|Operator(s)||Thalys, ICE, SNCB|
|Rolling stock||Thalys PBKA, ICE 3M, Class 13 + I11|
|Line length||56 km (35 mi)|
|No. of tracks||2|
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge|
|Electrification||25 kV, 50 Hz AC|
|Operating speed||160–260 km/h|
The HSL 3 (French: Ligne à Grande Vitesse (LGV) 3, Dutch: Hogesnelheidslijn 3, English: High-Speed Line 3) is a Belgian high-speed rail line. It connects Liège to the German border near Aachen. The line is 56 km (35 mi) long, of which 42 km (26 mi) are dedicated high-speed tracks.
The line was technically completed in October 2007; however, it did not come into operation until June 14, 2009, when ICE trains began service. Thalys trains have been using the line since December 13, 2009. The gap between completion of the line and its actual use was due to difficulties in the implementation of the safety system ECTS level 2, specifically, finding trains with ERTMS fitted.
Together with the HSL 2 and HSL 1 to the French border, the combined eastward high-speed line has greatly reduced journey times between Brussels, Paris and Germany. HSL 3 has cut Liège – Köln journey times from 1 h 23 min to 1 h 1 min. HSL 3 is used only by international Thalys and ICE trains, as opposed to HSL 2, which is also used for fast internal InterCity services.
Trains leave the reconstructed Liège-Guillemins station over the upgraded classic line, at speeds which progressively rise to 160 km/h (99 mph). Chênée marks the beginning of the dedicated high-speed tracks. The line crosses the Vesdre river, then traverses the 6.5 km (4.0 mi) long Soumagne Tunnel between Vaux-sous-Chèvremont and Soumagne. This is the longest double-track tunnel in Belgium, and has a speed limit of 200 km/h.
The line then runs parallel to the E40 motorway with a speed limit of 260 km/h; shortly after the village of Walhorn, it passes under the E40 in a cut-and-cover section, and rejoins the regular line. Trains run on the upgraded classic line at 160 km/h (99 mph), pass over the Hammerbrücke viaduct (entirely reconstructed for the project), and cross the border 2 km further on.
Beyond the border, high-speed trains travel along upgraded existing rail lines to Aachen Hauptbahnhof. Trains use left-hand running along this section (as in Belgium), switching over to right-hand running, which is common in Germany, at Aachen.
Infrabel, the Belgian rail infrastructure manager, constructed the line through its subsidiary TUC Rail, who built the 36 km line between 2001 and 2007 at a cost of €830m, including ETCS Level 2 signalling.
The most notable construction subproject is the 6,505-metre (7,114 yd) long tunnel at Soumagne, which is the longest railway tunnel in Belgium. The bored section is 5,940 metres (6,500 yd), extended by covered sections of respectively 177 and 388 m. Dozens of geological layers of differing hardness had to be tunnelled through, lime layers needing to be blasted through with dynamite. The tunnel reaches a depth of 127 m in some areas; it has an average ramp height of 1.7%, with a maximum of 2% at the entrance in Soumagne. The free space profile in the tunnel is approximately 69 m2 (740 sq ft), which restricts speeds to 200 km/h (120 mph). The tunnel was built between 14 May 2001 and August 2005.
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HSL 3 near Walhorn.