Freek van Arkel

2nd branch of only-freight corridor in the Netherlands: wishful thinking?

A second branch of the Dutch rail freight corridor the Betuweroute is no longer a point of discussion. It is no longer a question of ‘if it should be realised’, but rather ‘how’, said the new Dutch government, about the plans for what is known as the North Branch.

While there is increasing support in the House of Representatives for the construction of the North branch of the Betuweroute, resistance to the plans is growing in the region the Achterhoek, where the line would cross the border with Germany. However, the choice seems to have already been made, while alternatives still need to be explored, is the response from local politicians.

Why a North Branch

The idea behind the North Branch of the Betuweroute is to relieve pressure on the main route between Arnhem and Zutphen, because it runs straight through a densely populated area that experiences a lot of nuisance from rail freight traffic. It would add a second branch between Zevenaar and Hengelo, crossing the border at Oldenzaal and running directly to the north of Germany.

In November, the political party VVD submitted a motion in the House of Representatives to investigate the possibilities of the line through the Achterhoek. The entire House was in favour, except for two votes. One of the options is to build the new railway line along the A18 motorway.

Criticism

Since the idea has been on the table, it has also been met with criticism. Residents near the planned route fear noise pollution and dangerous substances. Earlier, various interest groups from the Achterhoek had already written to the then State Secretary Stientje van Veldhoven of Infrastructure and Water Management against proposals for a northern branch of the Betuwelijn.

“A new railway line on which freight trains run day and night will affect the living environment of tens of thousands of people,” they said at the time. The inhabitants also fear the damage to the so-called bocage landscape that characterises the region, a patchwork of irregular pieces of land with partitions.

Member of Parliament from the VVD Fahid Minhas said last week that the quality of life of the people in the Achterhoek should be central to the research into the possibilities of the North Branch. In fact, four more possible routes would be investigated. The province of Gelderland also wants all five variants to be investigated for freight trains. The North Branch is one of them.

Options for regional public transport

Industry organisation Railgood praises the clear statement by Member of Parliament Minhas that the North branch must be established no matter what. “Why should we have our goods transported by truck between the Dutch ports, multimodal nodes with their logistics centers and not via the sustainable, safe, space-efficient and transport-efficient rail”, wonders director Hans Willem Vroon. “A North branch can also be used very well to transport more goods by train between the Netherlands and China. The North Sea – Baltic Corridor is a huge economic growth corridor with corresponding growth in transport.”

According to Vroon, the Noordtak can also be used to run direct trains between Nijmegen-Arnhem and Twente and for better regional public transport. “There are opportunities to make Twente an international passenger hub in the liberalised international passenger transport network. Significant investments in the expansion of railway lines in the overcrowded Randstad can be saved.”

Less hindrance

RailGood also expects that many residents along the mixed network will experience less environmental nuisance from intensifying train traffic, including between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., when the North Branch is available.

“Hazardous substances can largely be transported outside built-up areas, just like on the highways. An interoperable and well-integrated North Branch between the Betuwe Route and the Bad Bentheim border crossing is good for the economy, good for the climate, good for the quality of life along the railway hinterland connections and good for relieving the congestion of the overcrowded road network.”

This article was originally published in SpoorPro, our Dutch sister publication. 

Author: Paul van den Bogaard

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