Potential for high speed trains to serve Brussels Airport
The £200m project, known as "Diabolo" because of the shape of the junction developed to make it possible, has involved tunnelling under the airport's northern runway and building around 3 miles of new track.
British passengers arriving on flights to Brussels will now be able to take a train direct to cities such as Antwerp, offering easy onwards connections to cities like Rotterdam.
An eastbound link from the airport was opened in 2006, enabling passengers to take direct trains to cities such as Leuven, with onward connections to Liège.
The Thalys service, which operates two main routes between Paris and Amsterdam and between Paris and Cologne, will now additionally be bale to call at Brussels airport, although no plans have been confirmed for this to happen.
High-speed rail and airports should be a natural match, as the ability to transfer from a flight on to a fast rail connection should open up a huge range of additional travel possibilities.
Discussion over how the transport industry can reduce its emissions often starts with a very simplistic argument that people should switch from heavily polluting flights to "pollution free" trains. The reality is much more complex, and even though any London based commentator could rightly point out that the easiest way of getting to Paris or Brussels is on Eurostar, these train services are a lot less appealing for anyone living in northern England or Scotland.
The idea of flying into one airport and then continuing to another destination by train (as opposed to simply taking a shuttle train from the airport into the city centre) is often overlooked as a way of significantly reducing emissions. It is well acknowledged that shorthaul flights are the most wasteful, as so much energy is used in the takeoff and landing process, and there is nothing more wasteful than taking two extremely short connecting flights, because a direct flight between two particular cities is not available.
So does this new rail link really add that much value for passengers?
An airport rail link is only useful when it enables other connections that other airports cannot provide. For local connections to Antwerp, this link will no doubt prove to be extremely useful, and it may also threaten the viability of Antwerp airport. At the moment, UK passengers can take flights to Antwerp from London City airport or from Manchester, but service frequency is not as good as Brussels airport, even though flights from London to Brussels are suffering at the hands of Eurostar.
You may also eventually be able to take a direct train from Zaventem airport to the Dutch cities of Rotterdam or even Amsterdam, but the question is, why would you?
From a UK perspective, Amsterdam Schiphol has always been the best served continental European hub airport, with almost every British international airport offering flights to Amsterdam, and many providing a choice of low-cost flights, together with those operated by KLM.
In the other direction, why would you fly in to Brussels if you wanted to get to Lille, when there is a much wider availability of flights to Paris from UK airports outside London?
The network of flights to Cologne from the UK is still a bit hit and miss, so Brussels might be an alternative there, but you would still have to change trains anyway, and it will be much more sensible to look at flights to Düsseldorf or flights to Frankfurt first.
If there is anything of interest about this project, it is the fact that the Belgians have been able to tunnel under an active runway, build out a complex rail junction and create 3 miles of new track, all for around £200 million. This would barely buy you 1 1/2 miles of HS2.