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End of the line for Hasselt – Maastricht ‘Sneltram’

An artist’s impression of the now-cancelled Sneltram at Hasselt station. De Lijn

After almost two decades of planning and design, the Flanders State Government has announced that the proposed interurban tramline between Hasselt, capital of Belgium’s Limburg province, and Maastricht in the Dutch province of South Limburg will be replaced by articulated electric buses. Such vehicles are already in operation as the so-called ‘Ringtrambus’ service between Brussels and the international airport in Zaventem.

The first proposals for the ‘Spartacus’ project to create a cross-border tramway connection, part of operator De Lijn’s vision to improve connections and reduce traffic congestion in the province of Limburg, came in 2004. Initial agreement between the Belgian and Dutch ministries was signed in 2008 with approval from the Flanders Government in 2011.

The first light rail line, also known as Hasselt-Maastricht Sneltram (fast tram), was initially expected to open in 2017. Yet technical and cost implications of using the Wilhelmina Bridge over the River Maas to reach Maastricht station and state rulings in early 2016 over a route through nature reserves delayed development. These delays saw the original 2017 opening pushed back to 2024.

The proposed 30km (19-mile) route would have had 12 stops, ten in Flanders and 2 in the Netherlands, offering a 37-minute journey between the two capitals, almost halving the time taken by conventional bus services. According to initial forecasts, 8710 daily journeys are expected to use this route, either in part or over its full length.

Areport was commissioned in 2021 to examine tram-train and ‘Trambus’ alternatives and the resulting conclusions have led to a decision to pursue the latter, with operations starting from as early as 2024.

“Opting for the tram would have taken Limburg back in time. Our province is in full development and therefore invests in innovation and sustainability. I want Limburg to be a ‘future-proof’ region,” commented Flemish Minister for Mobility and Public Works Lydia Peeters, adding that trambuses are more flexible and cheaper to operate than trams. They also have greater potential “because we can go directly from Hasselt station to Maastricht station, so we expect more passengers,” she added.