The Belgium city of Charleroi is home to the Charleroi Metro – a curious light rail system, with 33-kilometres of track circling the city centre in an underground tunnel, and forming three above ground branches to the surrounding suburbs, along with a fourth branch line that has never opened. It is on this line that this bizarre looking crossover exists – so what is the story behind it?
Like many cities, Charleroi once had an extensive tramway network, with trams that ran on the right hand side of the road with other traffic. It was made up of lines run by the STIC through the city itself, and others by the SNCV which extended into the surrounding rural countryside.
Then in the 1960s the city planned to build a 52 km long pre-metro network to replace the legacy tram system, with eight branch lines radiating from a central downtown loop, and 69 stations.
The first section opened on 21 June 1976, with subsequent stages opened throughout the 1980s. Each time a new section was completed, the existing tram network would be modified to use the new pre-metro, then return to the street for the remainder of the route.
A fleet of bi-directional articulated light rail vehicles was then acquired to operate the new network, supplied by La Brugeoise et Nivelles (BN) between 1980 to 1982.
By 1985, work has been completed on branch lines to Gilly and Centenaire, but they were never commissioned.
But it took until 1992 for the line to Gilly to see passengers, when route 54 was created to serve the new branch.
And things get weird
With bi-directional trams it doesn’t matter which side of the platform is on, but for the Charleroi pre-metro it wasn’t that simple.
The western half of the network was to be managed by SNCV who wished to keep right hand running so the new new lines could be integrated with their existing street running system, while STIC running the eastern half wanted to run on the left, so that their fleet of legacy unidirectional trams would be able to use the island platforms at underground stations.
This meant the branch lines in the east to Gilly and Centenaire had to be provided with crossovers before joining the central loop, to get the left hand running trams back to the right hand side, and vice versa.
The crossover on the never-opened line to Centenaire is located between Waterloo and Neuville stations, next to the N90/R9 highway.
While the crossover on line M4 to Soleilmont is located in the tunnel west of Samaritaine station.
Footnote: why not swap sides?
The legacy unidirectional trams have since been decommissioned, so why haven’t the new left hand running lines controverted to match the system of the system? The reason – signalling.
The light metro sections of the system was equipped with signalling that matches the existing running direction of trams, so switching sides would require the resginalling of the affected sections of line.
Wikipedia has the complete history of the Charleroi Metro.
London Reconnections has a photo essay titled ‘The surreal Métro of Charleroi‘.
Over at Urbex.nl they have a tour of the abandoned line to Centenaire.
And ‘The Tim Traveller’ has put together a video on crossovers of Charleroi.