THE BELGIAN government has reached agreement with infrastructure manager Infrabel to push ahead with the Diabolo project to improve rail links to Zaventem Airport, in line with SNCB’s 2012 investment strategy.

The number of airline passengers at Zaventem is projected to rise from 2·2 million in 2004 to around 9·4 million in 2030, with rail’s market share increasing from 15 % to 30%. Completion of the state-funded Nossegem curve at a cost of €14·7m will permit the launch in December of a direct service from Leuven, augmenting the present shuttle from Brussels which carries 7500 passengers a day.

The government has agreed to fund the €213m Schaarbeek - Mechelen line, which forms part of the Brussels - Antwerpen upgrading in connection with HSL-Zuid (RG 4.05 p202). This will follow the E19 motorway, with tunnelled links at each end.

A new company, Diabolo NV, is being set up to fund the northern link from Zaventem, which is priced at €280m including expansion of the underground airport station from three to eight tracks. Construction and financing are being handled separately, with Groupe LCF Rothschild and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton advising on private financing.

The intention is that Diabolo NV will carry the construction and revenue risk, and will maintain the link from 2011 to 2045. It will receive a toll of 0·5% of revenue from all operators using the links, a payment of €9m a year from Infrabel and a surcharge of between €3 and €5 on each ticket to or from Zaventem, except for airport workers.

The two lines are due to be completed by December 2010, at the same time as the Josaphat tunnel to carry the Brussels RER between Schuman and Luxembourg stations. This will permit a wide range of through services from the airport to different parts of the country. Journey times from Liège will be cut by 37min to 54min and from Antwerpen by 33min to 27min.