Are the Netherlands neglecting infrastructure upgrades for 740-metre trains?

Will infrastructure in the Netherlands facilitate 740-metre long trains ? Interest group RailGood claims that the Dutch government has a significant budget shortfall that could delay the needed network upgrades. However, the ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management contradicts this and says that results on this end can be expected in 2023.

740-metres long trains have long been on the Dutch rail freight sector’s agenda. In 2020, LTE Netherlands became the first rail carrier to use 740-metre trains on Dutch tracks as part of a pilot programme, while it managed to get permission to operate longer trains in 2021 too.

The possibility exists; however, that the network cannot handle the capacity if more rail carriers request to use longer trains. There is a need for network upgrades to facilitate their use, which requires investments. Here is where things get complex.

Half billion budget shortfall

RailGood communicated on 25 March that the Dutch government “forgot to arrange a budget for upgrades of the rail network in the Netherlands to enable a train length of 740 meters, which is a European obligation to comply with by 2030 at the latest”. The interest group also mentioned that “there is a budget shortfall of half a billion euros, partly because the investment program PHS (Program High-frequency Rail Transport) has invested so much in passenger rail projects that it has not been taken into account that the rail network should become suitable for 740-metre freight train length”.

The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management contradicts this view. A spokesperson mentioned that “this is not true”. “ProRail, the Dutch rail infrastructure manager, has investigated what measures are needed to make the Dutch rail network suitable for a 740-metre train length. It is estimated that the investments total between 0.5 and 1 billion euros. However, this does not mean that there is a budget shortfall. First, ProRail needs to determine if all measures are indeed necessary. ProRail is currently examining the priority projects, and we expect the results in 2023.”

Matter not neglected

As for the fact that rail freight-related infrastructure upgrades delay due to focusing on passenger projects, the Ministry is also assertive. “The matter is not neglected. The Netherlands uses an adaptive method to invest in 740-metres train lengths. We try to synchronise investments, for example, within the PHS program. Technically, the current rails can handle a train length of 740 metre. However, more staging and waiting tracks are needed, so when there is a problem with a longer train, the other traffic will not be affected. So at the moment, the capacity for 740-metre trains is limited. With the realisation of synchronised investments, the capacity for longer trains will increase.”

The Dutch government might not have forgotten to allocate money for rail freight network upgrades. However, it includes them in broader projects that can prove time-consuming in terms of assessment and implementation. The planning is there but takes more time than expected because of the comprehensive investments approach. As a result, the rail freight sector expects rail freight infrastructure upgrades to be handled independently and with specific prioritisation.

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Author: Nikos Papatolios

Nikos Papatolios is editor of RailFreight.com, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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