The usual assumption about the Antwerp Pre-metro within the exploring community is that the ‘pre’ represents the fact it hasn’t opened yet. Not correct. The Pre-metro is actually a properly dug and operating metro system, which is just not running metro stock yet. During the IDM weekend, we followed Patch, Site and Jess down into the live network for a look around.
During the good old days of the 80s, when Belgium had money coming out of it’s ears, funds were poured into both the Wallonia and Flanders regions. The ‘Waffle Iron’ policy of equal funding meant that if one region had a project on it’s way, the other region would recieve funding for a project of it’s own. With the money granted, Antwerp decided to put it’s tram system underground, with a view to running a metro system at some point in the future.
The network in Antwerp which is referred to as the pre-metro incorporates the opened sections too, containing loops, layups and stations. All opened! I never realised quite how expansive it was, and despite the unopened sections offering a certain degree of wonder, there’s nothing like a play underground in a real, living and breathing network. The trams that run on these tracks are powered from overhead wires, and take up no more than a third of the platform space. Part of me wonders whether this will ever be a metro ‘proper’, and if it is, will it be because they need it in itself, or just as an ego boost for the city?
The space in these tunnels was much greater than those areas of London and Paris that I’ve explored in – the time between the trams was sufficient to allow for movement that I wouldn’t quite term as casual, but it certainly allowed more flexibility in the approach that one could take in the French or English capitals. There were no alcoves in the areas that we saw, but there were plenty of spaces with no track, where we could sit comfortably without fear of being spotted.
This was all aided by the fact the network is sufficiently unguarded to allow for barrierless entry to the network – we also saw very few cameras and again, few staff. Nobody seemed to be buying or using tickets and we all questionned the profitability of the system. Maybe conductors roam around sometimes, but we didn’t see them.
We barely tickled the surface of the live network – My pictures will hopefully show the variety of spaces that we encountered but I wouldn’t assume that it would be anywhere near comprehensive. There are no ‘ghost stations’ here, and while these tend to be the targets that one centres each metro outing on where they’re available, the lack of these in Antwerp led us to look at other areas in the system that perhaps represent more of what the network is about.
There are just 11 stations on the premetro network, mostly running in the centre of the city. Various teams of men were working on parts of the tram network, where unused metro sized tunnels lay underneath, but this system was evidently built on ambition and grand aspirations, rather than the reality of what was truly needed in this wonderful city.