On Thursday 6 January 2022, Luxembourg's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Mobility and Public Works, François Bausch, and representatives of Luxembourg's railways, the CFL, briefed the mobility and public works committee on the progress of work on the new Luxembourg-Bettembourg railway line.
This presentation addressed the adaptation of the works schedule, which took into account the CFL Group's decision to combine the planned construction work with the implementation of a new global operating concept.
A new Luxembourg-Bettembourg line to support growing activities
While the number of passengers remained unchanged between 1980 and 2005, an exponential increase was observed from 2005. An 85% increase in the number of passengers between 2003 and 2019 testifies to the attractiveness of the railway offer railway which, together with a particularly positive development of freight activities, ended up revealing the capacity limits of the Luxembourg rail network. Among the identified bottlenecks was the section between Luxembourg and Bettembourg, a section frequented by trains from lines 60 (Luxembourg - Esch-sur-Alzette - Rodange) and 90 (Luxembourg - Bettembourg - Thionville) as well as by freight trains.
Combining the construction of new capacities with a network capable of ensuring optimal use
While the construction of the new Luxembourg-Bettembourg line does offer additional capacity to growing activities, the Mobility Minister and CFL representatives stressed that ensuring optimal operation and the integration of new lines into the existing rail network was just as important.
To meet the challenges of lack of capacity and respond not only to existing demand but also to the future evolution of the needs of customers in passenger and freight activities, the new corporate strategy of the CFL Group formulated in 2015 led to the definition of a new national operating concept, of which the Luxembourg railway station extension project as well as the construction of the new Luxembourg-Bettembourg line are the centerpieces. The new strategy, and resulting new operating concept, are based on in-depth analyses of planned schedules and shifts as well as on simulations of the operation of all the lines, including the new Luxembourg-Bettembourg line. In addition to the need to create additional capacities, these analyses have demonstrated the need for adaptation work at the level of the entire national network.
Combining planned construction work with the implementation of a new global operating concept
These extension and adaptation works are aimed at making it possible to physically separate the operation of the various train lines within these stations. Limiting crossings between trains of different lines when entering or leaving the station will thus reduce the “domino effect”, ie. the transfer of delays from trains on one line to trains on another line. An effect that manifests itself especially during peak hours in stations where several lines are operated simultaneously.
The CFL's vision to promote the attractiveness of public transport, and more particularly rail, is based on the combination of the creation of new capacities, the adaptation of the rail network at the level of its main stations in the north-south path (Ettelbruck, Mersch, Luxembourg, Howald, Bettembourg, Rodange) transformed into real exchange hubs, as well as the consequent increase in the number of seats on trains (up 46% by 2026). This vision has been incorporated into the Modu 2.0 strategy which aims to promote a modal shift in favour of public transport.
However, the implementation of this new strategy, created downstream and in addition to the initial implementation project of the new Luxembourg-Bettembourg line, requires the implementation of unplanned projects, including the extension, or even adaptation of Luxembourg railway station.
Extension and adaptation work at Luxembourg Gare
To be able to make optimal use of the two tracks of the new Luxembourg-Bettembourg line, the works at Luxembourg railway station must be completed before the connection of the tracks of the new line can take place. As such, work on the southern part of the station will have to be progressively continued until 2026. At the end of the work, each line entering / leaving Luxembourg railway station will have a dedicated track allowing to limit the transfer of delays from trains on one line to trains on another line. The necessary adaptation works were carried out on the northern part in 2021. Similar works on the southern part of the station will be carried out gradually from 2022 and until 2026.
Implementation of phase II of the Howald project
In the context of the future connection of the tracks of the new Luxembourg-Bettembourg line to Luxembourg railway station, the construction of a platform and two additional tracks in the Howald station will be necessary to optimise the flow of trains to or from Luxembourg railway station. To limit the crossings of trains from lines 90 and 60 before they enter Luxembourg railway station, these trains must already be operated independently at Howald station, even before entering Luxembourg railway station. The connection of the tracks of the new Luxembourg-Bettembourg line to Luxembourg railway station via the latter's marshalling yard is planned for the end of 2026.
A new innovative management station to connect the new line at Bettembourg station
In order to connect the new infrastructures linked to the new Luxembourg-Bettembourg line to Bettembourg station, the CFL has decided to equip this particularly strategic section with a management post with an innovative and modern concept. Aligned with the pilot project of a management post currently set up on the North line and depending on the first experiences with new technology, this new type of management post is expected to offer several advantages, including that of centralised management of elements related to the ETCS system from the management post itself. The commissioning of the new management post at Bettembourg station is scheduled for the end of 2026.
Construction work for the new Luxembourg-Bettembourg line: progress of work
With regard to construction work on the new Luxembourg-Bettembourg line itself, significant progress has been made. All the preparatory work has been completed. Two of the other remaining structures are in progress. Among these is structure 14 which currently stands along the A3 motorway and which at the end of the works will be one of the largest "bowstring" type railway bridges in Europe. At the same time, work on the track platform level has advanced on a large part of the route of the new railway line between Luxembourg and Bettembourg.
Factors impacting the planned schedule
The strategic decision to integrate the new Luxembourg-Bettembourg line project into the new national operating concept, which requires the completion of the aforementioned large-scale works, is mainly at the origin of the adaptation of the implementation schedule for the Luxembourg-Bettembourg line project. However, other elements outside the CFL's perimetre of influence also impact this schedule. This includes the acquisition of more than 300 rights-of-way which could not be completed until June 2021, thus delaying the start of construction work. There were also elements which had not been foreseen in the planning, for example the construction of a wildlife passage as part of the realisation of compensation measures and the need to completely review the concept of structure 14 following changes to the regulatory framework relating to motorway safety during the project. On top of this, the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the associated shortage of materials and other consequences, has impacted the construction project of the new Luxembourg-Bettembourg line.
Mobility Minister François Bausch commented: “I would like to congratulate the CFL for the work already accomplished and that to come. In view of the complexity of the project, the construction of the line and the related stations is equivalent to an open-heart operation of the Luxembourg rail network. The acquisition of 300 plots was necessary for the realisation of this project. Once the line is completed in 2026, rail in Luxembourg will experience a huge jump in quality”.
Marc Wengler, Director General of CFL, added: “With our strategy formulated in 2015 and revised in 2021 and the decision of going beyond the 'simple' construction of new paths and towards a global operating concept focusing on modern hubs of exchange and an adapted network which not only allows an increase in the offer addressed to our customers but also to improve the quality of the services offered, we have taken up the challenge. I would like to thank each and every employee without whom this intense phase of profound transformation could not take place”.