Harbour Line Rotterdam closed for 6 days this fall for new viaduct

Theemswegtrace bridge

The new Theemsweg route in the port of Rotterdam is about to be connected to the Harbour Line. Although this is good news for the industry, it also means that the crucial rail freight corridor will be unavailable for six days in the first week of November. Considering the impact this has, infrastructure manager ProRail expects traffic disruptions for a period of three weeks.

The Theemswegtracé, a viaduct of more than four kilometers long, replaces the Calandbrug for rail freight transport. “Not only is this bridge at the end of its life, but a frustrating bottleneck will also disappear with the new route,” says Arjan Olsthoorn, programme manager at ProRail. This is because the bridge opens frequently for barge traffic, putting trains at a standstill.

That will soon all be a thing of the past, according to the infra manager. There will be room for 230 freight trains per day on the new route. Now, on the Calandbrug, ninety trains can pass per day. The overall project means an improvement, but it does not come for free.

Never closed for so long

In November, the new route will be connected to the existing Havenspoorlijn in six days. The Harbour Line has never been closed for so long. “Regular shutdowns take place at pre-arranged times”, van Olsthoorn explains. “And then we often align with Catholic holidays, such as Easter or Pentecost. The entire international logistics industry is then at rest, which makes it easier.”

That is not the case now. “In this case, rail freight traffic continues across the border, so the production chain will be disrupted. It will take a total of three weeks before port logistics are back to normal. In week 1 it will be phased out, in week 2 the train traffic will come to a halt and in week 3 we will build it up to align with international traffic again.

Not a good timing

The fact that the Calandbrug is finally being replaced is fantastic, comments Hans-Willem Vroon, Director of RailGood. It’s an important strategic step forward because there will be more rail capacity and the perpetually disruptive Calandbrug will finally be replaced by a piece of new railway line in the largest port of Europe.

However, the fact that the 6-day closure is not planned at a quieter time causes a great deal of inconvenience and extra costs for rail freight transport and customers. “Costs that cannot be recovered”, he underlines. “With the winter collapse of ProRail in week 6, a two-week loss of turnover is an enormously negative impact on the operating results of rail freight transporters and intermodal operators”, he concludes.

Logistics challenge

This is a considerable logistical challenge for the industry. At ProRail, Osthoorn will lead the project. Together with chain partners, Arjan and his team drew up an integrated logistics plan. In addition, he is also a stakeholder manager and works together with the Port of Rotterdam Authority on communication to market parties in the port.

That started two years ago with approaching those parties. “All terminals, traction parties, carriers, environmental parties, you name it. We quickly involved them in the process, but also made it clear to them straight away: this variant causes the least inconvenience. Transporters and shippers will have to sit on their hands for a while, but then you also have something.”

Alternative solutions

At the beginning of this year, Arjan and his team mapped out the logistical possibilities on the rail that are still available. “It will be extra busy at the Waalhaven and Pernis yards, both at night and at weekends, because the Botlek Europoort and Maasvlakte yards are not accessible. The terminals at Pernis and Waalhaven, where containers are transferred from ships to trains or other traffic, will be open 24/7 to facilitate additional transport options.

In the six days that the Havenspoorlijn is closed, many freight trains are stationary or remain abroad. Arjan: “We have to find space for those stationary wagons. We are looking for them throughout the Netherlands. In addition, we immediately make use of this opportunity to carry out more work. The stationary freight trains, the work trains and soon several contractors working simultaneously on the Harbour LIne, that is a complex logistical puzzle.”

Author: Majorie van Leijen

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

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