option would share tracks with the upgraded line Maastricht – Sittard, between Geleen-Lutterade and Sittard.

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stein-tunnel

The line would be about 45 km long, depending on the alignment of the Maas crossing, and whether the cut-off line to Bokrijk was included. Since much of the route would be new, or heavily upgraded, journey time could be around 40 minutes.

Regional rail line Hasselt – Genk – Sittard

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