Mixed outlook for Dutch rail freight as volumes rise
Activity in the building and chemical sectors helped boost rail freight volumes in The Netherlands in 2016, yet growth prospects for this year remain mixed, according to a report by ABN Amro Bank. A study of the country’s transport network shows rail freight edged up by 0.8 per cent, largely thanks to movements on the Betuweroute line linking Rotterdam and Germany.
International transport increased by the same amount, while domestic traffic saw a 1.1 per cent rise in freight volumes. ABN says rail freight benefited from low water levels in 2015 and the first half of 2016, which meant that inland water transportation was made more difficult.
Describing the outlook for rail freight as ‘mixed positive’, ABN’s transport sector prognosis report says carriers are nonetheless benefiting from general economic growth, and in particular an increase in construction and the growth of the chemicals and metals industry. Despite facing strong competition from the likes of China, expectations for this sector of the rail market are ‘positive’, says the report.
In the long-term, it adds, rail firms will benefit from the Betuweroute connection and the addition of a third track, although this has recently run into trouble, with the German section facing a significant delay. Dutch Transport Secretary Sharon Dijksma has already confirmed that it is no longer realistic that the target completion date of 2022 will be met, and as a result freight trains will face major diversions and capacity restrictions. This, says ABN, is detrimental to freight rail, because Germany is the main destination for carriers.
The report came as ProRail, the country’s rail infrastructure manager, and national rail operator Dutch Railways (NS) were fined 1.05 million and 1.25 million Euros respectively for failing to meet the standards required in terms of freight (and passenger) movements in 2016.
In a letter to the Dutch Parliament, Secretary Dijksma said fewer freight trains ran in 2016 than had been agreed. In addition to the Betuweroute, she also cited problems such as work around Utrecht and speed limits on the Moerdijkbrug, a key bridge over the Hollandse Diep connecting the regions of South Holland and North Brabant. All had had a ‘significant impact’ on punctuality, she said, and stressed that ProRail must do everything to ensure more freight trains are on time in 2017.