In Schaarbeek, the railway infrastructure manager Infrabel started this summer with the renewal of the so-called Carwash junction, which forms the gateway to the Schaerbeek-Formation tracks.
This is the largest switch renewal in Brussels in recent years, representing an investment of over 10 million euros. The renovation of the railway intersections, which will be finished in a few weeks, is important for passenger and freight transport.
The entire project is a new step toward the so-called modal shift to transport as many goods as possible by rail in an environmentally friendly manner.
More transport by rail
The Carwash branch line is part of the future L26B rail link, which should be operational by 2030 and remove some major bottlenecks for freight traffic in Brussels by creating a corridor where goods trains can travel around the capital largely separately from passenger traffic.
As a result, goods trains will no longer have to hinder passenger traffic, which will improve the punctuality of train traffic for passengers. While there are 35 stations, only 1% of Brussels’ inhabitants travel by train, for example.
Still €20 million needed
This summer, a total of 22 new points and 250 meters of new tracks will be laid on and around the branch line, and 16 km of signaling cables plus overhead lines will be completely renewed. By creating a specific track, a ‘corridor’ for freight traffic through the Schaerbeek Formation railway site or the new 26B line, the transport of goods should run more smoothly. Currently, three bottlenecks hamper the passage of an average of 195 freight trains daily.
At a later stage, various switches will be moved, and two km of new track will be added. Two-level crossings will also disappear. The completion date for this third phase of the works, which has an estimated cost of 20 million euros, depends on the investments that can be made.
Infrabel hopes to see the investment confirmed by the government in the multi-annual investment plan to be adopted by the end of the year, according to Minister for Mobility Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo). The new ’26B’ line should be fully operational by 2030.
The Belgian government aims to double the share of rail in passenger transport (from 8% to 15%) and the share of goods (from 12% to 20%). Every year, 160 000 goods trains run on the Belgian rail network, 85% passing through Brussels.
However, the Belgian rail network is built in a star shape, with Brussels and its North-South junction at its center. This poses a problem for the transport of goods. They are prohibited from passing through the junction, which is already saturated with passenger traffic, and whose tunnels are incompatible with the nature of certain products transported.
The flow of goods, particularly on the Antwerp-Hainaut-France route, must bypass the capital and avoid the junction Carwash. Instead, it must go through the East (Line 26) or West (Line 28), bypasses of Brussels. This makes it difficult and slow for freight trains to get through Brussels.
Port of Brussels
According to Paul Hegge, representative of the Belgian Rail Freight Forum, trains in Brussels supply, for example, the Audi car assembly site and the battery assembly plant of the D’Ieteren distribution center in Kortenberg. “For these three alone, this keeps 15 000 trucks off the roads,” Hegge explains in the newspaper Le Soir.
The new link should also serve as an alternative to the Thus-Meuse freight line, the most important through Wallonia, on which renovation work is planned for 2023 or 2024. Without this alternative, part of the traffic will likely go via France.
To make the network more fluid, the new corridor will also connect with the port of Brussels. This connection has been dismantled due to a legal dispute between the Brussels Region and the federal government, but a recent agreement was reached to restore it.