The European Investment Bank (EIB) has confirmed its backing for development of Belgium's high-speed rail network by advancing a EUR 112.5 million (1) loan to Financière TGV for construction and upgrading of the Brussels-Antwerp and Brussels-Liège lines. These works constitute the final stage of the Belgian TGV project (phase II), undertaken in the framework of the PBKAL (Paris-Brussels-Cologne-Amsterdam-London) high-speed rail network.

The Bank has been involved in the financing of Belgium's high-speed rail project - as a trans-European network (TEN) scheme of strategic importance to Europe's railways - since its launch in 1993 and has already contributed EUR 1.3 billion towards it. This project is the centrepiece of one of the 14 TENs identified as priorities for Europe by the Essen European Council. When PBKAL schemes in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany are completed, users will be able to travel between major centres of north-west Europe by high speed train. With the completion of links between Belgium and the Netherlands and Belgium and Germany, Amsterdam will be only 1 hour 40 minutes and Cologne 1 hour 37 minutes from Brussels.

The first phase of Belgium's high-speed rail project consisted of construction of a new line from Brussels to the French border. The second comprises works on lines from Brussels to the Dutch border via Antwerp (the 87.6 km North Branch, which will join a new high-speed line to Amsterdam) and Brussels to the German border via Liège (the 146 km East Branch, which will link up with an upgraded line to Cologne).

Like previous financing (totalling EUR 661 million) provided by the EIB, today's loan will serve to fund improvements to the existing Brussels-Antwerp line (upgrading of 49.7 km to high-speed standard, construction of a 3.8 km tunnel in Antwerp and rebuilding of that city's central station) and the Brussels-Liège line (works on 104.1 km section comprising construction of a new 60.7 km double-track line alongside the E40 motorway, 1 km of tunnel and 2.25 km of bridges, and rebuilding of Liège Guillemins station). SNCB, the project manager, expects that certain sections will be in operation by the end of 2002 and that the entire works on the North and East Branches will be completed by 2005.

As part of its remit, the EIB supports the development of infrastructure networks with a Community dimension, notably in the transport sector. Between 1995 and 1999, it approved loans totalling some EUR 28 billion solely for trans-European transport networks within the European Union. EIB financing in support of EU railways over the past five years has amounted to EUR 14.2 billion: 9.1 billion for main line networks, 3.6 billion for dedicated public transport systems and 1.5 billion for exceptional structures with a railway component (e.g. the resund link). The most recent operation in this sector consisted of a EUR 500 million loan to TAV (Treno Alta Velocità) on 14 July for the Milan-Bologna high-speed rail line.

(1) 1 EUR :6.55957 FRF, 40.3399 BEF, 0.632300 GBP