Four tracks Sittard – Maastricht

A four-track-section from Sittard would complete a high-speed route into Maastricht, from Amsterdam and possibly from Nijmegen. The high-speed lines (HSL) from Utrecht to Eindhoven and its extension from Eindhoven to Sittard, and a HSL south to Liège, were described here earlier. This is an English-language version of the original post, with additional information for those not familiar with the Dutch network.

Overview Maastricht - Sittard

 
The existing line is double-track and electrified, but could not carry the extra traffic, and the alignment is unsuitable for high speeds. Additional traffic from a re-opened line to Aachen would also require reconstruction of the line out of Maastricht.

The existing railway was built in 1865, and its alignment is determined by the terrain. From Roermond to Sittard, the main line runs parallel to the river Maas. At Sittard, the South Limburg plateau begins, and the terrain slopes upwards. Another 10 km further south, the plateau is about 70 m above the floor of the Maas valley. The boundary between the plateau and the flood plain is a wooded escarpment.

The railway out of Sittard is aligned toward Maastricht, climbing slowly with the terrain. However, after Beek the plateau slope is too steep, and the line turns west to the Maas. For 8 km, between Elsloo and Bunde, the line is built on the escarpment itself. At Bunde it drops back to the Maas valley floor. After crossing the smaller river Geul, the line runs straight toward Maastricht station.

New plateau line

The line between Sittard and Beek is straight, and can easily be upgraded, with two extra tracks. Two new stations could be added in Geleen.

A new line can then do what was not possible in 1865: climb over the plateau. That is what the A2 motorway does, and it has the additional benefit of serving Maastricht Aachen Airport. The new line would be used exclusively by high-speed trains, that can climb steeper gradients. A tunnel would still be necessary at Bunde, where the line would drop 60 m, to rejoin the existing line. The junction would be just north of the river Geul, and from there the old line would be four-tracked.

This is not a true high-speed line (HSL), because it is only 20 km from Sittard to Maastricht via the plateau. It should however allow high speeds for through trains. The line passes the airport terminal, and obviously a station there is possible, but if all trains stop, there will be very little time gained. The future of the airport itself is in doubt, since like many smaller regional airports it is dependent on subsidy. (If there was no airport station, a long tunnel under the plateau would be an option).

Assuming that the new line serves the airport, then it would start north of Beek-Elsloo station, near the circular shopping centre Makado. It would first drop to pass under the A2 motorway, then climb again, staying as close to the motorway as possible to avoid a hill. With a cutting it should be possible to avoid a tunnel here, the climb is about 40 m.

Beek: base map by Jan-Willem van Aalst, CC4 licence

Beek-airport HSL

 
Nearing motorway junction 50 there is another steeper slope, but the line would pass under the junction in a short tunnel anyway. The line could cross the motorway here: the airport is on the eastern side. The airport station could be on either side of the motorway, however, since the terminal is close by.

South of the airport, the motorway is split into two separate roads. Both are suitable alignments for a rail line, but the line must drop into tunnel here anyway. The airport is at 110 m elevation, the Geul valley floor below the plateau is at 45 m. On the images, the edge of the plateau is visible as an irregular forested strip.

Bunde Meerssen

 
At the Geul river, the new line would rejoin the old line. About 1500 m further is the junction with the line from Valkenburg (originally from Aachen). The existing layout into Maastricht consists of two parallel double-track lines, the Sittard line and the Valkenburg line. The new P+R station Maastricht-Noord only has platforms on the Valkenburg tracks.

What is needed is a four-track line into Maastricht, with separate fast and slow tracks. It must have at least one grade-separated junction, probably two – at the Geul river, and at the new station. A four-track layout will make it easier to add another new station at Limmel – a more logical site, between two residential areas. Finally, the sharp curve approaching the main Maastricht station, must also be improved, although the options options here are limited.

Northern Maastricht: base map by Jan-Willem van Aalst, CC4 licence

Limmel

 
The present Intercity takes 14 minutes for the Sittard – Maastricht journey. With a stop at the airport, even high-speed trains will not take less then 10 minutes for the 20-km journey. However, the new line is also intend to increase capacity. On the existing line, the four new stations would be served by a regional metro. Stations are also possible at Elsloo village, and at Geulle (the old station there closed in 1945).

Base tunnel?

The airport station determines the alignment of a surface line over the plateau. Without an airport station, the new line does not need to be on the plateau anyway: it can use a ‘base tunnel’ from Beek to Bunde. The long tunnel would also start just north of Beek-Elsloo station, with a junction at the Makado shopping centre, at about 75 m elevation. It would pass under the road to Elsloo village (Stationsweg), and dive into the hillside behind the road.

Tunnel Elsloo Bunde

 
The tunnel would emerge in the sports fields at Bunde, at about 65 m elevation. The line would then follow the A2 motorway, on viaduct, to the existing line. To avoid a sharp curve here, the junction would be about 2 km further on, about 1000 m from Maastricht-Noord station.

The new line would be about 10 km long, of which 7 km in bored tunnel under plateau. With no airport station, and an almost straight and level tunnel, journey time Sittard – Maastricht should be about 8 minutes (average speed 154 km/h).

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Four tracks Sittard – Maastricht

Regional rail line Hasselt – Maastricht

The railway between the town of Hasselt and the city of Maastricht was closed to passengers in 1954. Both have grown since then, and although still smaller, Hasselt (75 000 inhabitants) has become an important regional centre. A planned regional tram would use part of the old railway line, but the project has been delayed. The two cities are 30 km apart, so an intensive regional rail service is a better option.

Click to enlarge…

bilzen-line-regional

 
A high-speed line (HSL) between Hasselt and Maastricht was proposed here earlier. It is intended as part of a European high-speed corridor from Antwerpen to Aachen, not as a regional line. The proposed alignment would not exclude a regional service. With four tracks out of Hasselt, it could create additional capacity for regional trains, and some additional stations.

HSL Hasselt – Maastricht…

hsl-hasselt-maastricht

 
The old rail route to Maastricht consists of Belgian Line 34, from Hasselt to Bilzen (14 km), and the disused Line 20 from Bilzen to Maastricht (17 km). It was built as a single line in 1856: the junction at Bilzen was added later. The present ‘Line 34’ turns south there: it is part of a freight route to Germany, the Montzen route. (Confusingly, the junction at Bilzen is called ‘Beverst Junction’, although that village is further west).

The old Line 20 runs from Bilzen toward Maastricht. More accurately, it runs east to Lanaken, and then turns south-east to Maastricht. It passes through the villages of Munsterbilzen and Eigenbilzen, and then crosses the Albert Canal at Gellik.

The overgrown track at the edge of Bilzen…

rand-bilzen

 
In Lanaken, the line crosses the Briegden – Neerhalen Canal, turning toward Maastricht. It passes industrial areas in Maastricht itself, and then crosses the river Maas / Meuse, into Maastricht Station. The line is not entirely abandoned: a 6-km section from Maastricht was re-opened, for freight to the Sappi paper plant at Lanaken.

The planned regional tram will not share the tracks of Line 34 with heavy freight trains. Instead, it will run on-street in Hasselt, on new track through the university campus, and then alongside Line 34 through Diepenbeek and Beverst. From the junction at Bilzen, the tram will use the old Line 20 to Maastricht. However, trams will leave the old railway for a short on-street section in Lanaken, and again inside Maastricht, to serve the historic city centre.

Regional rail instead of tram

The rail line from Hasselt to Bilzen runs in an almost straight line, through flat terrain (the valley of the Demer river). The proposed HSL to Maastricht certainly requires four tracks here, but they might be built parallel to the existing line. In that case, an additional track for freight trains might be necessary, but a more logical option is to re-route the freight traffic entirely.

The station at Diepenbeek was reopened in the 1990’s, but present services are inadequate. It is too far from the Diepenbeek university campus, to effectively serve it. In fact, no station on the Maastricht line can effectively serve the campus, but that is not necessary. The station should serve Diepenbeek itself, which has a population of 18 000 (municipality). Note that the planned tram line through the campus could be built anyway – terminating at Diepenbeek Station. There is also a possible alternative rail service: re-routing the Genk – Hasselt line across the Albert Canal, with a campus station.

uhasselt-bokrijk

 
With intensive services, the new regional rail line to Maastricht might also justify an additional station at the eastern edge of Hasselt, at Singelbeek. It would also permit re-opening of the station at Beverst (5000 inhabitants).

At Bilzen, trains would use a new grade-separated junction, onto Line 20. The old line would not only be re-opened, but double-tracked and electrified. Bilzen itself is south of the line, so there was never a station here. Although the town has expanded, there is no good station site, so trains would simply run through from Beverst to Munsterbilzen.

At Munsterbilzen (population 4000), the old station site is well located, just south of the village core. With an underpass for the N730, a new station can easily be built here. East of Munsterbilzen, the terrain is no longer flat, and and the line crosses some stream valleys. It passes through Eigenbilzen in cutting: the central location of the old station would justify re-opening, even with only 2200 inhabitants.

bilzen-munsterbilzen

 
The original alignment between Eigenbilzen and Lanaken disappeared, when the Albert Canal was cut in the 1930’s. The railway was rerouted along the south bank, with a new bridge at Gellik, 2 km east of Lanaken. The canal narrows under the bridge, and it is on a S-bend: it should be replaced by a new double-track bridge.

Lanaken is the largest town on the line (population 25 000). The old station was at the south-western corner of the built-up area. For the planned tram line, the main road N78 would be relocated, and the tram would stop on what is now the road, about 700 m east of the old station. A new rail station could also be located here, where the line turn to cross the Briegden – Neerhalen Canal.

lanaken

 
South of this canal, there would a station at Smeermaas, between a new industrial zone and the old village. The terrain slopes down to the river Maas here, and the line crosses the main road into Maastricht by an overbridge. It then runs alongside a lateral canal, the Zuid-Willemsvaart. If Line 20 was converted to a tram line, this section alongside the canal could be shared with the proposed regional tram line Roermond – Maaseik – Maastricht. If Line 20 is a rail line, then the tram can simply use the road, on the other side of the canal.

However, this is not an optimal alignment anyway. At the edge of Maastricht, the line crosses the road on a sharp curve, then climbs to cross the river Maas on a single-track bridge. The bridge has a lifting section because it obstructs shipping, but it can not be upgraded, because the approach is itself under a road viaduct.

noorderbrug-mastricht

 
This section can be replaced by a new alignment on viaduct, with a new bridge just south of the Borgharen lock/sluice complex. The viaduct would start at Smeermaas: it would cross the main road, the Zuid-Willemsvaart, and then the Maas. It would pass through a redevelopment zone (Trega), and over the inner ring road, to descend to the platforms at Maastricht Station. The exact alignment would depend on planned redevelopment here. The new viaduct would be as long the line it replaced, but it would allow higher speeds, and avoid a busy level crossing: two variants are shown.

borgharen-viaduct

 
The viaduct is compatible with the exit tunnel of the proposed HSL. In theory, the HSL could also exit Maastricht station on such a viaduct, but a shared alignment would limit service frequencies on both lines.

With a fully upgraded line and new trains, the new Hasselt – Maastricht service should offer a journey time of just under 30 minutes, even with 6 or 7 intermediate stations. Service frequency should be at least 4 trains per hour: a 10-minute interval would be preferable.

Regional rail line Hasselt – Maastricht

Stations Gronsveld en De Heeg

De spoorlijn Maastricht – Liège heeft duidelijk geen prioriteit voor de betrokken overheden – Nederland, België, Wallonië, en de Provincie Limburg. Hier werd een forse opwaardering van de lijn voorgesteld, tot regionale metrolijn Maastricht – Liège. De lijn ontstaat door de Belgische Lijn 40 door Visé te koppelen aan Lijn 34 aan de westkant van de Maas, via de Ile Monsin. De trein uit Maastricht rijdt dan langs het stadscentrum (Gare Liège-Palais) naar het hoofdstation Liège Guillemins. De route is logisch, en ook korter.

Lijn via Ile Monsin…

monsin-link

 
In dat verband zijn nieuwe stations denkbaar, tussen Maastricht en Visé. Een regionale metro veronderstelt een hoge frequentie, en zowel rond Liège als ten zuiden van Maastricht is dat te rechtvaardigen. Hier wordt echter niet ingegaan op de lijnvoering, en ook niet op de techniek (twee stroomsystemen), of de mogelijkheid van een HSL Maastricht – Liège.

Tussen Maastricht en Eijsden waren er vroeger drie haltes: Heer, Maarland en Gronsveld. Eén nieuw station is bijgekomen, vlak bij de voormalige halte Heer – Maastricht Randwyck, naast congrescentrum MECC en het Academisch Ziekenhuis. Denkbaar zijn een tweede station binnen de bebouwde kom, (tussen de nieuwbouwwijken Heugem en De Heeg), en heropening van een station bij Gronsveld. Het dorpje Maarland is echter te klein om een station te rechtvaardigen.

Plattelandslijn in 1901: basiskaart van Uni Greifswald, met enkele Duitse plaatsnamen…

Maastricht-Visé-1901

 
Station Gronsveld werd in 1951 gesloten. Het dorp is sindsdien gegroeid, met 3100 inwoners, en het kleinere Rijckholt ligt op fietsafstand. Nadeel is dat het station altijd buiten het dorp lag – inmiddels in een bedrijfsterrein, en van het dorp gescheiden door de snelweg A2. De lage onderdoorgang is niet echt geschikt voor voetgangers en fietsers, en moet verbeterd worden.

Gronsveld: basiskaart van Jan-Willem van Aalst, CC3.0 licentie

station-Gronsveld

 
Bij de aanleg van een HSL Maastricht – Liège, wordt de lijn hier viersporig. Dat belemmert de aanleg van een station niet, maar het oude stationsgebouw moet waarschijnlijk wijken.

Station De Heeg

In het zuiden van Maastricht, zijn twee nieuwbouwwijken zijn gebouwd met de rug naar de spoorlijn en snelweg. Heugem is gebouwd om een oude dorpsstraat vlak bij de Maasoever, met een bedrijfsterrein tussen woonwijk en spoorlijn. De Heeg is een jaren-70 nieuwbouwijk met aan de westkant een geluidswal aan de A2.

De brug tussen de twee is de enige geschikte stationslocatie. In De Heeg liggen het winkelcentrum en bijna alle woningen op loopafstand, maar vanuit Heugem moeten vooral de fietsroutes verbeterd worden. Een fietstunnel aan de zuidkant van het station (in groen), kan beide wijken beter daarop aansluiten.

Gronsveld: basiskaart van Jan-Willem van Aalst, CC3.0 licentie

Heugem-Heeg

 
Met de huidige uurdienst (van de Belgische Spoorwegen) is een station hier zinloos. Een regionale metrolijn zou hogere frequenties bieden, en reizen zonder overstap naar stations ten noorden van Maastricht. Denkbaar is bijvoorbeeld een lijn Maastricht – Liège in combinatie met een lijn Eijsden – Heerlen, of Eijsden – Sittard.

Stations Gronsveld en De Heeg