New Laurensberg tunnels in Aachen

The proposed urban-regional metro Aachen (S-Bahn) would increase traffic on the rail line into Aachen, from the north. A city-centre tunnel is essential: the existing line into Aachen Hauptbahnhof curves around the historic city centre. It could not be widened without substantial demolition – and there is no point in that, because the alignment itself is so bad.

Click to enlarge: the proposed central Aachen tunnel, with Vaals branch…

However, even with a new central tunnel, there would still be capacity problems on the Aachen – Mönchengladbach line through Laurensberg and Richterich. The line has several curves – partly because of the topography, but also because it was re-routed in 1910. Just north of the former Richterich station, there was a junction with the former Maastricht – Aachen line. The junction, the curves, and the line on viaduct through Laurensberg, make 4-tracking difficult.

Here, new tunnels are considered, to increase capacity on the line. One has been proposed already: a tunnel under the ridge at Laurensberg, for the proposed high-speed line Sittard – Aachen.

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This tunnel is not compatible with use by other services. However, a second tunnel on a similar alignment could carry two proposed regional metro lines:

The second Laurensberg tunnel would not be used by the proposed second Aachen – Heerlen line via Kerkrade. That line would use a new link from Kohlscheid around Kerkrade, or possibly under central Kerkrade.

Click to enlarge: the future lines through Richterich and Laurensberg, regional metro in orange…

Proposed 'S-Bahn Aachen' lines to the north

Both the HSL tunnel and the regional metro tunnel, would start at the north end of the former goods yard Aachen-West. The topography is the same for both. First there is a shallow valley, used by the ring road (Pariser Strasse), then a slight ridge with the IKA vehicle test track. This test facility is the northern tip of the RWTH (Technical University) campus.

The line would cross a second deeper valley (Wildbach), with some historic farms and mills. The new line would cross it on viaduct, and then dive into the slope on the other side. (The existing line bends 60° here, to avoid this slope). The new line would climb in tunnel, to the plateau above, emerging between Bocholtz and Vetschau.

The alignment as a whole is approximately level. However, it could dip or climb locally, to minimize environmental impact on the surface. The most sensitive area is the Wildbach valley, but the existing line effectively minimizes impact, by crossing it on a high viaduct.

The HSL tunnel would join the alignment of the motorway (A4 in Germany, A76 in the Netherlands). It has no stations, so it would take the shortest route. The regional metro tunnel could bend more to the east, allowing a new Laurensberg station, where the tunnel crosses the Orsbacher Strasse. However, the station would be in relatively deep tunnel (20-30 m), and at the edge of Laurensberg anyway. The disadvantages outweigh its benefits.

The two tunnels would therefore have similar alignments, possibly next to each other. All variants are about 2500-3500 m long, from the freight yard to the northern tunnel portal. Close to Vetschau, possibly between Vetschau and the A4, the regional metro line would split. One line would run along the east side of the A4, toward Avantis and Heerlen, the other would join the old Maastricht alignment, outside Bocholtz.

Click to enlarge: regional metro tunnel at Laurensberg, with two possible variants shown…

New Aachen regional metro tunnels

This solution would segregate traffic on the regional metro lines from Heerlen and Maastricht, from traffic from Herzogenrath. An alternative option is to use the existing line through Richterich for the regional metro, and re-route other traffic from Herzogenrath and Mönchengladbach.

This ‘ Richterich bypass tunnel’ would start at the northern edge of Richterich, where the rail line crosses the Amstelbach. It would drop into a cutting, pass under the Horbacher Strasse, and then enter a tunnel. The tunnel would emerge, like the others, on the side of the Wildbach valley, which the line would cross on viaduct. Like the other options, it would join the existing line, at the former freight yard.

The variant shown is curved extra to the west, to minimize impact on housing in Laurensberg. The tunnel might also dip downward, for the same reason. (The terrain rises about 25 m, from the Amstelbach to the schools at Laurensberg). The option shown passes the former Karl Friedrich Mine, but the old mine workings are far deeper.

Click to enlarge: Richterich bypass tunnel…

Bypass tunnel for traffic to/from Herzogenrath

The Richterich bypass alignment would be about 3800 – 4000 m long, almost all in tunnel. Together with a 4-track section through Kohlscheid, this option would keep all trains from Herzogenrath clear of the regional metro lines. They would however, all pass Aachen-West, which would be used as an interchange station.

New Laurensberg tunnels in Aachen

Three-line tram network in Aachen

This proposed tram network for Aachen complements the proposed urban-regional metro Aachen (S-Bahn Aachen). It generally uses the routes of the former Aachen tram network, which finally closed in 1974.

Click to enlarge: the proposed regional metro lines in central Aachen, with Vaals branch…

Reopening of tram lines in Aachen has been an issue in local politics for some years. Until recently, that was seen in the context of Euregiobahn services. The initiative STADTBAHN-jetzt! proposed its extension to central Aachen, with dual-system or diesel vehicles. The lines proposed here are urban tram lines, and not compatible with the Euregiobahn vehicles (or its low frequency).

More recently the Initiative AC-Bahn presented a plan for a 2-line tram network (central line with 4 branches). Three are identical to lines proposed here, which is inevitable since they are former tram routes. The other is a new tram alignment to the Melaten campus of the RWTH (Aachen Technical University). The campus will be expanded with a science park, and a second campus built on the old Aachen freight station. The RWTH also retains its city-centre buildings. It initially supported a people-mover to link the three zones, the CampusBahn project. However, as the city’s press release explains:

Ein People-Mover-System hätte zwar die entsprechenden Leistungskapazitäten, hier sind jedoch die sehr hohen Investitions- und Betriebskosten nicht tragbar.

So it was downgraded to a tram. The press release calls it a ‘Stadtbahn’, but the detailed studies show a tram (Strassenbahn).

The Aachener Verkehrsverbund (AVV) now proposes extensions of the CampusBahn, from the city centre. Again they are almost identical to the Initiative AC-Bahn proposals: these are old tram lines, and the old rail alignment to Würselen.

The AVV proposals for extension of the CampusBahn line…

The CampusBahn line is not included in the tram proposals here, because the proposed S-Bahn Aachen includes a new line to Vaals, via the Melaten campus. The station would be at the Klinikum (academic hospital), at the south end of the large campus, and it would not exclude an additional tram line. The officially planned CampusBahn might run into the city centre, and it might be extended. However it is not conceived as a network, and that is what is proposed here.

The proposed tram network would consist of 6 radial branches outside the city centre, operated as 3 lines. They would follow historic main roads out of the city, which take their name from their destination. One line would run north-west to south-east, from Roermonder Strasse to Trierer Strasse (A to D). Other branches would run on the Vaalser Strasse (B), the Jülicher Strasse (E), and the Krefelder Strasse (F). Only the line to Colynshof (C) would not use a major exit road: it would leave the city centre via Mozartstrasse. Branch B and C would be linked to E and F, but the best combination depends on traffic flows.

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Basic tram network in Aachen

The main problem for trams in Aachen, is the steep gradients on some streets – the city is located at the edge of the Eifel mountains. For instance, the alignment Sandkaulstrasse – Krefelder Strasse is a logical route out of the centre, but probably too steep for trams. An alternative is an existing bus route (34, 51) to the Krefelder Strasse, via the Passstrasse.

Another alternative for a line along the Krefelder Strasse, is a tram line along the old rail line from Aachen-Nord – Jülich, at least as far as Würselen. Part of the line is in use as an industrial siding: a tram line would not prevent that, but it would be incompatible with regional rail services on the remaining section, to Jülich itself. (The AC-Bahn proposal includes an unspecified connection from this rail line, to the tram network).

In the city centre there would be two alignments, crossing at the existing bus station (Bushof). The line from the Roermonder Strasse would run via the Malteserstrasse and Wüllnerstrasse, to avoid the narrow Pontstrasse and the old city gate (Ponttor). Via Hirschgraben and and Seilgraben, it would reach the bus station. (This alignment is compatible with the CampusBahn line, which enters the centre via Intzestrasse and Wüllnerstrasse).

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Tram route around Ponttor

The tram would leave the centre via the Stiftstrasse, crossing a pedestrianised zone, and then passing the Adalbert church. The other line in the centre would run via Kapuzinergraben and Peterstrasse.

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Tram routes in central Aachen

The alignment from Kapuzinergraben to Colynshof, via Goethestrasse and Kaiser Friedrich Allee, is relatively level (it partly follows a stream). This is a former tram route anyway. The line to Vaals would run via Alexianergraben, Löhergraben and Karlsgraben, and then make a right-angle turn into the Lochnerstrasse. Like the old tram line, this alignment avoids the steep gradient at the beginning of Vaalser Strasse, especially under the railway bridge.

The line from the Adalbert-Kirche would continue along Adalbertsteinweg, and then Triererstrasse. This road begins to rise after Rothe Erde station: over the whole route the gradient is about 2%, but it is locally steeper. Nevertheless, the old tram line ran all the way to Brand, and so does the line proposed by AC-Bahn.

Eulersweg is the logical terminus for the line along the Krefelder Strasse, at the edge of the continuous built-up area and just before the Autobahn A4. The line via Jülicher Strasse would end in the centre of the village of Haaren, or again at the A4.

Apart from local gradients, there are no major technical or planning issues for this tram network in Aachen. The streets are wide enough, and no major new infrastructure is required. Another possible line, along the west side of the city centre (Wilhelmstrasse) and via Burtscheid to Steinebrück, would raise planning issues. This is a former tram route, but the Burtscheider Markt and Kapellenstrasse are now pedestrianised (and gentrified), so there would be local opposition to the return of the tram.

Aachen once had 11 radial tram lines (and a trolleybus line). They ran along all the main roads out of the city. There is clearly great potential for expansion, from the basic network suggested here.

Three-line tram network in Aachen