Harry Hondius MSc reports on the official completion of railway works at Antwerpen Centraal

IN DECEMBER Belgian infrastructure company Infrabel opened the four platforms at Level -1 at Antwerpen Centraal. Although restoration of the magnificent station building housing the ticket counters and other facilities will not be finished until later this year, the event on December 6 marked the culmination of a huge programme begun in 1988 to remodel the city's rail network and reconstruct the station on four levels (RG 1.04 p28).

Mayor of Antwerpen Patrick Janssens officiated at the ceremony, together with Infrabel Managing Director Luc Lallemand and Executive Board Chairman and CEO of SNCB Marc Descheemaecker.

Originally built in 1905, Antwerpen Centraal is now a magnificent structure that fully justifies the sobriquet of 'railway cathedral'. At the elevated Level +1 are six terminal platforms, and below these is a shopping arcade at Level 0. Next comes Level -1 where four more terminal platforms add much-needed capacity. No less than 18 m below the surface is Level -2 where four through platforms give access to the 3·8 km cross-city tunnel used by the Brussels - Amsterdam Benelux services and trains from Essen, near Roosendaal, to Brussels and Jambes, near Namur. Since December 9 these 400 m long platforms have been used by Thalys trains between Paris and Amsterdam that previously called at Antwerpen Berchem; journey time to Paris from the heart of Antwerpen is now 2 h 7 min (RG 5.07 p250).

Still to be completed is a second entrance to the main station building on the west side closest to the city centre. Total cost of the project was €720m, of which the station works absorbed around €300m.

Services enhanced

Passengers using the new station can look forward to a series of service improvements over the next two or three years. Once the three Bombardier Traxx locomotives that SNCB has leased from Angel Trains are authorised to run on the 35·2 km LGV4, the high speed line linking Antwerpen to HSL-Zuid at the Dutch border, SNCB will launch an hourly shuttle from Centraal to Antwerpen Luchtbal and Noorderkempen. This will be operated by a pair of locos top-and-tailing a set of I11 coaches until mid-2009, by which time sufficient Class 13 locomotives will have been fitted with ETCS Level 2 to allow the Traxx locos to be replaced; Class 13s will run in push-pull mode with one loco per train.

SNCB has leased a further two Traxx locos from HSA in the Netherlands which have been matched with sets of Belgian I11 and Dutch ICM coaches to improve the quality of the Benelux service. These trains will continue to run until HSA's V250 trainsets, now being built by AnsaldoBreda, can enter service - not now expected until the second half of 2009. The timetable envisages that a V250 set will depart Brussels every hour, alternating with Thalys to provide a half-hourly service to and from Amsterdam. The first V250 is expected to begin tests at Velim in the Czech Republic in the first quarter of this year.

Also expected to make an appearance this year is the first refurbished Thalys trainset. During refitting, the Thalys fleet is being equipped with ETCS Level 2, Version 2.3.0, which will permit operation on LGV4. The trains will also be able to use LGV3, which runs from Chenée near Liège to Hammerbrücke near Aachen, and Infrabel is studying whether the Thalys sets and the ICE3 trainsets that work the Brussels - Köln - Frankfurt route will be able to use LGV4 before the second half of 2009.

A new station with 250 m long platforms has been built at Tielen at a cost of €7m, allowing a half-hourly service to run between Antwerpen and Turnhout. The station at Hergenrath on the German border near Aachen has been reopened, but the promised hourly Liège - Verviers - Welkenraedt - Aachen service has not yet materialised as there is no agreement on who should pay the operating subsidy.

  • CAPTION: Four terminal platforms are located at Level -1
  • CAPTION: With a Thalys set at Platform 21 on Level -2, guests inspect the completed station on December 6
  • CAPTION: Taken from the shopping arcade on Level 0, this view shows all three platform levels at Antwerpen Centraal