Where a week ago there were still railway lines over which the trains between Herentals and Antwerp docked, currently there is a great void. In a construction pit several meters deep, workers from contractor Artes were busy on Wednesday afternoon laying the transverse rails on which the tunnel moved millimeter by millimeter during the night. This concrete structure of 25 meters long, 11 meters wide, a traffic passage of 3 meters high and a total weight of 1,400 tons replaces the existing level crossing between Vossenberg and Ekelstraat.
“Because the new railway bridge that the Vlaamse Waterweg installed over the Albert Canal in the summer is two meters higher than the old bridge, the trains must have sufficient running time to reach that height,” says Frédéric Petit, spokesperson for Infrabel. “This means that the tracks over a length of one kilometer on either side of the new bridge also had to be raised. As a result, the level crossing in Vossenberg would suddenly be much higher. That is why Infrabel has opted to replace the level crossing with a tunnel.”
The tunnel has been constructed on the Koeterstraat side in recent months and will be moved into place these days. “This does mean that there will be no train traffic between Herentals and Lier until Monday morning, November 6 at 4 am,” says Petit.
Of that five-day train interruption, the operation on the tunnel in Vosselberg actually only takes two. After the tunnel has been pushed in, the track bed must be refilled and new tracks must be laid across the tunnel. “When train traffic resumes next Monday morning, the trains from Herentals to Antwerp will already be running over the new higher railway bridge,” says civil engineer Bert Cardinaels of Infrabel. “The rest of those five days are mainly needed to re-lay the tracks and connect them to the existing network. Before we can run trains over it next week, we will of course have to extensively test whether the signaling is in order.”
The connection of the new to the old tracks is located in the immediate vicinity of the Wolfstee tavern. After the trains to Antwerp have switched to the new tracks over the higher bridge from November 6, the trains in the opposite direction will also follow two weeks later.
The contractor can then start demolition of the old railway bridge in December. That promises to be a technical challenge, because at the moment no one has any idea how much this 1949 construction weighs, not even approximately. This still needs to be tested first.
End in autumn 2024
The complete construction site – which actually includes the renovation of two bridges, three tunnels and 600 meters of retaining wall between Vossenberg and the Wolfstee catering business – has now taken a year and a half, but will continue until the autumn of 2024. The entire project has a price tag of 53 million euros. Opening the tunnel between Vossenberg and Ekelstraat is not scheduled until Easter next year at the earliest.