The secondary international line Tilburg – Turnhout was closed in 1973. South of Turnhout, it still carries an hourly service to Antwerp and Brussels via Herentals. Tilburg is served by an Intercity service from Den Haag to Venlo, via Rotterdam, and Breda, and by the tangential Intercity line Zwolle – Nijmegen – Roosendaal. The original alignment in Tilburg is built over, so ‘restoration’ of the Turnhout line is not possible. What is possible is a new line with a similar function, using part of the old alignment. (Most of it is in use as a cycle path). Re-routing the line via Gilze would also allow services to Breda.
Tilburg is on two high-speed lines proposed here earlier: a HSL Tilburg – Den Bosch as part of a tangential high-speed corridor, and a HSL Tilburg – Eindhoven, as part of a new high-speed route Den Haag – Köln. However, the proposed Antwerpen – Eindhoven HSL would probably bypass Turnhout.
New alignment Tilburg – Alphen
Trains would first use the existing Tilburg – Breda line, serving the University and Reeshof stations. The new alignment would diverge just west of the Tilburg ring road. It would then turn about 110 degrees, crossing the Tilburg – Breda road at Hulten, to join the old N260 road. The curve is relatively sharp, because Gilze-Rijen air base determines the alignment here. (The road is so close to the end of the runway, that traffic is forbidden to stop while passing). The curve toward Breda is shown in yellow.
The line would continue alongside the N260, passing the village of Gilze (7000 inhabitants). A new station would be sited where the N260 crosses the old main road from Tilburg (Tilburgsebaan).
South of Gilze, the new line would run parallel to the N260, but possibly 500-800 m further east. Near Alphen, it would rejoin the old alignment. Some of it has been built over, but a parallel alignment is available, about 200 m to the east. The new station would be on the same road (Sint Jansstraat), but about 200 m further from the centre. (It is not necessary for the line to follow the N260 bypass).
The new line would definitively join the old alignment, at the southern edge of Alphen. From there to Baarle, the line runs through farmland.
Restored line Alphen – Turnhout
Baarle is a singe village with 9 000 inhabitants, put politically fragmented by Belgian exclaves. The southern half is mainly Belgian, but the problems are the same on both territories. The line is within the built-up area, there are many crossing streets, and houses have been built alongside the line.
A new alignment is possible at the eastern edge of the village, roughly along the Visweg (shown in blue). However, it is relatively far from the centre, at the edge of an commercial/industrial zone. Closer to the centre, an alignment in cut-and-cover tunnel is possible (yellow), with a station near the roundabout on the Alphen road (Alphenseweg). It would still require clearance of a strip through the built-up area.
Despite the difficulty, the best option seems to be a cut-and-cover tunnel on the existing alignment. The original station site, now a car park, can be re-used. After construction, the existing street pattern can be restored: at most, a few houses would be demolished.
South of Baarle, the old alignment again runs through farmland: nearer Turnhout it passes some nature reserves. The alignment is free of obstacles, although close to Tilburg there are houses nearby.
At the edge of Turnhout, the old line crossed the Dessel-Schoten Canal on a bridge. A new cycle bridge is under construction here, but it does not block the alignment. The new line would preferably cross the canal under a navigable aqueduct, since the land on both sides is below canal level.
The existing station site in Turnhout, on the main east-west street, would be retained. However, with a more intensive service, a cut-and-cover tunnel through Turnhout would be preferable (1200 m). That means new platforms below street level, although not necessarily in tunnel. (An alternative is to shift the platforms about 300 m to the north, with a new station entrance on the Warandestraat).
Services on the line
The new line would be 39-40 km long, from Tilburg to Turnhout, with about 15 km on new alignment. Tilburg (population 205 000) and Turnhout (40 000) are the only large centres: apart from that, the line serves only three villages. It would have a regional and interregional function.
The line is not intended as an Antwerp – Tilburg link. The existing HSL Antwerp – Rotterdam offers a shorter and faster route, via the curve into Breda. At present, Turnhout has regional services to Antwerp en Brussels. The new line could carry a Tilburg – Brussels regional service, but that is a long route. A better alternative is reopening of the Herentals – Aarschot line, allowing a Tilburg – Leuven regional service. That could be combined with a Tilburg – Brussels interregional service, with fewer stops. With an extra curve near Hulten, trains can run from Turnhout to Breda, possibly with a Roosendaal – Breda – Turnhout regional service.