Ieper (known in English by its French name Ypres) is 35 km from the Belgian coast, in the Westhoek region of Flanders. A new regional line to the coast could form part of a longer regional route from Lille. It seems a logical route for a railway, but it crosses the French – Belgian border, which hindered development of the regional network. When the Belgian coast was developed for tourism, especially after the Second World War, rail links to the main Belgian cities had priority. There was never a direct mainline railway from Ieper to the coast, although the Westhoek did have a good network of rural tram lines (metre gauge). All except the coastal tram line were closed by the 1950’s.
Vicinal railways of West Flanders: map by user Smiley.toerist under CC3.0 licence…
A line from Poperinge to Adinkerke, Line 76, was built during the First World War to supply the front lines. It did not serve any other towns, and was closed to passengers in the 1930’s. At present Ieper is served by Line 69 from Kortrijk (Courtrai). It originally extended to Hazebrouck on the Lille – Calais main line, but this cross-border section is closed. It now terminates at Poperinge.
Line via Diksmuide
There are two main options for a new line north from Ieper. It could run north-northwest to Veurne and De Panne, approximately following a former rural tram line. Alternatively it could run north to Diksmuide, connecting to the existing Line 73 to Veurne, or a restored line to Nieuwpoort.
A line to Diksmuide is shorter, and would offer better connections with existing lines, especially if the line to Nieuwpoort (Line 74) was re-opened. There is however a major problem with that alignment: it runs along the trench systems of the First World War, the site of many battles. The German advance toward Paris in 1914 was halted along the line Ieper – Nieuwpoort, and the front line stabilised, leading to trench warfare and stalemate.
Construction of a new railway is dangerous, because there is still unexploded ammunition in the ground. The trenches themselves and deeper tunnels are also a hazard. Any development here is controversial: Ieper was the scene of major battles, with immense loss of life. The whole area is considered a a monument, and any construction work will also uncover human remains.
A longer alignment, west of the IJzer-Ieper Canal, would avoid at least the trench systems. It would join the existing line at Kaaskerke on the western edge of Diksmuide, rather than entering Diksmuide from the east. Kaaskerke was the original junction for the Nieuwpoort branch, so this option does not exclude its restoration.
Line to Veurne
A direct alignment to Veurne avoids the wartime front line. The line can run directly to the edge of Veurne, through open farmland. Nevertheless, Veurne is not itself on the coast. There is an interchange with the coastal tram line, at Adinkerke, but that makes the journey longer.
The utility of a link to Veurne can be improved, with a short new line from there to the coast. The new line would run parallel to the N8 into Koksijde-Bad, where it would have interchange with the coastal tramway.
The line would start about 200 m north of Ieper Station, at the former junction with the line to Langemark. The old line would be restored over about 3 km, including 1300 m inside the built-up area of Ieper itself. The alignment is still available, partly as a cycle path: new houses do not back onto it directly.
South of Boezinge, a new alignment would begin. It would bypass Boezinge on the west, cutting through some housing on one side of Boezingestraat, and then continue across open flat farmland to Veurne. There might be an intermediate station at Boezinge (2000 inhabitants) , but otherwise the villages are too small to justify a station.
The new alignment would be about 25 km long. It would join the existing Line 73 from Tielt, near the A18 motorway. From the new junction, the line into Veurne station would be doubled – about 2500 m.
The Ieper-coast line would use about 4 km of existing track through Veurne. At Koksijde station, which is in fact at the northern edge of Veurne, a new alignment would diverge. It would follow the N8 road, for about 4500 m into Koksijde-Bad. The last 1500 m would be in cut-and cover in tunnel under the road. (The terrain around Veurne is at sea level, but in the dunes the N8 road is 10-15 m higher). The line would end at a terminal station under Koninklijke Prinslaan, directly adjoining the coastal tram line.
The new line would be 36 km long, station to station, with about 31 km on new alignment. With only two or three intermediate stations, journey time would certainly be under 30 minutes. At Veurne the line would allow interchange with the proposed Adinkerke – Oostende coastal line, itself part of a longer coastal line from Calais to Oostende. That line might run along the dune edge from Adinkerke to Oostduinkerke, rather than through Veurne. In that case, an additional interchange station would be needed on the new Veurne – Koksijde line. Interchange at Veurne is preferable.