This high-speed line (HSL) is an alternative for the longer HSL Eindhoven – Sittard, proposed here earlier. It is part of a high-speed corridor from Amsterdam to Aachen, and was originally described in Dutch. This post completes the English-language description of the corridor, which includes the existing Amsterdam – Utrecht line, a new HSL Utrecht – Eindhoven, and a new HSL Sittard – Aachen.
Both alternatives have the same function – to bypass the existing route through Roermond. The longer HSL to Sittard is the shortest option, almost a straight line between Geldrop and Sittard. However, it must pass protected zones in Flanders, and requires a tunnel under Weert. The shorter HSL proposed here follows existing infrastructure, the A2 motorway via Maasbracht. There is a disadvantage in following the motorway: the line might curve too much as it crosses the Maas, so that trains would slow down.
The original proposal suggested the line could be built in two phases, first from Weert to Echt (in black on the map), and then a northern bypass of Weert (in blue). However, the second phase may not be necessary, since there is space for a new curve on the western edge of Weert. In that case additional fast tracks would be needed, through Weert station.
Original version …
Both variants require four-tracking and upgrading of the existing line from Eindhoven to Weert. That is not described further here.
Alignment from Weert to Echt
The HSL would diverge from the existing line east of Weert, before it crosses the Wessem – Nederweert canal. The new line would cut through fields, to join the route of the A2 motorway. In fact, the line follows the 1929 canal, because the motorway was built alongside it. The terrain is level: there are no locks on the canal here.
The new line would fit between the motorway and the canal. For the first 6 km of the shared route, the motorway is right next to the canal, and here the motorway must be relocated. The HSL would take over the current northbound carriageway. There are no road crossings here.
After junction 41, the crossing with the old Napoleonic road (Napoleonsbaan), there is enough space for a railway between motorway and road. The next section of the alignment, which crosses the Maas, has three curves: at junction 41, at Wessem just before the river bridge, and at Maasbracht just after the bridge. There is enough space at junction 41 to accommodate a high-speed curve.
As it crosses the Maas, however, the alignment must fit between the canal, gravel pits, and the two villages of Wessem and Maasbracht. Probably, the HSL must stay within 100 m of the motorway, and so the curves will not allow high speeds as the line pases Wessem and Maasbracht. That will be partly compensated because trains will slow anyway, to climb to the bridge, and then accelerate downhill away from it.
The alignment would allow a station at Maasbracht, only 400 m from the centre of the village. The line here would run directly alongside the motorway, as far as junction 44, and require almost no demolition. A station before the bridge is problematic. It cannot be built at Wessem, because the line climbs and turns. It might be possible at Panheel, further back from the river. To accommodate the station an additional curve would be needed, and in any case, the site (at a brick factory) is too far from the three villages.
If only one station is possible, then there seems little point. Since this line is intended for high-speed long-distance trains, the station would require a separate regional service, in addition to regional services on the existing line. The disadvantages outweigh any benefits for Maasbracht.
From the Maas to Sittard
After Maasbracht, the HSL must cross the A73 motorway, and also pass under three power lines. The alignment must also turn southward, toward the line to Sittard, the Maas Valley line. The upgrading of this line was proposed here earlier, as part of a high-speed corridor along the Maas valley (Venlo – Sittard, in Dutch). The upgrade requires a realignment of the existing curve north of Echt, and that would also allow a junction with a high-speed line from Weert. It keeps the new line clear of the recently built logistics centre, north of Echt.
The new alignment via Maasbracht would end at this junction. From there to Sittard (13 km), the existing line must be upgraded, with four tracks. That should be relatively easy: it consists of two straight sections, with a curve between them. All trains would stop in Sittard, already a railway junction. South of Sittard, trains could continue on the HSL Sittard – Aachen, proposed here earlier. That HSL is not a precondition for any bypass of Roermond, but more capacity on the Sittard – Maastricht line probably is.
All Intercity services from Eindhoven south to Limburg, including future services to Aachen, would use the new cut-off line. The new section of line would be 19 km long. Including the upgraded existing lines, the new route between Weert and Echt would be 25 km long, as against 38 km for the historical route via Roermond. The reduction in journey time will be more significant: trains will be faster than current rolling stock, and the route avoids two stops in Weert and Roermond.
Through Weert or around Weert?
The original Dutch version of this post included a bypass of Weert, to avoid the sharp curve west of Weert station. The bypass would run close to the A2 motorway, but cannot follow it exactly, because it too has relatively sharp curves. It would probably require a tunnel, at the eastern edge of Weert.
If the curve was not so sharp, the new HSL could follow the existing alignment through Weert. Of course trains could also slow down at the curve, but that defeats the purpose of a high speed line. There is sufficient space in Weert for extra tracks. The line here was built as the ‘Iron Rhine’, a transit freight route from Belgium to Germany, which once carried heavy traffic. (The line Eindhoven – Weert was added later: the sharp connecting curve was not a problem at the time.)
It the curve can be improved, that would be easier than bypassing Weert entirely. That might be possible, if the new line diverges from the existing alignment outside Weert, and also at Weert Station.
Click to enlarge…
The new alignment could start about 4 km before Weert Station. It would first turn west, then back east, crossing the existing line twice. It would pass Weert Station on the site of the former goods yard, south of the present platform. It would rejoin the existing alignment about 1 km east of the station. A viaduct is the easiest option, but to reduce noise a tunnel might be preferable.
An alignment through Weert will make little difference to the total length of the route Eindhoven – Sittard. Journey time is saved because trains do not stop at Weert, and run at high speed through the built-up area. (Obviously there is no point in building such a high-speed route, if trains continue to stop at Weert).
The present Eindhoven – Sittard route, via Weert and Roermond, is 78 km long. The new bypass would cut that to 65 km. With no stops, a new middle section built for over 200 km/h, and the existing lines upgraded for 200 km/h, a journey time of 25 minutes is feasible. The present Intercity trains take 46 minutes, with two stops.