A rail line from Hasselt to Roermond was mentioned here earlier, in the proposal for a regional rail line Hasselt – Genk – Sittard. In fact, Roermond was the original planned terminus of Belgian line 21A from Genk (1874), but the line never got further than Maaseik. Passenger trains to Maaseik ceased in the 1950’s, and the Genk – Maaseik section was closed in 1979.
A Genk – Sittard line would serve more people, than a re-opened line Genk – Maaseik, which runs mainly through forest and fields. Nevertheless the Spartacus project – a regional tram network around Hasselt – includes a tram line on this alignment. The proposal here is a strategic rail line Hasselt – Genk – Roermond, rather than a regional tram line.
The line would connect Hasselt to the Maas valley line, in the direction of Venlo and Nijmegen. It would also connect to the proposed regional tram Roermond – Maaseik – Maastricht, improving regional connections to the villages north and south of Maaseik.
Alignment Hasselt – Maaseik
The alignment Hasselt – Genk was already described, as part of the proposed line to Sittard. Most of it is in use, but the proposed diversion via the university campus at Hasselt is new, and As station could be relocated. The earlier proposal also included restoration of the original alignment through Genk, now used by the N75 highway. North-east of Genk, the railway to Eisden diverged at the former station of As, which is in fact at Niel. With re-opening of the line to Maaseik, this old station could also be re-opened.
From Niel, the abandoned line runs almost straight toward Maaseik (16 km), mainly through forest and fields. The alignment is available: it is used as a cycle path. North of Dilsen, the line drops about 50 m from the Kempen Plateau, curving around the former Rotem zinc works. The line then crosses the Zuid-Willemsvaart canal. Only one of the three former stations justifies re-opening: at Elen, where the line crosses the N757 (Steenweg near Neeroeteren).
The station would serve the dispersed housing (lintbebouwing) west of Elen and Rotem. (The old Dilsen station was on the road between Dilsen and Opoeteren, too far from either village).
Maaseik (municipal population 25 000) has a small historic core on the Maas, about 500 m long. The old station was on the western edge of the town, and the site is still available. If the line only served Maaseik, it would be the logical place for a new station. A new line across the Maas requires a bridge or tunnel. It might conflict with the proposed high-speed line Eindhoven – Sittard, which would pass through Maaseik without a station. There are several possible alignments.
A line under the historic core would require a tunnel at least 30 m deep, to avoid damage to the historic buildings, and there is no site for a station anyway. A surface alignment south of the built-up area, could have a Maas bridge near the roundabout Boudewijnlaan / Heppersteenweg. However, that would require a long viaduct across the flood plain east of the Maas.
A deep tunnel could possibly pass between the historic core and the new shopping centre (shown in blue on the map). Demolition near the tunnel portal is unavoidable, but this option could have a station just 200 m from main square. Its construction would be like that of a deep metro station.
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Tunnel alignments on the northern side could run under Burgemeester Philipslaan, or Van Eycklaan, or under the relatively open space between them (one example shown in yellow). The line would descend into bored tunnel, about 1 km before the old station site. Again, the new station could be close to the centre, but these tunnels would probably conflict with the HSL alignment.
The best option seem to be a station at the southwestern edge of Maaseik, on the main road (N78, Maastrichtersteenweg). The line would turn away from the old alignment there, and drop into tunnel after the station, roughly parallel to the Eerste Straat (shown in white). The station is relatively far from the centre, but would have interchange with the proposed regional tram Roermond – Maaseik – Maastricht. From the station, the tunnel would have 1500 m to descend, before it passed under the river.
The line Hasselt – Maaseik, via the university campus cut-off, would be about 42 km long.
Alignment Maaseik – Roermond
After crossing the Maas, the line would pass north of Roosteren, crossing the HSL Eindhoven – Sittard. It would then turn north-east, crossing the lateral Juliana Canal and the A2 motorway. Because the canal is above ground level here, a tunnel (or navigable aqueduct) is preferable. After the canal, the line would turn more northwards, toward Echt, passing east of Ophoven. This alignment is parallel to the A2 motorway, but about 700 m further east.
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Approaching Echt, the line would use the alignment of the former LTM tram (Limburgsche Tramweg-Maatschappij). In Echt itself, the tram alignment is used for a road (Trambaan and Sint Janskamp). The rail line would run on viaduct, with a station at the roundabout, 400 m from the old village centre. Echt would then have two stations, east and west.
The line would then run parallel to A2, along the west side of the industrial zone De Berk. It would pass the motorway junction A2 / A73, and turn to join the existing Roermond line near Vonderen. The open land between Echt and the motorway junction is being developed as a business park, but if necessary the line can simply pass north of it. The line would cross a possible Weert – Echt cut-off line along the A2 motorway, but there is no reason to have interchange between the two lines.
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At present there are no stations between Echt and Roermond: the upgrading would include re-opening of the station at Linne. In Roermond (population 46 000), trains from Hasselt might connect with the line to Mönchengladbach. However, this currently closed line, the ‘Iron Rhine’ or IJzeren Rijn, was built for freight. A restored version might not even pass through Roermond Station.
Pattern of service
Trains from Hasselt should therefore continue another 24 km, to Venlo (population 80 000). That allows interchange with trains to Krefeld, Duisburg, Neuss and Düsseldorf, via the proposed HSL Venlo – Neuss. The existing line to Viersen would become an S-Bahn line to Neuss. Running north from Venlo are the proposed HSL to Eindhoven, and the upgraded line to Nijmegen.
The line Hasselt -Roermond would be about 61-62 km long. (The choice of alignment in Maaseik would only marginally alter the total length, by 200-500 m). The total route Hasselt – Venlo would be about 85 km long – enough to justify two levels of service. With fast trains only stopping at Genk, Maaseik and Roermond, the Hasselt – Venlo journey time could be under an hour.