Revised with new maps: High-speed line Liège – Hasselt.
Revised with new maps: HSL Maastricht – Liège.
Revised with new maps: Urban-regional metro Maastricht – Liège.
A new high-speed line (HSL) between Liège and Charleroi, would form part of a possible HSL Liège – Paris via Valenciennes. That would create a second high-speed route between the Rhein-Ruhr region and Paris, via Aachen, and a high-speed axis in Wallonia. This project is known as the ‘Nouvelle Dorsale Wallonne’, and although it has regional support in Wallonia, it has no priority at federal level in Belgium. The existing high-speed line Brussels – Aachen – Köln (HSL 2), passes through Wallonia, but only serves Liège.
The urban centres of Wallonia (population 3,5 million) are concentrated on an east-west axis, most prominently along the rivers Sambre and Meuse (Maas). This axis, the dorsale Wallonne, is served by Belgian lines 125 and 130B between Liège and Charleroi. The rail axis then leaves the main river valleys, and extends further via line 112 and line 118 to Mons, and via line 97 and line 78 to Tournai. Line 97 once extended to Valenciennes, but was closed at the border
At Antoing, south of Tournai, there is a connection to the high-speed line Brussels – Paris – the LGV1 in Belgium, and LGV Nord in France. There is a direct train Liège – Paris via this route, but it is easier to travel via Brussels. (The classic rail route from Liège to Paris was via Aulnoye).
So there is no point in a new high-speed line, if it only connects Liège to Paris. It would shorten the journey, but no more than that. Preferably, but a new line should connect more cities, and strengthen regional links in Wallonia. (The Antoing connection would remain in use for trains to Lille, and possibly London).
The HSL alignment
The new route would include: a HSL Liège – Charleroi parallel to the rivers Meuse and Sambre, a HSL bypass south of La Louvière, upgrading to HSL of line 97 Mons – Valenciennes, and a HSL along the E19 motorway, connecting to the LGV Nord. Only the Liège – Charleroi HSL is considered here. Its alignment is not described in detail, because it would follow the E42 / A15 motorway, on the plateau above the valleys.
Trains to the new line would depart from the new Liège Guillemins station, already served by Paris – Brussels – Köln high-speed trains. The city of Liège has a population of under 200 000, the agglomeration about 600 000. The urban region is the third largest in Belgium, after Brussels and Antwerp.
Trains would climb out of the valley, along the main line to Brussels (Line 36) – this steep section was originally an inclined plane. At the edge of the city, at Ans station, the new line would diverge, in tunnel, toward the airport.
The HSL would follow the north side of the A15 motorway, passing Liège Airport at Bierset. The passenger terminal is only 200 m from the motorway, so station location is no problem. (This is mainly a freight airport, however, with only 300 000 passengers annually). From the airport, the HSL would simply follow the motorway westwards, through open country, at about 100 – 120 m above the valley floor. (In some places, the alignment would diverge from the motorway, to allow higher speeds).
At Namur, the line would cross a possible future HSL Brussels – Luxembourg (shown in blue on the map). An interchange station at Daussoulx is possible, in the fields beside a motorway junction. However, these isolated ‘gares des betteraves’ have no planning logic, and attract few passengers. It would be more logical to link the HSL to the existing main line Namur – Brussels (Line 161), at Rhisnes. A high-speed link into Namur from the east is probably unnecessary. Because trains would climb to the plateau, and descend again, this option has few advantages over the existing 60-km line from Liège.
West of Namur, the new HSL would descend to the Sambre valley, to serve central Charleroi. This would require a tunnel of 3-4 km, perhaps to the freight yard at Châtelet, 8 km from the city centre. From there, four tracks are available to Charleroi-Sud, the main station of Charleroi. The city has a population of 200 000, the agglomeration about 300 000 to 400 000, depending on definition.
The limited official planning for the Nouvelle Dorsale Wallonne suggests it would avoid Charleroi, and follow the motorway north of the city. It would have a link line to a new station at Charleroi airport, which would also be connected to the main Brussels line. That might be good for the airport, which brands itself as “Brussels South”. However, it does not make sense for a regional HSL: passengers for Charleroi would have to change trains at the airport.
Routing the high-speed line into Charleroi-Sud has consequences, for it alignment west of Charleroi: it would pass south of La Louvière. That line is not considered here. At Charleroi-Sud, the HSL would connect to another possible HSL, from Brussels. (Unlike the HSL via Namur, this line is not intended to continue further south, but primarily as a link between Brussels and Charleroi).
The line Liège – Charleroi would be about 95 km long, station to station, with about 15 km on upgraded existing lines. Journey time should be about 35 minutes. Given the function of the line as a regional transversal, all trains would continue toward Mons, Valenciennes and Paris, or to Lille.