Sunday, September 26, 2010

Brussels - The 92 Tram On Its Way To Fort-Jaco

There are 17 routes, serving most points of the compass, and including two partial ring routes. These have a very varied feel, including street running through narrow streets in working class districts (lines 81 and 82), cobbled central reservation, reserved track through parkland and woods (44), and signal-controlled running in tunnels (the "premetro"). There are even some short stretches of gutter running (18). Almost all trams are double-ended and all are double-sided, and some stub termini remain (4, 55), although most have loops. The route pattern shows some notable gaps, particularly along major radial routes, because these were originally served by a separate tram system, the national network of buurtspoorwegen/tramways vicinaux. These had a track gauge of one metre, as against the Brussels standard gauge, and so the tracks could not easily be taken over when the lines were progressively closed from the 1960s onwards.

The complementary routing of vicinal and urban tracks and the replacement of key lines by metro has led to some peculiar track layouts, for instance at the Barrière de St-Gilles/Bareel St-Gillis. Of the seven roads that meet at this circular junction, all originally contained tramlines, whereas today only three do. To negotiate a sharp turn, route 18, until it was closed on 1 July 2007, had to make a 270-degree turn on its journey away from the city centre, looping round and crossing its own path.

A further peculiarity is that under the South station, the premetro and metro tracks both swap from running on the right to running on the left where they run parallel to provide cross-platform interchange between the two lines. This serves no apparent purpose, but may be because main line trains in Belgium run on the left. The metro returns to running on the right under the new Jacques Brel depot.

Between 2006 and 2009 a phased transformation of the tram network took place, with the aim of improving regularity and relieving overcrowding. As part of this the premetro service between North station and Albert was restructured with fewer lines passing through it, but at more regular intervals. These routes use the new longer Bombardier trams. The major part of the North-South Axis (from Lemonnier to Rogier) is now only used by lines 3 and 4 during the day. Tram lines 55 and 56 from Schaerbeek (north of Brussels) that used to ride the North-South Axis now stop at Rogier and nearby Gare du Nord/Noordstation.

As part of that plan, line 52 has been replaced by line 3 in the North (from the Brussels-South railway station to Thomas and from Van Praet to Esplanade), and by lines 56 (from Rogier to Princess Elisabeth), 82 (from Drogenbos to Lemonnier) and 32 in the South.

An already implemented part of this plan is the creation of tramway lines 24 and 25. Since April 2007 the new line 25 goes from Rogier to the Boondael/Boondaal railway station following the route of the ex-line 90 from Rogier to Buyl, then leaves the outer ring towards the Université Libre de Bruxelles campus of Solbosch. The (somewhat older) new line 24 strengthens the tram presence on the outer ring during daytime; it goes from the Schaerbeek/Schaarbeek railway station to Vanderkindere in Uccle.

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