A good way to start a conversation in Liège, Belgium, is to ask people what they think of the new Guillemins Railway Station.
The answers I got typically started: “Well, it looks really nice, but . . .” followed by complaints about the high cost (312 million Euros) and especially the cost overruns. As in Germany, people in Belgium seem to be getting more and more annoyed about the fact that large public building projects typically turn out to cost much more than they were supposed to.
While some people believe this impressive new building will help kick-start the economy, others feel that a region with high levels of poverty and unemployment can’t afford the luxury of such an expensive railroad station.
I personally find the station exhilarating and fascinating. It has a huge arched roof but no sides, so it has lots of fresh air and will never be stuffy. The downside of this is that it can get very windy, which I imagine is not so exhilarating when you have to wait for a train on a stormy winter night. (In this regard, the Guillemins station reminds me of the ICE station at Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe, Germany, which is also open on all sides and thus incredibly windy in the winter.)
The Guillemins station in Liège was designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. It took over ten years to build and was inaugurated in September 2009.
These Thalys trains look like French TGV trains, which essentially is what they are. The Thalys company is a joint subsidiary of the French, Belgian, Dutch and German railways, with the French having the largest share and the Germans the smallest. At first Thalys served only two German cities, Aachen and Cologne, but they now also run four trains a day via Cologne to Düsseldorf, Duisburg and Essen. From other parts of Germany you have to change in Cologne, which is what I did on my trip to Liège in 2011. I have also taken the Thalys trains to and from Brussels.
THALYS is not an acronym, by the way. It doesn’t stand for anything, but is just a word they made up because they wanted a name that could be easily pronounced in all three languages, French, Dutch and German.
For my return trip from Liège to Frankfurt am Main I took a German InterCityExpress (ICE) train.
Currently (as of 2018) there are seven ICEs per day (one every two hours) running from Brussels to Frankfurt am Main by way of Liège, Aachen, Cologne and Frankfurt Airport. The journey from Liège to Frankfurt takes just over two and a half hours, leaving Liège at 7:12, 9:14, 11:14, 13:14, 15:14, 17:14 and 19:14.
These trains can theoretically reach a speed of two hundred and eighty kilometers per hour, but only on special tracks that are designed for such high speeds, like the new line Cologne to Frankfurt. In practice, the high speeds on some sections of track in Germany are made up for by poor maintenance on other sections, forcing the trains to go slower. Also they lose a quarter of an hour because of an unnecessary stop at Frankfurt Airport and because they have to take a slow loop from the airport to Frankfurt Central Station.
My photos in this post are from 2011. I revised the text in 2018.
See more posts about train travel in western Europe.