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The Regional Express Network in Brussels: Looking forward… to the end of the tunnel

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / MPW57

By Karel Joos, Partner, Interel

Brussels is currently gasping for breath under the increasing pressure of road traffic. For this reason, the Belgian Government has decided to increase train capacity by 50% by 2025.

The Regional Express Network (GEN or RER) will provide travellers located within a 30km radius of the capital city with an average of one train every 15 minutes during peak periods. This ambitious project stands for: more capacity, more trains and more comfort on the major railway lines to and from Brussels. But the RER project was initially supposed to be completed by 2012. Due to budgetary issues and permitting troubles, completion is now planned for 2025.

The RER combines speed and frequency. To this end, separation of direct trains and slower local trains is absolutely necessary. Infrabel, the national railway infrastructure manager, is doubling the capacity on the major railway axes around Brussels. As a consequence, RER lines will have four tracks rather than two tracks. This allows frequently stopping RER trains to use their own tracks without affecting other direct train traffic.

In order to improve mobility in and around the European District, Infrabel is constructing a new 1.25km tunnel directly linking the Brussels-Namur (line 161) and Brussels-Halle (line 26) railway lines. The Schuman-Josaphat tunnel will take pressure off the Brussels rail network. By 2015, the Schuman roundabout will be less than a fifteen-minute train ride from the airport. Travellers from Mechelen, Hasselt, Leuven or Liege will no longer have to change trains to reach the economic heart of Brussels.

For a number of railway lines, works have been completed but construction on other lines is still in progress. As mentioned, the only way to increase capacity is doubling the number of tracks on the five major axes leading to and from Brussels. More specifically, this implies an expansion from two to four tracks on the following five routes: the Brussels-Halle and the Brussels-Leuven lines have been finished and work is currently underway on the Brussels-Denderleeuw, Brussels-Ottignies and Brussels-Nivelles lines.

The stations and stops along these five major axes around Brussels are being prepared for the RER trains too. Infrabel is elevating the platforms, renovating platform facilities and ensuring that accessibility is improved. While thoroughly modernizing the stops on the RER network, Infrabel is also streamlining connections with other public transport systems. This means that passengers can switch from train to tram, bus and metro in a comfortable and easy way so that journey times are reduced considerably.

Meanwhile the NMBS/SNCB, the national railway operator, suspended the purchase of another 250 Desiro trains constructed by Siemens because of technical problems with, among others, the doors and traction. Of this order, 95 trains were destined for the RER. In any case, this issue will not influence the timing of the RER works by Infrabel.