The Port of Antwerp-Bruges and Infrabel will receive €23 million ($25 million) from the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) for the renovation of Lillo Bridge.
In September 2023, the parties applied for a European subsidy for the renovation of the bridge and renewal of the tracks. The European Commission announced that it would support the project with a grant from the CEF.
The Lillo Bridge was built in 1967 and it is the only bridge over the Canal Dock. It connects the area between the Scheldt and the Canal Dock with the hinterland and is very important for the chemical cluster and the container terminals in that area.
The increase in both rail and shipping traffic required the bridge to open and close more frequently. This resulted in material fatigue of the steel and balance structures. By the end of 2019, this had progressed to the point where the bridge was decommissioned.
Since then, trains had to detour via line 11 via the Zandvliet-Berendrecht lock complex and around BASF. Not only did this quadruple the distance, but it also caused additional waiting times at the lock complex. The number of trains to and from the zone subsequently dropped by about 30 per cent, according to the port.
With the approval of a European grant for the renovation of the Lillobrug, the European Commission also recognises the strategic importance of the bridge for smooth rail transport in the port area and the wider region.
In total, 50 per cent of the renovation costs will be borne by Europe, amounting to about €22.43 million ($24.4 million) for the Port of Antwerp-Bruges and €500,000 ($544.6 million) for Infrabel.
In the meantime, the process of renovating the Lillo Bridge has already been started; there was a call for candidate contractors in December 2023.
The specifications will be further finalised and shared with candidates in the spring. In addition, the application for an environmental and building permit has already been submitted and declared admissible. The works are expected to be completed by the end of 2027 at the latest.
Annick De Ridder, Vice-Mayor of the City of Antwerp and President of the Board of Directors of Port of Antwerp-Bruges, said: “Built in 1967, the Lillo Bridge is the only bridge over the Canal Dock and was of strategic importance for rail transport for our petrochemical cluster and container terminals.
“Unfortunately, the bridge had to be decommissioned at the end of 2019 due to material fatigue. With the approval of a European grant to renovate this bridge, we as a port can take another step towards more rail transport and thus make our port as the economic engine of Flanders even more sustainable.”