The Charleroi Pre-metro, the metro that was built and they didn’t come! A short history on failed transit planning.


One ‘metro‘ system that every proponent of the SkyTrain light-metro ignores is the Charleroi pre-metro. In Belgium traditional LRT is known as ‘trams‘, LRT built as a light-metro is known as pre metro. Pre metro has much in common with SkyTrain, including segregated rights-of-ways and large stations with escalators, etc. The Charleroi Métro is famous for the parts of it which were never built, partially built, or fully completed but not opened. There are many important lessons to be learned, yet one is afraid that the ‘powers that be’ are blind, deaf and dumb, with continued SkyTrain and/or light-metro construction in the Metro Vancouver region. One wonders, with such low ridership numbers, that the Evergreen Line will be Vancouver’s version with the Charleroi.

The Charleroi was planned in the 1960s as a 48-km network, using heavy rail metro trains, consisting of eight branch lines radiating from a central loop downtown. If completed as planned, this would have been the largest metro system in the Benelux region. Funds ran out during construction, however, and only one complete line (to Monument), part of another line (as far as Gilly), and three-quarters of the loop were actually built and opened to traffic, all between 1976 and 1996.

Another branch line towards the suburb of Châtelet (Châtelineau) was almost finished, to the extent of installing track, power cables, escalators and still-working electric signals to the first three stations, but never opened as the expected passenger numbers were too low to pay for the extra staff and rolling stock.

A fourth branch towards Gosselies, on the street following a former Vicinal tram route, is in use as far as the Jumet tram depot but does not carry passengers.

The high costs of construction, together with a decline in Charleroi’s traditional “smokestack” industries, and questioning of the scope of the whole project in proportion to the actual demand for it, are all cited as reasons for the original plan going unfulfilled.

Click onto the following sites to see what a never used or abandoned metro looks like in a few years.

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One Response to “The Charleroi Pre-metro, the metro that was built and they didn’t come! A short history on failed transit planning.”

  1. Tessa Says:

    and this is somehow going to happen to Vancouver because…?

    There are also plenty of successful metro systems *le gasp* Taking a single system that didn’t even get finished and saying this means that Vancouver should build LRT is pretty rich.

    Zweisystem replies: Charleroi metro was used to illustrate the pitfalls of building for metro on routes that do not have the ridership to sustain them. In the 1980’s, there were close to 100 km. of abandoned, uncompleted, and never used subway tunnels in the UK and Europe. RAV/Canada Line’s projected ridership was grossly overstated and if the 100,000 a projected ridership doesn’t materialize, huge subsidies will have to be paid. This could also translate into shorter hours and fewer trains. It is not uncommon on major subway systems that little used stations are closed on weekends or on off-peak hours. In fact, the 100,000 projected ridership is far less than the 400,000 to 500,000 a day that is needed to sustain a subway.

    Hong Kong (population 7 million) has a successful metro system and carries 1.3 billion customers a year; London’s (population 7.5 million) Underground or Tube carries 1.97 billion a year; New York’s (population 8.36 million) subway system carries 1.6 billion customers a year, by comparison SkyTrain carries 70 million customers a year. You can’t keep spending money on expensive metro systems if one does not have the population and taxes generated by said population to pay for metro construction. Politicians and transit planners in Charleroi (population 201,300) found this out the hard way and I’m afraid our METRO politicians will do so here as well.

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