Revised with new maps: High-speed rail line Maastricht – Aachen.
Revised with new maps: Urban-regional metro Aachen
This proposed high-speed line (HSL) complements the reactivation of the old line Aaachen-Richterich-Simpelveld-Valkenburg-Maastricht, opened 1853 and closed 1992. The reopened line would form part of the proposed urban-regional metro Aachen (S-Bahn Aachen). The HSL would provide a fast service between the city centres: The Aachen urban region has 540 000 inhabitants, with 240 000 in Aachen itself. The city of Maastricht has 122 000 inhabitants. The HSL would also connect to other intercity services from Aachen and Maastricht.
The proposed line makes sense primarily in the context of the proposed high-speed line Hasselt – Maastricht and a high-speed service from Antwerpen to Hasselt. Together, the proposals create a new east-west high-speed route, from Antwerpen to Aachen.
The proposed line uses part of the alignment of the former Limburgsche Tramweg-Maatschappij (LTM), a steam-tram line from Maastricht to Vaals, opened in 1925. East of Gulpen, the new HSL would have a similar alignment to a possible Gulpen – Vaals – Aachen link, an urban-regional line (S-Bahn). Combined construction of both lines would be difficult: the best option is a direct HSL, together with reactivation of the old line Maastricht – Aachen, with urban-regional services via Valkenburg.
The new line would start at Maastricht Station, on the right bank of the Maas (opposite the historic city centre). The high-speed line from Hasselt would approach the station from the north, in tunnel under the Maas.
The proposed HSL from Hasselt…
Maastricht station would need redesign as a through station: at present, it is a terminal station for trains from the north. Immediately south of the station area, the rail line is constricted: the prominent Church of the Sacred Heart blocks expansion of the rail area here. Nevertheless, there is sufficient room for extra tracks, if the road in front of the church is closed. If the new platforms begin at the station building, there is also sufficient room for a grade-separated junction at the south end of the station. The road tunnel Akerstraat / Scharnerweg can probably remain in use.
South of the station, the new line to Aachen would drop into tunnel, and turn east. With the construction of the A2 motorway tunnel through Maastricht, an exit line under the Akersteenweg is no longer possible. The new line would pass under the A2 just as it enters the tunnel section, at the Europaplein junction.
The motorway tunnel entrance under construction: parallel rail line left, sports field right…
It would then pass through Heer, at first in a cut-and-cover tunnel (under the sports field). This neighborhoud consists of an old village street, surrounded by low-rise housing. Because the terrain slopes upward, the line can enter a bored tunnel about 500 m from the motorway, minimizing local demolition. With the southern alignment, in green, a bridge over the motorway might also be possible.
Alternatives for an exit line: basiskaart van Jan-Willem van Aalst, onder CC3.0 licentie…
As it leaves the built-up area of Maastricht, the line would climb 80 m toward the plateau, surfacing just east of Cadier en Keer. The 5-km tunnel would be comparable with the Tunnel de Soumagne at Liège, which has an identical function. (It carries the Liège – Aachen HSL out of the Maas/Meuse valley, to the plateau on the eastern side).
Between Cadier en Margraten, the HSL alignment would approximately parallel the N278, on the south side of the road. The main road climbs about 40 metres, in the 3 km between the two villages. Although the road through Margraten is straight, and just wide enough for a cut-and-cover tunnel, the best option seems to be an alignment south of the built-up area.
Between Margraten and Gulpen, the road falls 70 metres. The old steam tram avoided this slope, by diverging to the south, crossing the Gulp valley on a viaduct at Euverem, and entering Gulpen from the south-west. The new line will not enter Gulpen, but it would use a similar solution. It would cross a descending viaduct near the campsite at Euverem, and cross the Gulp valley. The valley floor is at about 105 m altitude. It would enter a tunnel, under the ridge between the Gulp and Geul valleys.
The line would emerge from tunnel south-west of Partij, and pass south of Partij and Wahlwiller, to rejoin the alignment of the N278. In theory, a single base tunnel is possible, from Maastricht to the Geul valley at Partij. It would be about 15 km long.
From Partij to Vaals, the alignment would be identical to that of the possible Gulpen – Vaals – Aachen link. The constraints are the same, and the best solution is to follow the N278. The line would pass just south of Nijswiller, with a tunnel under the low ridge between Wahlwiller and Nijswiller. It would rejoin the route of the N278, at its junction with the N281.
From here to Vaals, the constraints include a narrow section of the valley (Selzerbeek stream, Senserbach in German), and historical building such as the Benedictine Abbey Benedictusberg and the old centre of Lemiers. The N278 runs in a straight line, the gradient is acceptable: a rail line is possible beside the road, or in some places under the road. The road through Lemiers, which avoids the historic village core, is wide enough for a shallow tunnel.
From Lemiers, the road climbs 40 m up the flank of the valley, in less than 2 km, to the edge of Vaals. The old tram line followed an easier gradient, nearer the Selzerbeek, on the north side of Vaals. For high-speed trains the gradient into Vaals is not a problem, and the line could go in shallow tunnel through the village (thin blue line). The main street does curve in Vaals itself, which might restrict speed.
The alignment in Vaals would also be dependent on the route eastwards, to Aachen Hauptbahnhof (6 km due east). One option is to follow the main road – Vaalser Strasse, Bundesstrasse 1 – at least as far as the junction with the Amsterdammer Ring. The main road dips and curves, as it crosses the Senserbach (barely visible here), and curves again about 400 m east. However, there is enough open space is enough to allow the line to emerge from tunnel, and enter another tunnel (red dotted line), under the houses of Vaalserquartier. Another option is a long tunnel (white dashed line) under the southern half of Vaals, which is about 20-30 m higher than the main road. This tunnel would join the alignment of the freight rail line Aachen – Montzen – although this line does not go to Aachen Hauptbahnhof, and another connecting tunnel would be required
Near the western cemetery (Westfriedhof), the Vaalser Strasse crosses the Aachen – Montzen line. Here, all variants would enter a tunnel – the exact alignment and portal depends on the alignment through Vaals. The tunnel would surface close to the main station (near Weberstrasse). Because of the terrain, the built-up areas, and the crossings with roads and rail lines, a single long tunnel from Vaals might be the best option.
The exit point of the tunnel is a problem, in this densely-built urban area. Aachen Hauptbahnhof also has a restricted location, which could be improved (on the west side), by moving the northern boundary of the track area (red line), and re-aligning some of the tracks (blue lines).
The total length of the line from Maastricht to Aachen would be about 32 km. Although the line is too short for very high speeds, the section Cadier – Vaals could be aligned for 150 km/h to 180 km/h. A journey time of under 20 minutes is certainly feasible.
The ring freight line from Herzogenrath to Stolberg has a winding route via Alsdorf, but it is the only ‘orbital’ or ‘tangential’ line around Aachen region, roughly 12 km from the city centre. The section from Herzogenrath to Alsdorf-Annapark has been reopened for passengers, , as part of the Euregiobahn network. Reopening of the rest of the line for passenger services is planned, but Euregiobahn is a light-rail network with low service frequencies.
The proposal here goes further: a full S-Bahn service, on a shorter and faster route, as part of the proposed urban-regional metro network around Aachen.
It would be a logical extension of the proposed Maastricht – Heerlen – Herzogenrath urban-regional (S-Bahn) line.
The line would turn south-east from the existing line, south of Herzogenrath station – the freight line to Stolberg passes north of Herzogenrath. The exact alignment is not shown here: a tunnel is inevitable, to climb 40 m from the valley of the river Wurm.
The line would pass just north of Bardenberg, and near Gewerbegebiet Weiweg it would join the alignment of the former Aachen-Nord – Jülich line. It would then reach the former station at Würselen, which can be reopened. Here the line met the Kohlscheid – Stolberg freight line, and the S-Bahn would follow that line out of Würselen station. The alignments near Würselen are intact, but partly in use as a ring road (Willy Brandt Ring). In most places, there seems sufficient space for a line next to the road, but the junctions will need reconstruction.
The Aachen-Nord – Jülich line is also a candidate for reopening, as a Euregiobahn line. If it is reopened as a light-rail line, or possibly as an urban tram, then Würselen would be an interchange station.
After Würselen, the S-Bahn line would serve a reopened Weiden Station, and then follow the original alignment of the Kohlscheid – Stolberg line. This section (still in use) was re-routed in 1939 for construction of the Autobahn to Aachen. The later Autobahnkreuz Aachen (A4 / A44) was built on the old alignment, but only a short tunnel is needed to restore it.
Close to the main Aachen – Köln line, the S-Bahn line would join the alignment of the freight line from Herzogenrath, into Stolberg station. In any case, there is also an older alignment on the north side of the main line, which could take the S-Bahn to Stolberg Hbf, without any shared track (orange line). The ‘Hauptbahnhof’ has a peripheral location, but it is on the main line, and it is the interchange point for the local line through Stolberg (originally part of the Vennbahn).
The new S-Bahn line would terminate at Stolberg, about 11 km from Herzogenrath. The logical service pattern is an extension of the proposed Maastricht – Heerlen – Herzogenrath service, creating a long orbital line relative to Aachen.