The TGV is a "hot" item in Europe. When the High Speed Train (HST) proved to be a success in both France and Germany, a small country lying between these two big economical powers - Belgium - decided to connect France and Germany by high speed lines, connecting several Belgian cities to the network as well. In the east of the country, in the Ardennes, the construction of this high speed line is most complicated, but has nevertheless entered its final phase. This page is dedicated to a great high speed project in that region, where the public was invited to have a look at the 24th of September 2005.
|Belgium, a country located north of France, west of Germany and south of the Netherlands, is a country that is well known for it's industry and extensive infrastructure. The highway network of this country is extremely dense and so is the railroad network. The choice for constructing a High Speed Line (HSL) was quite a logical step. In 1987 the French and Belgian government agreed to the construction of the LGV Nord Europe, which should connect (as a part of the project) Paris with Brussels, the two capital cities of France and Belgium respectively.
Once this line was finished in 1997, it proved to be a tremendous success. A new company - Thalys - was founded as a collaboration between the French, German, Belgian and Dutch railway enterprises, to connect Paris with Brussels (Belgium), Amsterdam (The Netherlands) and Cologne (Germany). This arrowed triangle is also often called PBKA (Paris, Bruxelles, Köln, Amsterdam), an abbreviation also used to identify Thalys trainsets.
With the LGV Nord Europe, the connection between Paris and Brussels was completed. But for the connections to the norht (Amsterdam) and to the east (Cologne/Köln), the High Speed Trains (HST) still had to run over existing railway lines, allowing only regular speeds between 100 and 140 km/h. Clearly, the situation should be improved in the near future. That is why the Belgian government decided to construct three supplementary HSL's on Belgian soil:
Antwerp - Dutch border, Leuven - Bierset and Vaux-sous-Chèvremont - German border.
|Digging in the East
|In the East of Belgium, an important industrial city is located, called Liège. The city is well-known throughout the world for its industrial importance in the past. Three times the World Fair was held in the city (1905, 1930 and 1939). But after World War II, Liège lost much of its industrial importance, due to the damages during the war and the high costs of transporting industrial supplies to the city. It resulted into a drastic decay of the city with high levels of unemployment. The Belgian (in this case the Walloon) government was forced to do something about it. But it was not that simple. The industrial existence of the city was ruined and the inhabitants were not suited for other types of work. Finally, in the eighties and nineties the city regained much of its former importance by using its international location near to the Dutch and German border and turned more to service industries. With connecting the city to the High Speed Network of Europe, Belgium hopes that Liège will be able to recover completely and become prosperous again.
After the HSL between Leuven and Bierset (or rougly speaking between Brussels and Liège) was finished in 2003-2004, the HSL constructors turned eastwards, to the section between Vaux-sous-Chèvremont (next to Liège) and the German border. This LGV is a part of the connection between Liège and Cologne (Köln). This section is not very long - around 40 km - but is a difficult one. The terrain is not suited to construct a HSL here, due to the hilly terrain of the Ardennes (or more precisely the Herve-region). It meant that the infrastructure should be made with a large tunnel and several viaducts.
This page will primarily focus on this tunnel, called the Tunnel de Soumagne, which runs from Vaux-sous-Chèvremont to Ayeneux. The tunnel is 6,5 km long as passes under three major chains of hills (Fléron, Soumagne and Ayeneux). In 2001, Belgium started the construction of this tunnel and now - in 2005 - the tunnel itself is finished. The tunnel climbs on a regular 1,7%. The tunnel's construction allows the TGV (France) and ICE (Germany) to pass through the tunnel at 200 km/h. The HSL between Liège and the German border should be operational in 2007. Nowadays Belgium is busy finalizing the viaducts further on the line and to install the railroad tracks, overhead wires and signalizing.
VISITING THE TUNNEL DE SOUMAGNE - 24 SEPTEMBER 2005
The pictures on the right of this article (which can be enlarged with a description by clicking on them) are taken during the visit of the construction site at the 24th of September 2005. InfraBel, the construction company and the Belgian Railways invited the public to have a look at the tunnel. Primarily this visit was intended for local residents, giving them a chance to have a look at this major construction project in their region.
Although the organisation counted on 10.000 visitors, more than 15.000 came to visit the tunnel, including many people from quite far away, including people from the Netherlands, Germany and even from France. In the morning the opportunity was given to walk or cycle through the tunnel from Vaux-sous-Chèvremont towards the other end, 6.5 km eastwards. In the afternoon program, visitors were given the opportunity to take a bus which drove through the tunnel (and then back again over the normal roads). The CR-Corporation was present during this event and the pictures therefore include also images with busses, which sometimes can give the idea that it's not a railway tunnel but a normal traffic tunnel. The railway tracks are not installed yet, so cars and busses can drive over the concrete floor.
It is for this reason that the public was invited at this date. Very soon the tracks will be installed and then visits are no longer possible (also for security reasons). Anyway it was an interesting and nice occasion to drive slowly through a tunnel, thinking that the great High Speed Trains will run through the same tunnel, 1.5 years from know at 200 km/h.