On 7 June, HRH King Albert II officially opened the new Diabolo railway complex in the presence of several attendees including politicians, CEOs and representatives of all the partners (Northern Diabolo NV, Infrabel, SNCB, SNCB Holding, Thalys, TUC RAIL, THV DIALINK, Eurostation, The Brussels Airport Company, the European Union). On 10 June, Infrabel made the new Diabolo railway infrastructure available to the railway operators. The date also marks the commercial commissioning of the northern railway access to Brussels Airport for passengers.
Diabolo is a strategic railway link for the Airport and Brussels, with connections to domestic and international railway corridors. The Diabolo is the (underground) railway connection between Brussels-National-Airport station and the new dual-track railway line Schaerbeek – Mechelen (L.25N) along the central reservation of the E19 motorway. This northern link in the railway axis Antwerp – Mechelen – Brussels constitutes the next important step in improved access of Brussels Airport by rail. From Mechelen it will now take about 10 minutes to get to the Airport by rail; from Antwerp around 30 minutes - either way, it is a 30 minute gain as compared to current travel times.
Thanks to Diabolo, Brussels Airport will be directly connected with the major axes of the Belgian network and with several European cities, via the international axes Amsterdam - Antwerp - Brussels - Paris and Frankfurt – Liege – Brussels – Paris. After completion of the Belgian high-speed network, which since 8 December 2009 has been in service from border to border (in the direction of France, Germany and the Netherlands and in the direction of Great Britain through the Eurotunnel), Belgium once again has strategically positioned itself at the centre of Europe.
Diabolo and the Nossegem railway curve fit into Infrabel’s step-by-step strategy of progressively and sustainably increasing the safety, punctuality and capacity on the Belgian railway network via well-thought out investments. This ’Air Rail’ strategy towards intermodal enhancement of the connection between air and rail traffic enables Brussels Airport to grow into one of the best connected airports by rail in the whole of Europe as well as worldwide.
Diabolo marks a first for the Belgian railways because it is the first public-private partnership in the rail sector to be completed. The financial closing and granting of the building contract took place on 28 September 2007 and included transfer of the building and demand-related risks to the private investor.
The total investment for Diabolo amounts to 678 million euros (at 2012 price level) and includes works financed with private investment in the PPP as well as with public investment (Infrabel). The European Union contributed 15 million euros for construction of the Schaerbeek – Mechelen railway line (= part of the public investment). Through Northern Diabolo NV, the private partner financed construction of the underground rail connection for a fixed amount of 290 million euros.
The PPP Diabolo, which was awarded the ’Transport Deal of the Year 2007’ prize by the British magazine PFI, is a model example for other public-private partnerships in Belgium and Europe, including the Liefkenshoek rail link in the Port of Antwerp, which constitutes Infrabel’s second successful PPP.
Without a doubt, the most spectacular part of the Diabolo project was the computer- and laser-driven boring of the two single-track tunnel shafts at 16.5 metres below the key runways of Brussels Airport. Using a tunnel boring machine of 66 metres long, both 1.07 km long tunnels were excavated separately, ensuring that air traffic was not hindered during the works.
With the commissioning of Diabolo, Infrabel progressively increases not only the access from and to Brussels Airport, but also the capacity on the Belgian railway network to the benefit of its customers. In addition, the Belgian railway infrastructure manager works on phased realisation of two other ’airport connected’ railway projects. In the northern area, Infrabel will be constructing a railway bypass for delivery by 2016, which will connect to Line 25N and Diabolo. The goal is to further increase capacity on the strategic connection Brussels - Antwerp - the Netherlands. Infrabel also plans to build two additional tracks and two new platforms at the back of Mechelen station, which tie in with the Mechelen Station Surroundings Master Plan.