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The viaduct of Moresnet

The Viaduct of Moresnet

The viaduct of Moresnet, one of the longest viaducts of the Belgian railway line 24 (Tongres-Visé-Aix-la-Chapelle), connects the port of Antwerp to the industrial area of the Ruhr (Germany). The construction was ordered by the German occupation during the First World War.

As early as 1834, the Belgian state wanted to link the port of Antwerp with the nascent industries of the Ruhr. After many discussions between Belgium and Prussia, a convention was signed on August 15, 1903. This convention provided for the creation of a new railway line Louvain-Saint-Trond-Tongres-Visé-Welkenraedt with extension in Prussia via Aachen. When the war broke out in 1914, work had still not begun. The Germans, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Wilhelm Gröner, decided to begin the construction of Line 24 on December 18, 1914 (Tongres-Visé-Montzen-Moresnet-Botzelaer border tunnel at Gemmenich) and the Moresnet viaduct to satisfy the logistics needs of their army. Civil engineering work began in April 1915.

The plans were drawn by the German company "MAN Gustavsburg" (near Mainz). The latter opted for a steel and concrete structure that needed to be simple and quick to build with unskilled laborers. This construction was built by thousands of Belgian, German, Italian, Hungarian and Croatian workers (+ - 14.000) and countless Russian prisoners languishing in the German camps. The latter, far from their homeland, survived in painfull conditions (insufficient food, poor hygienic condition, ...); the cleverest among them made with their hands small art objects by using empty cartridges and shell casings that they discreetly exchanged with the inhabitants for some food or tobacco. Some of these objects are still in the hands of some families. Nine of them died in unknown circumstances; they rest in the cemetery of Moresnet and their graves are maintained by the municipality.

Historians agree that the main structure of the viaduct was built in 7 months: from April to October 1916. It absorbed 50.000 m³ of concrete, 6.000 tons of iron, 1.600 m³ of wood for the coffering and 250.000 rivets manufactured on the spot. The entire line 24 was put into service on 18 February 1917. The viaduct was called "General Groener Brücke" on 3 March 1918.

The 1107-meter long viaduct, 23 to 58 meters high, overlooks the « Gueule » Valley. It is composed of 22 twin track bridge-decks each weighing around 300 tons, 48 meters long and 8 meters high. Each deck is composed of a metal frame link, supported by vertical and oblique iron props. Each frame is 7,50 meters high and 4,50 meters wide.

The viaduct has 2 abutments, 5 stone support pillars and 16 reinforced concrete pillars. All decks are placed on roller bearings to prevent horizontal forces parallel to the tracks and allow expansion due to temperature changes. Approximately a quarter of the viaduct is on a slight bend with a radius of 1.600 meters from which the last 350 meters are on German side.

The day after the Armistice of 11 November 1918, the viaduct returned intact to Belgium as war reparation and the line was integrated into the Belgian railway network and registered as Line 24. Line 24 then becomes the main link route between the port of Antwerp and Germany for freight traffic.

On 10 May 1940, the « Cyclistes Gardes-frontière » (Cyclists Border Guards) quartered in Hombourg blew up the pillars 14 and 19, which had been mined by the Belgian army a few months before. The Germans hastened to rebuild the unusable viaduct and on 16 December 1940 the trains crossed it again.

On 10 September 1944, the Germans retreated and blew up a part of the viaduct to delay the American advance, 11 of the 22 bridge decks fell.

After the war, the reconstruction took almost five years. The viaduct becomes practicable on 2 October 1949. The pillars and the support pillars are restored by the firm Blaton-Aubert of Brussels and the bridge decks by the firm Baume and Marpent of Haine-Saint-Pierre.

In 2000, the section Montzen-Aachen of the Line 24 accounted about 70% of freight traffic from the port of Antwerp to Germany. In recent years, corrosion has attacked the metal parts and the decision was taken to consolidate the pillars and replace bridge decks. The speed limit was 20 km/h and the maximum load was limited to 22.5 tons per axle. Work began in 2002 and ended in 2004 (speed increased to 60 km/h and maximum load increased to 25 tons per axle). The electrification will be done in 2008.

Today, the viaduct is used daily by 80 to 100 freight trains and this mainly at night.

In September 2016, the 100 years of the viaduct were largely by the Royal comité des fêtes de Moresnet, Espace Culture, the municipality of Plombières and Infrabel offering huge fireworks, conferences, a concert, a sound and light show including a playacting and exhibitions.

The viaduct of Moresnet, a titanic monument and an essential witness of our History.