New freight routes in Belgium

A reader referred to long-term plans for new freight railways in Belgium. One possible route would link the port of Antwerpen (Antwerp) to the port of Zeebrugge. The other would provide extra capacity on the transversal line in Wallonia, between Liège and Charleroi.

The planned line Antwerpen – Zeebrugge is already numbered Line 77. It would connect to Line 10, a new freight line linking both banks of the Schelde in the Antwerpen port zone (open 2014). Line 77 would cross the Gent port canal at Zelzate, with a connection to the freight-only Line 55.

The official alignment of Line 77 would follow the N49 / E34 to Westkapelle (map on page 27 in Multimodaal Actieplan RSD in Europees perspectief). West of Maldegem, an alignment along the Leopold Canal would be shorter. Otherwise, there is no apparent alternative alignment. Line 77 must run parallel to the N49 road, so it is logical to built it alongside the road.

The Wallonian freight corridor does have alternatives. The existing transversal line consists of Line 125 along the river Maas / Meuse, and Line 130B along the Sambre. It is difficult to increase capacity, in the constricted river valleys. However all long-distance passenger traffic could be routed to a new high-speed line along the E42 / A15 motorway, on the plateau above the valleys. The high-speed line (HSL) could be extended past Valenciennes, to join the existing HSL (LGV) to Paris.

Similarly, all through freight could be re-routed to a new freight line, also alongside the E42. The logical option is to combine the two, and build a new 4-track line. (Experience in Germany shows problems with freight trains on high-speed lines, so they should have separate tracks). At both ends of the new E42 line, the freight and passenger routes would diverge: passenger trains into the main stations, and freight trains to existing freight yards or freight lines.

Traditional heavy industry in the Meuse / Sambre valley has declined, so line 125/130 is probably carrying mainly transit freight from Germany, via Montzen. The Montzen route east of Tongeren (Line 24), was built for political and military reasons, specifically to avoid Netherlands territory. It is not a logical route for transit freight in present-day Europe.

Line 24 could be connected to a freight line along the E42, using the existing Liège bypass line (line 34), and a new link from Liers to Bassenge. However, it may be more logical to build a new freight line further north – avoiding Aachen, avoiding Liège, and avoiding the Meuse / Sambre valley. The shortest route from Duisburg to Lille, for instance, is through Brussels, not Liège. A completely new transit freight line could cross the Maas / Meuse north of Sittard, run north of Brussels, and south of Gent.

New east-west  transit freight line through Flanders.

The terrain is not completely flat, but the line would avoid the hills and valleys further south. The other advantage is that it could replace the old Antwerpen – Ruhr line, the Iron Rhine (partly abandoned east of the Maas). There is however, no existing infrastructure to follow, through the densely populated region around Brussels and Gent.

New freight routes in Belgium

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