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Have you seen Brussels’ ghost metro station?

Metro construction at the South railway station

Have you seen Brussels’ ghost metro station?

Due to soaring costs there are doubts the new Brussels metro line 3 will be built in full.  Meanwhile, unknown to many nearly 19,000 square metres of existing metro infrastructure are currently not being used. The unused infrastructure ranges from smaller unused spaces to half-finished ‘ghost stations’. The figures were released by the Brussels Mobility agency, which manages the spaces, at the request of VRT News. "We can’t blame the inventors of the metro in the 1970s and 1980s," the agency says.

When it was built, the Brussels metro network was a very ambitious project heavily dosed with optimism. When constructing the new tunnels and stations, the architects kept in mind that other possible metro lines might be built in the future. That’s why, in many cases, preparatory works was already carried out in many places, work for lines that were never constructed.

Under the Sint-Guido metro station in Anderlecht, for example, there is an entire floor that was envisaged for an additional metro line that has not yet been built and for which for the time being there are still no plans. It represents just under 300 square metres of space that has been built but is not in use. This is one of the smaller examples on our list.

Below the Louiza metro station there is a much larger space that was actually supposed to become a fully-fledged additional station. At one time, the plan was to run the tram service that currently operates in Louizalaan above ground underground, but the then owners of the upmarket boutiques that line this avenue were none too keen. In the meantime, however, part of this space has been used by the underground car park under the Poelaertplein. Even so, more than 3,000 square metres still stand empty.

There were similar plans at South Station. Trams on lines 81 and 82, which now still run through the so-called “Covered Street”, were to operate underground. The plans were very real until a few years ago but have since been shelved. The station, with two platforms in very rough shape, has nevertheless been completed.

Brussels’ ghost station

Speaking even more to the imagination are the nearly 5,000 square metres built under the Saincteletteplein on the border between the City of Brussels and Molenbeek. The Sainctelette metro station has never seen the light of day. The structural work on the station had already been completed when it was decided that it was too close to the IJzer and Ribaucourt stations to be needed and the plans were shelved.

An observant passenger may still spot the station today. Sometimes you can see a light burning and then the outline of the unfinished construction becomes visible in a flash. By the way, on the station information screens on the platforms on this metro line, there is still space for a light to indicate the Sainctelette station between IJzer and Ribaucourt. On the screens, today it is not a fully-fledged stop and the station is not given a name. Only a small arrow can be seen.

The opening has regularly been mooted in the past. It’s not a totally uninteresting option now that the nearby Thurn and Taxis site has been upgraded. Still, the preferred option remains an above-ground tram line that will cross the Suzan Daniel Bridge to the North Station. The metro may never stop in Sainctelette. "The priority now is the reconstruction of the above-ground intersection," says a spokesperson for Brussels Mobility.

A thousand square metres stand empty at the IJzer metro station
Peter Detailleur/Bruzz

In total, almost 19,000 square metres of underground infrastructure has been built and is today not in use. It’s not negligible but isn’t that huge either. Three-quarters of this space occurs in four stations: the never-completed Sainctelette, the ghost station under Louisa, the two platforms at the South Station and a large space at the Herrmann-Debroux terminus. The rest involves smaller spaces.

The Sainctelette Station got stuck in this phase
Peter Detailleur/Bruzz

Line 3 was anticipated

But wasn’t it pointless to pump so much money and energy into infrastructure that may never be used? "We cannot blame the architects of the 1970s and 1980s for having an eye for the future," Brussels Mobility says. "If the reverse had happened and expansion today would be prevented as a result of the original design, then that would have caused considerably more problems."

Because of the foresight of yesteryear, sometimes these empty spaces are still given a new use. For a long time at the Simonis metro station there was an unused platform.   Recently it has become the terminus of the new tram 9. For the construction of the new metro line 3, a lot of infrastructure that was foreseen decades ago can now finally serve.

This is the case in the Albert pre-metro station, which is already fully ready to be switched on as a fully-fledged metro station.

"Most of the pre-metro stations on Line 3 were already built with the intention of turning them into a metro station one day. The only exception is the Lemonnier station. That already existed as an underground tram station and dates from the 1950s, which is also the reason why a new station has to be built there” says the agency.

It will be called Toots Thielemans in honour of the famous Belgian jazz musician.

Still, almost 19,000 square metres still remain unused. It does not look like these spaces will be used any time soon. "At the moment, there are no plans for any of the spaces on the list” the agency notes.

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