Passenger trains move, freight trains still stuck in the Netherlands

Image: portofamsterdam.comPort of Amsterdam

In both the ports of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, rail freight traffic still faces considerable disruptions caused by the winter weather. Although the main network is free of snow, many switches on sidings are defective or disrupted, said ProRail, the infrastructure of the network.

Today is the fifth day that rail freight is at an almost complete standstill in the Netherlands. Although passenger traffic has resumed to a good extent, railway undertakings have only been able to operate a handful of trains in and out of the country. The biggest problem is in the harbour area of Rotterdam.

“This morning passenger trains started running according to plan. The severe cold last night does hinder the effort to make railways available for freight transport. Switches are freezing again. Today we look at how we can move on in this regard”, ProRail said on Thursday morning.

Operational or not?

The updates on which areas are accessible are confusing, as they are subject to change or incorrect. On Wednesday afternoon, for example, the main route of the Harbour Line was declared operative, just as the terminals APMT, EMO, LWR, RWG, Maasvlakte east, Europoort, CTT and RSC.

However, departing a train from Europort still proved to be impossible according to railway companies. “We receive updates on which areas are cleared, but this is not always correct. We have not been able to get a train out of Europort”, said Jolanda Plomp, CEO of LTE.

Still closed

According to ProRail, it is not yet possible to operate from Euromaxx, Theemsweg, including Lyondell and Vopak. There are serious restrictions in emplacement yard Kijfhoek, where trains can be parked, but the hill system is not functioning. Partly accessible are ECT Delta, Buitencontour Maasvlakte 2, Botlek, Pernis and Waalhaven South. That was reported on Wednesday.

“In Amsterdam, the Houtrakpolder and the Westhaven are now also accessible. A snow plow is present in Moerdijk to clear the tracks there as well”, the ProRail blog read on Wednesday afternoon.

Race against the clock

The reason why railways are not operational is mainly due to switch errors. VolkerRail is working in the port to clear the snow from the switches. “That is quite a job, because there are about a thousand in total on the harbor site. To get to the right switches as quickly as possible, VolkerRail has a total of nine snow plows at strategic locations on the harbor tracks twenty-four hours a day. There they use leaf blowers to blow the snow away from the switch blades, so that they can be used again for the train service”, explains ProRail. Their role is to test the switches by checking whether they open and close properly.

The changing weather conditions make the work a race against the clock, the contractor explains. “Switches that we cleared of snow on Sunday, we had to do again on Monday,” says Bob van der Waal, projectmanager VolkerRail. The thaw brings new challenges. The melted snow turns into ice at night, which is a lot harder to get rid of. Instead of blowing it away with a leaf blower, we now melt it down with a gas burner, which takes longer, van der Waal explains.

Losing patience

“I really do see that ProRail is working hard to resolve the matter, but my patience is now getting less. The snowstorm happened on Saturday evening, I would have understood if railways were inaccessible on Sunday. But we are now five days further, and our trains are still stuck”, says Plomp.

In her belief, the priorities should have been different. “Due to the corona crisis most people are working from home, so maybe there should have been a little less focus on passenger traffic, and a little more on rail freight. We have a vital profession and goods do need to move in and out of the harbour. Soon, the tracks will start getting congested with trains that do operate, but cannot enter the port. Then, we have a bigger problem.”

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Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is the editor-in-chief of, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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