The main rail line Amsterdam – Maastricht is on the east bank of the river Maas, as is the north-south motorway (A73 / A2). On the west bank (left bank), the main road is a Napoleonic military road (Netherlands N273, and the Belgian N78).
There is no rail line on the west bank, but there was an inter-local tram line along the main road, between Maastricht and Roermond. Belgium once had an extensive network of metre-gauge local railways (Chemins de Fer Vicinaux). The metre-gauge local railway 485 ran from Maastricht to Maaseik , continuing as line 486 to the Dutch border at Ittervoort. It followed the Napoleonic road almost entirely. In 1915, the Centrale Limburgsche Spoorweg company (CLS) extended it to Roermond, although not along the Napoleonic road.
There are no current plans, for a restored tram line along the Maas. The Spartacus plan for a regional tram network around Hasselt, does include a Hasselt – Maastricht tram line, using part of Belgian rail line 20. In Maastricht itself, it will not use the Maas railway bridge, which connects Line 20 to Maastricht Station. The Hasselt tram will run on street, via the Maasboulevard and a road bridge.
With these plans in Maastricht, it is logical for a regional tram along the Maas to share this alignment. However, both systems could theoretically be separated, with the Hasselt tram using the rail bridge, and the Maas valley tram on street. That would allow a new metre-gauge line, but unless the line is isolated that has no advantages. The Spartacus plan also includes lines to Maaseik and Eisden, which would connect to the N78 alignment, but at right angles.
The proposed Roermond – Maaseik – Maastricht line would be a regional tram, running on-street in the villages, with separate tracks where the road is wide enough. It would generally have one stop in each village – less than the existing bus services along these roads. The line is described here north to south, starting at Roermond.
Roermond to Maaseik
The line would start at Roermond station, probably at the existing bus station, and follow the inner ring road around the city centre (Godsweerdersingel, Wilhelminasingel). There would a stop before the river, between the main square and the new Kazerneplein development. The line would then cross the river Maas on a new tram bridge, on the north side of the road bridge. Possibly there would be a stop on the other side, at the recreational lakes (Maasplassen).
Click to enlarge: tram Roermond – Beegden…
The line would follow the N280 toward Horn. This road now bypasses the village of Horn, and restoring the old tram alignment would require a new bridge over the Maas lateral canal. The new tram could run alongside the N280, turn north to the old route in Horn, and then turn south along the road to Beegden. Avoiding Horn entirely would save about 600 m: local trams from Roermond could serve Horn via a short branch.
The tram would use the old road (the Heerbaan, older than the Napoleonic military road), through the villages of Beegden, Heel, and Panheel. Heel might have two stops, one at the old tram station, now ‘Café De Tram’. The line would continue toward Thorn, a historic town – one of the few tourist destinations on the west bank of the Maas. The narrow streets are not suitable for a modern tram: the line could run through the fields, along its northern edge.
The line would first cross the Wessem – Nederweert Canal alongside the existing bridge at Panheel Lock, and use a new bridge over the A2 motorway. At Ittervoort, the line would join the Napoleonic road, the N273: here too the old station survives, as Café De Tramhalte. Alternatively, the line could avoid Thorn, following the canal from Panheel, and joining the the N273 north of Ittervoort. (In that case, there could be a branch to Thorn, with local services from Roermond).
Click to enlarge: tram alignments near Thorn…
1500 m from Ittervoort, the road crosses the border. This has consequences for the tram line, because of Flemish planning policies: the road is lined with ribbon development (lintbebouwing). The old village cores are usually away from the road, but some villages have secondary clusters of shops at the crossroads. The road itself is wide, but this low-density urban strip is difficult to serve by public transport. To avoid the driveways, the tram would run in the centre of the road.
At the first village on the Belgian side, Kessenich, the old station is intact: the new tram stop in Kessenich would be further south. Geistingen and Ophoven would also have one stop each.
In Maaseik, about 24 km from Roermond, the tram would use the Burgemeester Phillipslaan, to bypass the narrow streets of the centre. There would be a stop north of the centre (Venlosesteenweg), and at the redeveloped square (Bospoort) on its western side. (There would be no interchange with the proposed high-speed line Eindhoven – Sittard).
Maaseik to Lanaken
South of Maaseik, the N78 is very wide, especially the section to the motorway junction at Maasmechelen. The volume of traffic would requires full separation, with tram stops on viaducts at major crossroads. The tram would serve Elen, Rotem, Dilsen, Lanklaar, and possibly Rachels.
Eisden has a clear centre: the tram would stop near the main square (just off the N78). South of Eisden, the road bends to cross the Zuid-Willemsvaart canal. The bridge is too narrow for a tram, and in any case a parallel tunnel is a better option, since the terrain slopes upward.
After this bend, at the northern edge of Mechelen, the tram would cross the proposed regional rail line Hasselt – Genk – Sittard. This is the only rail interchange on the tram line: the station would be on viaduct above the N78, about 300 m from the Zuid-Willemsvaart canal.
Click to enlarge: new rail line from Eisden across the Maas…
In Mechelen, the N78 itself forms the main street: this is the centre of the municipality Maasmechelen, which includes Eisden. The tram would stop at the town hall and shops, close to the Helix campus (regional school cluster). The tram line would then pass the junction with the E314 motorway: a separate alignment is necessary here.
The tram would stop at the industrial zone south of the motorway, at Rekem, and at Neerharen. The original line of the Napoleonic road is then cut by the Briegden – Neerharen link canal, and the present N78 turns south-west along this canal, just outside Lanaken. The tram to Maastricht would not serve Lanaken, but it could have a 2-km branch into the centre, with local service from Maasmechelen.
The tram line would cross the Briegden – Neerharen canal, on a new tram bridge, and join the N766, the continuation of the Napoleonic road. It would have one stop in Smeermaas, just before the Netherlands border.
Click to enlarge: tram bypassing Lanaken toward Maastricht…
South of Smeermaas, the original metre-gauge line ran due south into Maastricht, along the Brusselseweg. The new tram would join the tramline from Hasselt (Line 20) south of Smeermaas, at a rail overbridge on the Brusselseweg.
Approaching Maastricht, the planned line crosses the Zuid-Willemsvaart canal, and will continue as an urban tram line, via the Wilhelmina Bridge toward the station. (The proposed high-speed line Maastricht – Hasselt – Antwerpen would have its own route in tunnel under Maas).
The tram would end at the existing bus station, in front of Maastricht Station. The Maaseik – Maastricht section would be 31 km long, and the whole line about 55 km. With about 26 stops (2 km apart on average), a journey time of 90 minutes should be possible.