ProRail CEO: ‘I also get headaches from rail problems at the port of Rotterdam’
The railway at the port of Rotterdam recently experienced problems again. Due to emergency repairs, fewer freight trains could run, which caused a nuisance for carriers. ProRail CEO John Voppen promises that the Dutch rail infrastructure manager will do their utmost to prevent new problems.
What will ProRail do about occurring problems?
“It certainly didn’t go the way we wanted it to recently. The entire market was affected by the disruptions in the port railway. This will dent the confidence that shippers have in rail freight transport, adding extra pressure to improve things. We know there’s deferred maintenance, and we’re working hard to clear it up, and we realise it should have been done yesterday. But we need some time to do it step by step.”
You work with multi-year plans that determine when something needs to be replaced, right?
“You would indeed say that. But this has happened for twenty years. There was simply too little attention to rail freight transport from politicians and ProRail. Now a special team is working on getting it right. The difference is that we, as ProRail, are now putting a lot of pressure on improving it. We realise that we cannot do everything in one year, but together with the market, we determine what has priority. In this way, we have already been able to tackle a lot in the last year.”
There are still some large projects on the to-do list, such as the extinguishing facilities at Waalhaven-South.
“Correct. The competent authorities have tolerated the situation for years, but not anymore. That is why we have made a considerable investment: the temporary solution with an extinguishing train. It is now important to make a good permanent fire extinguisher. Incidentally, this does not only concern Waalhaven-South but also four other yards. There we are working on renewing the fire extinguishing pipeline or installing a new pipeline so that we comply with the permits.”
Kijfhoek rail yard has also not gone well in recent weeks.
“I am very happy that we are going to renew the hill. The contracts have been concluded, and we will get to work in the coming years. So step by step, we are on the right track. I also get a headache when there are problems, as was the case there recently. But we’re going to fix it. At the same time, we are also investing heavily in rail freight transport. Just look at the Theemsweg route. We were able to remove a bottleneck from the logistics chain there.”
Is there still enough space on the tracks? Capacity shortages are still regularly a challenge.
“Our strategy is to use the existing tracks as much as possible. We believe that there should be a north branch of the Betuweroute and that the connection with Venlo could be improved. But it also means improving existing yards, for example, by making room for 740-metre trains in more places. We are now doing this in the port of Moerdijk. But then you are talking about hundreds of millions in investments.”
How is the Betuweroute going?
“That is the artery for Dutch rail freight traffic. More than 100 to 130 trains per day pass through it. We see that Germany is now working on the third track. When that is ready, we will have a real European corridor. Because the Netherlands is interesting, but it concerns the entire European routes to Switzerland and Italy.”
Is the north branch of the Betuweroute coming? Locally there is quite a bit of protest against it.
“We really need to make that investment. Then we can make better use of the Betuweroute, and reduce the number of freight trains in places where people live close to the tracks. Everyone agrees, except the people who live near the North Branch. Everyone would like to get more goods on the rail, but not in their own backyard. If you look at the growth of rail freight transport, we see 30 to 50 per cent growth until 2035-2040. And that’s not even counting the modal shift targets. That is only possible with better connections.”
Would the railway also be used for short distances?
“I would like to see that. However, the destination must be close to the railway. That means an active policy by local authorities to plan the development of, for example, factories near the railways.”
What is currently at the top of ProRail’s agenda?
“The reliability of the rail in the port is the basic prerequisite for shippers to use rail freight. On top of that comes capacity. For rail freight transport, it would be good if the timetable was basically determined at a European level instead of nationally. Because you often see that trains have to wait at the border. Rail freight transport cannot be planned a year in advance. If we can plan that more flexibly across countries, that’s a big step in the right direction. But countries must be prepared to give up part of their sovereignty in this.”
This article was originally published in our sister publication NT.nl.