Infrabel renews strategic main track in Antwerp

Belgian infrastructure manager Infrabel started one of the largest renewal operations on the main line in Antwerp of this year during last weekend. 17 switches will be renewed in 9 weekends on two important railway lines to the port and the Netherlands and in two strategic track bundles. Infrabel is investing 4 million euros in the Antwerp rail infrastructure because the existing equipment is at the end of its life and creates a bottleneck.

During nine consecutive weekends between the end of January and the middle of March, Infrabel will carry out the railway works in Antwerp. The existing switches, which currently have a speed limit of 20 kilometres, are renewed to keep the port of Antwerp well accessible. The current switches create a bottleneck because trains always have to slow down at the switches. The new switches can be used again at the regular speed of 90 kilometres, and should also be more maintenance-friendly.

“This renewal operation is important to keep the port of Antwerp accessible as the hub of our economy”, says Georges Gilkinet, Belgian Minister of Mobility. “Investing in rail is smart investing: 1 invested euro yields 3 euros. The government wants to double rail freight transport by 2030, in order to meet our climate targets and remove trucks from the road. This yard in Antwerp is a good example of what we can still achieve in the future.”

Train parking

First a short inventory, on the East terrain, where the works will be carried out, there are two strategic track bundles: the so-called ‘Carwash’ bundle and the ‘Q’ bundle. A track bundle is a kind of parking space for trains. There are also two important main tracks right through these bundles. The one to the port of Antwerp (L27A) and the rail tracks to the Netherlands (L12). Here, Infrabel is launching a large modernisation operation in the coming months.

In total, the infrastructure manager is renewing 17 switches. This is necessary because the existing railway devices are at the end of their useful life. These switches ensure that trains can enter and exit the bundles, and form the direct connection with the main tracks. This key part of the infrastructure is one of the only two accesses to the right bank of the port of Antwerp.

Panoramic sight on track bundles ‘Q’ and ‘Carwash’

Passenger and freight trains

The two track bundles are an important link in the Antwerp rail infrastructure. In the Carwash track bundle, a large part of the passenger trains that run in and around Antwerp stay there after their shift ends to spend the night. The equipment is cleaned there and can also be maintained. In the morning, the trains leave again to start their journey in Antwerp-Central or Essen.

Bundle Q is important for receiving international freight trains. For example, trains coming from the Netherlands (L12) and Germany (via the Montzen route). The bundle has several long tracks of more than 700 meters. Here, railway companies can switch between electric and diesel locomotives if necessary and then continue to their final destination. Bundle Q also offers an important buffer capacity for the railway bundles of Antwerp-North in the port. When there is work on the L27A railway line (crucial access to the port), freight trains in bundle Q can wait until the track is clear again.

Minimising hinder for train traffic

The works are carried out in the last two weekends of January, every weekend of February and the first three weekends of March. Much has already been done to save time, and it is ‘quite a puzzle’, according to Infrabel. Only during the weekend of February 26, both railway lines (L27A and L12) will be completely closed. To keep the nuisance to a minimum, various intermediate phases were developed where the existing tracks are connected to the renewed infrastructure after each working weekend to make train traffic possible again.

“What our people are doing here is huge”, says Benoît Gilson, CEO of Infrabel. “In a very short period of time, they are renewing 17 switches of a railway infrastructure that are very important for our customers and the port of Antwerp. Moreover, they also do this with as little inconvenience to train traffic as possible. The achievement shows what we can do when everyone works well together.”

In addition to the listed track works, Infrabel is also adapting parts of the overhead contact line and signaling in function of the new track configuration. In total, this involves an investment of approximately 4 million in this strategic Antwerp rail infrastructure.

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Author: Esther Geerts

Editor of RailTech.com

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