THIS SUMMER marks a key stage in Belgian Railways' ambitious project to rebuild Liège Guillemins station, with the demolition of the old station buildings. The reconstruction is due to be completed by December 2008 in time for the opening of the Chênée - Hammerbrücke high speed line, the final link in the upgrading of the Brussels - Aachen - Köln route.

Serving the country's third-largest city, the station is currently used by around 35 000 passengers/day. The reconstruction is being undertaken by Euro Liège TGV, a special-purpose vehicle in which SNCB holds a 75% stake. As well as improving passenger facilities, the railway's main objectives were to straighten the tracks through the station and simplify the layout. Parking spaces for 800 cars are being provided, with direct links to the station and access to the E25 and E40 motorways. Total cost of the project is now estimated at €420m, of which half is for the railway infrastructure changes and half for the building works.

Spanish-born architect Santiago Calatrava was awarded the commission to design the new station in 1996 and presented his plans in 1997. The station is being relocated 150 m to the east of its existing site, with a soaring metal roof sweeping up above the platforms. Nine platform tracks will be provided in place of the previous 14, allowing the platforms to be lengthened and widened to 8 m. Six platform faces on the northern side of the station will be 450 m long, and the remainder 350 m.

In the past, westbound trains coming from Aachen had to cross over through a complex junction east of the station to reach platforms 13 and 14, and then faced a 3% climb in the direction of Ans and Brussels. An underpass has been constructed at the west end of the station to eliminate conflicting moves by trains from Namur or Rivage heading towards Liège-Palais. These trains will now use the southern-most platforms, before passing under the main line to Brussels. All routes in both directions have been made as straight as possible, which should cut the time taken to negotiate the station by 3 min.

The distinctive metal overall roof has been fabricated in Spain, and assembly work on site is now almost complete. On June 4 SNCB will transfer its station facilities into temporary premises, allowing the existing buildings dating from 1958 to be demolished so that platform tracks 1, 2 and 3 can be straightened. The new station building and SNCB offices will then be constructed in the final phase.

Still to be agreed is the best way to integrate the new station into the city landscape, and in particular how to provide convenient interchange between rail and bus services following the resiting of the main buildings. In 2006 Euro Liège TGV and Calatrava launched a plan to create a tree-lined avenue sweeping down from the station to the River Meuse, but the city authorities backed an alternative proposal by local architect Dethier. Both schemes would require extensive demolition, which has proved controversial.

  • Assembly of the soaring metal roof for the new station has reached its final phase
    Photos: Eltgv/Alain Janssens
  • The station buildings dating from 1958 are due to be demolished later this year
  • Calatrava's 'cathedral' makes extensive use of seamless white concrete. At the southern end of the station Schindler escalators provide access to the platforms, and the subway leads directly to the car park