Dutch rail sector rather sees new branches Betuwe Line than Iron Rhine
The Dutch rail freight sector sees potential in updating the Iron Rhine. However, a northern and southern branch of the Betuwe Line is higher on the wish list. This was concluded in a market vision carried this summer. In this assessment, the Dutch rail freight sector listed which rail investments it believes are necessary to have a smooth rail network by 2040.
A ‘must-have’ on the list is the north branch of the Betuwe Line, the Dutch dedicated freight line. The sector representatives also put five ‘highly desirable’ projects on their list, plus three rail investments that they decided to label as ‘desirable’. The Iron Rhine, to begin with, ranks with the latter trio of apparently slightly less urgently desired rail projects. Or rather: the railway line “formerly known as the Iron Rhine” is one of those three, because the rail connection is now officially referred to as “3RX”, short for “Rhein-Ruhr Rail Connection”.
The wish list of Dutch rail projects has been produced by representatives of the Dutch railway sector, who jointly called themselves the ‘Rail Freight Table’ (Spoorgoederentafel).This is supported by the Ministry of Water and Infrastructure, with the aim to bring under the attention the wishlist in a governmental level.
The real Iron Rhine, which since the nineteenth century has connected the port of Antwerp with the German Ruhr area and was allowed to cut off a section via Dutch territory, fell into disuse in 1992. This happened because the Dutch Limburgers wanted peace for the Meinweg National Park with its lush brook forests, wild boars and croaking garlic toads. Ideas for tunnelling the nature reserve and thus realising the Belgian dreams for a comeback of the Iron Rhine are now in the trash. However, Germany and the Netherlands are still eager to help Belgium find an alternative rail passage. A potential route near the A52 (Roermond-Mönchengladbach) met with much resistance from residents in the latter city, who seem to have averted this “Schreckensszenario” with loud protests (“Nein, zum Eisernen Rhein!”).
The scenario that is still on the table is the aforementioned ‘3RX’, aka ‘de Derde Weg’. Roermond will welcome trains from Antwerp; however, these trains will go north, to Venlo, and via A40 to the Ruhr area.
The Rail Freight Table has put 3RX on its Dutch wish list because the connection ‘gives some space in Brabant’, but the Dutch railway sector in its Market Vision does not look like a passionate advocate for Iron Rhine 2.0: ‘ The sector believes that 3RX should not mean that the number of routes for the trains to and from the Chemelot chemical cluster, will be constrained by 2040. ‘
Another rail project from the “desirable” category is also dedicated to connecting with other countries: the Oostboog Veendam. Unlike 3RX, this is a connection that plays into the hands of a Dutch port: Groningen Seaports would connect to the German hinterland with the Oostboog.
The third project with the label “desirable” is the so-called VeZa curve, which should enable freight trains to travel directly to Antwerp from Zeeland ports. Then, they would no longer have to drive via Kijfhoek, the shunting yard between Barendrecht and Zwijndrecht. It has also been such a long-cherished wish, which in this case is more prevalent in Zeeland than in Antwerp. The Spoorgoederentafel also sees the Zeeuwse boog as a way to relieve the busy Brabant route, just as in 3RX.
The five rail projects that the Dutch rail freight sector considers “highly desirable” also include a Dutch-Belgian railway line. The line between Terneuzen and Ghent. “Promising in the short term,” notes the Rail Freight Table. That can be reassuring: both the Dutch House of Representatives and the Belgian Parliament have recently already greened the signals for the rail connection.
Optimising and expanding the Venlo and Kijfhoek freight rail junctions is also qualified by the sector as “highly desirable”. The same applies to the so-called Achteringang Asiahaven in the Amsterdam port area.
The other Dutch rail wishes have to do with the Betuwe Line. According to the sector, the adaptation of the Sophiaspoor Tunnel, the eight-kilometre-long tunnel between Kijfhoek and Papendrecht, is “highly desirable” because safety restrictions limit the train traffic in that tunnel. By improving fire protection, more trains could run through this “crucial link in the Betuweroute”.
The realisation of a south branch of the Betuwe Line, between Nijmegen and Venlo, is also considered “highly desirable”. If it were up to the sector, a completely new railway line would be constructed along the A73, but the flag would also be displayed at the rail freight operators if they were allowed to use the existing, upgraded Maas line.
Ultimate dream wish
Nevertheless, the ultimate dream of the rail freight industry is, without a doubt an extended branch of the Betuwe Line: via Oldenzaal to the north of Germany. The desire for a north branch exists in the sector since the end of the last century. The same applies to the resuscitation of the Iron Rhine. But where Dutch rail freight transport still seems to be able to see a bright future without the Antwerp-favoring 3RX, the sector sees the north branch of the Betuwe Line as the ultimate Dutch “must-have”.
Just as the Iron Rhine Knights had befallen Germany before, the advocates of the North Branch met fierce local opposition. In the Achterhoek people are horrified by the idea of a new line full of freight trains, and Oldenzalers, in particular, are already worried about it.
The Spoorgoederentafel argues for a route that runs around Oldenzaal and propagates the construction of a north branch as “the solution for several bottlenecks”. The Betuwe Line will be better utilised, rail traffic will spread over the three main border crossings with Germany, and several other routes will be relieved in the Netherlands. Passenger transport also benefits, the sector argues, because the coveted north branch, for example, would also enable a faster connection between the Randstad and Berlin.
This article was originally published in Nieuwsblad Transport, authored by Paul Jumelet.