Located ¾-KM northeast of Midi station, in the heart of Brussels, Chapelle was procured as part of the "Brussels Junction Railway". This was a scheme dating back to the 19th Century that aimed to directly link northern and southern railway systems in the Belgian capital by means of a tunnel beneath the metropolis.
The country’s first railway was that between Brussels and Malines, a double-track line of 20.3-KM length that opened to public traffic on 5th May 1835. An extension to Antwerp was opened on 3rd May of the following year and, initially, the Brussels terminus was that of "Allée Verte" (also known as "Groendreef"). In 1846, the latter was replaced by a terminal called "Brussels North", about 700-metres to the southeast, on a site adjacent to today’s through station of the same name. In the meantime, a line between Brussels and Hal had opened in 1840, with subsequent extensions from the latter to Mons and Quievrain in 1841 and 1842 respectively (ref: The Railway Magazine, November 1963). The original Brussels terminus for this line was "South" station; it was positioned between the Rue d’Anderlecht and the Rue de Terre Neuve, approximately 1-KM northeast of today’s Midi. The original Brussels South was replaced by a larger terminus in 1869, on the site today occupied by Midi station.
Since 1871, Brussels North and South terminals had been linked by a circuitous single-track line known as the "Chemin de fer de Ceinture" — the "Belt Railway". Built by the Belgian Government (ref: Annales Industrielles — Cinquieme Annee, 5th October 1873), this took a course through the capital’s western suburbs and was used by some of the international expresses that served both termini. A proposal to connect the two stations by means of a much more direct underground railway, beneath the city centre, was mentioned as early as the September 1899 edition of The Railway Magazine.
As recounted in the Brussels Midi (Eurostar Terminal) section, the underground railway scheme to link the capital’s termini took over half a century to become a reality. Construction work eventually began in 1911, with an estimated year of completion set for 1915 (ref: Railway Age Gazette, 5th May 1911). However, two World Wars, materials shortages, and politics all played their part in preventing the railway from being finished. By 1948, heavy engineering works on the line had resumed (ref: The Railway Gazette, 13th February 1948), and by this time the scheme was known as the "Brussels Junction Railway".
The length of the Brussels Junction Railway was 4-KM, of which approximately half was within a tunnel. The latter was built using the cut-and-cover method and accommodated six parallel-running tracks. The first pair of tracks of the Brussels Junction Railway were officially opened by King Baudouin of Belgium on 4th October 1952 (ref: Bulletin of the International Union of Railways, 1953). On the same day, new through stations came into use at Brussels Midi, Nord, and Central, the latter of which was situated midway through the tunnel (ref: Economic and Commercial Conditions in Belgium and Luxembourg, with an Annex on Benelux, H.M. Stationery Office, March 1953).
Described from the outset as a "halt", a station at Chapelle was brought into public use in February 1953 (ref: Bulletin of the International Union of Railways, 1954). The station took its name from an adjacent square (or, if you like, plaza) called "Place de la Chapelle", and sat at the mouth of the southern portal of the 2-KM-long tunnel that passed under the city centre to Brussels North. Given that just two tracks were in use at the time of Chapelle’s opening, the station must have started life with only one operational island platform. Three more tracks on the Brussels Junction Railway opened on 4th October 1953 (ref: Bulletin of the International Union of Railways, 1954); this must surely have been when Chapelle’s second island platform was brought into use. The final, sixth track was reported at the time as being scheduled to come into use on the inauguration of the rail link between Brussels Central and the city’s aerodrome at Melsbroek (ref: Bulletin of the International Union of Railways, 1954). The rail-air link between Brussels Central and Melsbroek (today’s Brussels Airport) was opened with ceremony by the King of Belgium on 15th May 1955 (ref: Brussels Airport History, brusselsairport.be).
The Brussels Junction Railway was electrified on the 3,000 volts D.C. overhead wire system, which had earlier been used in 1935 on the line between Brussels North and Antwerp. Steam locomotives that passed over the direct line between North and South stations had to have their regulators shut off and be hauled or propelled by an electric locomotive, since half the route was within a tunnel (ref: The Railway Magazine, September 1953).
Chapelle’s two island platforms are each 200-metres-long and serve the four southern-most tracks of the six that constitute the railway between Midi and Nord stations. Each island is protected by a 105-metre-long canopy of metal frame construction with a flat roof clad with timber. The platforms are linked by a subway that runs the full width of the viaduct that carries the rails above street level, and unlike the other stations that opened along the route between 1952 and 1953 — even the equally minor Brussels Congress — Chapelle lacks a recognisable main station building. From the outset, both Chapelle and Congress stations were used only by suburban trains; long distance traffic passed through non-stop.
4th August 2023
A roughly westward view towards Midi from above the portals of those tunnels that lead to Central station show the two islands of Chapelle. Siemens Series 18 No. 1872 passes eastbound on the right. How many modellers would put weeds like that on their platforms?
© David Glasspool