Antwerpen's north-south junction will provide a direct connection for both conventional and high speed services to the north of the city

DECEMBER 14 saw the restoration of three more platforms at Antwerpen Centraal station, reinstating some of the capacity lost when work started on the ambitious north-south junction project. All six of the new platforms at the original track level have been available since the end of September, but SNCB's project team used the time until the timetable change to make a few final adjustments.

The inside of the 100-year old trainshed has been completely transformed. Gone are the original 10 platform tracks, now there are three platforms supported on a stylish viaduct structure on each side of a deep light well leading down to low-level platforms. At ground level work will start by mid-2004 on fitting out a new shopping precinct which will open in 2006. Below that will be four more terminal platforms at Level -1. Finally, at Level -2, 18m below ground, will be the four through platforms leading into the double-track cross-city tunnel.

Launched in May 1998, the cross-city project has the twin objectives of shortening the route to the north and increasing capacity at Antwerpen Centraal. Total length of the link is 3·8 km, from the southern approach ramps near Berchem to the junction with the existing northern line at Dam Square. Total cost is put at €755m, of which reconstruction of Antwerpen Centraal accounts for around €300m.

The new platforms at the terminus are around 400m long, and are expected to lift capacity from 30000 to 60000 passengers a day. To handle these extra passengers, a second station entrance is being built in Lange Kievitstraat at the outer end. This will be linked to the historic station building via the pedestrian shopping mall, and will form a catalyst for the city's related programme to renew much of the run-down area east of the railway.

Construction of the new platform supports inside the station was done in two phases, with a switch-over in June 2001. Only when the basic shell was completed in mid-2003 could work start on digging out the well for the deep-level platforms. In parallel with this work, an 80m long approach tunnel was dug from Astrid Square under the historic station building, which was supported on a compensation-grouted concrete raft to prevent subsidence.

The heart of the cross-city link is a pair of 1200m single-track bores with an internal diameter of 7·3m. These were dug by TBM southwards from a worksite at Viséstraat to Astrid Square. The first was excavated between September 2002 and February 2003, after which the TBM was backed out and fitted with a new cutter head to dig the second bore in May to September 2003. The cut-and-cover section under Astrid Square will be completed in 2004-05.

The tunnel will have evacuation shafts at each end, and one in the middle, with cross-passages at 300m intervals. North of Viséstraat the line will rise in cut-and-cover tunnel through Dam Square to meet the existing line just north of the former Antwerpen Dam station. There is a large area of railway land around the junction, including former workshops, which is to be redeveloped as a park and sports area with provision for shops and housing under a separate city project known as Spoor Nord.

The two new tracks will parallel the existing passenger and freight lines for around 1500m across the Albert Canal to Antwerpen Luchtbal, where a new six-platform station is taking shape to act as a public transport interchange for the northern suburbs. Trains have been calling at the completed platforms since September, but it will be another three years before the buildings are ready.

In 2002 SNCB remodelled Berchem station to provide a similar interchange to the south. The city is now opening up a 'green square' to link the station with the nearby tram and bus stops.

Considerable provision is being made for park-and-ride, with 400 spaces at Berchem and further parking space at Luchtbal. Two underground car parks at Centraal will provide 600 and 400 spaces, and remodelling of Astrid Square will eliminate all car traffic to create a pedestrian oasis, with the green space flanked by tram and bus terminals. New underground passages will link the main station with the nearby Astrid and Diamant premetro stations to give a comprehensive interchange.

High speed line north

North of Antwerpen Luchtbal, the north-south junction line and existing routes will meet in a complex of dive-under junctions which will segregate traffic to the docks, the existing line to Roosendaal and the new high speed line to the Netherlands.

On course for completion by the end of 2006, the new line proper starts at Havanastraat, and runs 35·2 km to the Dutch border south of Breda. Costed at €684m, the line is being co-financed by the Dutch government as part of the HSL-Zuid package. For much of its length, the Belgian line parallels the E19 motorway, requiring adjustments to 20 road bridges. The line is to be flanked on one side by noise barriers and on the other by a safety berm to avoid the risk of road vehicles straying onto the tracks.

To minimise land-take through the environmentally-sensitive Peerdsbos forest, a 3·2 km section is being enclosed in a concrete tunnel at a cost of €22·8m. The 17m wide structure has 12 emergency exits and large pressure-relief openings along the motorway side. To be masked in future by planting of shrubs, it will serve as a barrier to reduce the ambient motorway noise by around 10db(A). The roofed structure will also avoid any risk of trees falling on the line as a result of severe weather.

Over €60m has been allocated for other environmental measures, including 6·6 km of noise barriers, 24ha of compensatory forestry, five animal culverts under the line, and a 200m long 'ecoduct' providing a green swathe across both the railway and motorway.

There will be one intermediate station on the Belgian section, serving a park-and-ride and public transport interchange at Brecht. With separate platform loops flanking the fast lines, it will be served by fast IR trains offering a 15min journey to both Antwerpen and Breda. Acting as a railhead for the surrounding area, Brecht is expected to attract around 1 000 passengers a day.

Completion of HSL-Zuid will reduce the journey time for the 166 km from Antwerpen Centraal to Amsterdam to 1h 7min, compared with 2h 1min from Berchem today. Antwerpen - Rotterdam will come down from 1h 3min to just 31min for the 95 km.

  • CAPTION: left: Looking south from Antwerpen Dam station, the cross-city link descends in cut-and-cover to Viséstraat where the bored section starts Photo:Gazet van Antwerpen
  • CAPTION: ABOVE: After diverging from the existing route, the high speed line passes under the A12 interchange and over this road bridge parallel to the E19 motorway
  • CAPTION: A 3·2 km concrete tunnel will carry the high speed line through the sensitive Peerdsbos forest Photos:SNCB
  • CAPTION: Aerial view of Antwerpen Centraal, showing the extended platforms and the site for the second entrance building to the right of the viaduct Photo:Gazet van Antwerpen
  • CAPTION: Following completion of the support structure for the high-level platforms and ground-level shopping centre (centre of photo), work is underway to excavate the two lower platform levels