Belgium pulls the plug on cross-border tram to the Netherlands, to the dismay of the Dutch
Not a new tram connection, but electric buses should improve public transport between Hasselt (Belgium) and Maastricht (the Netherlands). At least, that is what the Flemish government decided, though their Dutch colleagues are not too happy about this development.
For 18 years, the primary aim was to have trams running on the route between Hasselt and Maastricht. With the decision to pull the plug from trams into electric buses, the so-called Spartacus plan gets a different backbone. The aim, however, remains the same: to reduce car use in the Belgian province of Limburg.
“This dossier has been discussed for more than 20 years without any progress being made. With this Flemish agreement, we are taking a big step towards its actual realisation”, said Belgian Minister of Mobility Lydia Peeters last week. According to the minister, the choice fell in favour of the electric bus because of its flexibility, higher transport potential, shorter journey time and lower purchase costs. In addition, the necessary infrastructure requires a smaller investment.
The decision does not come as a complete surprise. Last year, Peeters already hinted at his intention to invest in electric buses and to convince the Dutch stakeholders of this fact.
More than 20 million already invested
The Dutch side reacted with resignation to Monday’s Flemish decision. In a letter to the city council, Maastricht Mayor Annemarie Penn-te Strake says she regrets Flanders’ decision. “The realisation of the tram would have meant an enormous improvement in cross-border public transport.”
Maastricht first wants to talk about the 23 million that has already been invested by the Dutch state, province and municipality of Maastricht, said a disappointed councilman Gert-Jan Krabbendam (GroenLinks) following the news. Krabbendam does not want to talk about a claim for damages. “We have to deal with each other in a decent way,” said the councilman.
“In 2008 we signed a contract for the construction of the tram line. On that basis, we invested time and money in its realisation. We assume that the Flemish Council of Ministers was aware of this. As far as we are concerned, this is the subject of discussion before we start talking about alternatives.” The promised subsidy from the Dutch State was linked to the realisation of a tram connection, not to the use of buses.
In 2011, the Flemish government sought cooperation with the Dutch municipalities involved. Three years later, a cooperation agreement was signed. Despite several setbacks, delays and cost overruns, the award phase of the tender for the infrastructure and trams started in July 2020. The most recent state of affairs report stated that the tram should start running in 2023, with a full timetable the following year.
The tram would have to cover the 33 kilometre distance between the two Limburg capitals (most of which is on Flemish territory) in 40 minutes. In mid-June, new consultations will take place between both parties. “We have to respect Flanders’ decision despite the fact that we have worked together for 18 years on a light rail system”, delegate Maarten van Gaans (D66) is quoted by 1Limburg.