This winter work will begin on the Hanze Line, a 50 km link shortening the route from Amsterdam to the northern Dutch provinces. Peter Badcock describes the project, which under current government strategy will be the last new-build railway until 2020

TRAVELLING between Amsterdam and the provinces of Groningen and Friesland currently takes much longer by train than by car, because of the need to follow a circuitous route via Amersfoort. This will change in 2013, with the completion of the 50 km Hanze Line between the existing terminus at Lelystad and the railway junction at Zwolle.

Passing through low-lying polders with a relatively low population density, the €901m line will cut 9 km and 15 min from the rail trip, as well as easing congestion on the existing route and avoiding the need to ease a restrictive 1 000 m radius curve at Harderwijk.

Netherlands Railways will run two Intercity and two stopping trains in each direction per hour on the Hanze Line, which the Ministry of Transport, Public Works & Water Management expects will carry 32 000 passengers a day, with 40% being new rail users. There will be no level crossings and the infrastructure is being designed to permit 200 km/h operation, although NS does not currently posses any domestic rolling stock suitable for more than 160 km/h.

Although the line is intended mainly for passenger services, the need to carry freight traffic was accepted after a decision was made to cancel the northern branch of the Betuwe dedicated freight route. This means that capacity on the existing rail network must be freed up between the centre of the country and the northern and eastern regions, and so the Hanze Line will have daily paths for up to 30 freight trains in each direction.

The route

The line is being built under a series of design and build contracts, which began with an agreement signed on January 20 2006 covering the construction of the Drontermeer tunnel by Ballast Nedam Infra.

The route starts at Lelystad Centrum, where the existing terminus is to be extended with two additional tracks and an island platform to cope with an expected 14 000 daily passengers. The line will then curve away from the present stabling sidings to the north of the town, reaching an isolated greenfield site where two loops will allow freight trains to be overtaken by faster passenger services.

Flevoland province has recently decided that the new N23 road between Lelystad and Dronten will be routed along the same corridor as the new railway. The line will be carried on embankments and viaducts through the small town of Dronten, where 3 000 daily passengers are expected to use a planned four-track station with cycle storage and an integrated bus station. Continuing east, a 790 m long tunnel will take the line 4·2 m below the Drontermeer waterway. The two parallel single-track tunnels will be equipped with water pumps, ventilation and fire mains, as well as a series of cross-passages to provide emergency escape routes.

The town of Kampen will gain a new station, which is expected to see around 2 800 passengers daily. A site in the new south-western suburbs of the town has been chosen after studies suggested that a route under the historic centre with a connection to the existing Kampen - Zwolle branch line would cost an additional €200m. The chosen alignment features a tight curve which will restrict trains to 160 km/h, but allows the railway to run in the same corridor as the N50 road.

The plans for the area west of Kampen were amended this year to accommodate new flood-prevention measures, including a viaduct over an proposed extra channel from the river IJssel and the provision of extra dykes to prevent flooding of the Drontermeer tunnel. Introduced at a late stage in the design work, this revised policy has added at least €30m to the overall cost of the project.

A viaduct will take the new railway over the A28 motorway junction, and from here the line will continue on embankments to reach a grade-separated junction with the main line from Amersfoort and a new bridge across the River IJssel. The design of this 150 m bridge is at the consultation phase, with construction due to start in 2008. The original proposal for a visually less intrusive tunnel under the river costing an additional €100m proved too costly, but local inhabitants should find train traffic quieter than on the present steel bridge. The tracks will be 13 m above water level, avoiding the inconvenience to shipping caused by the existing low-level lifting bridge.

The Hanze Line has become even more important to passengers since the government announced in April that it was finally abandoning plans for the €10bn Zuiderzee Line between Amsterdam and Groningen, on the grounds that it would offer poor value for money. It has since been suggested that the €2·7bn earmarked by the government for that project might instead be used to build a rail cut-off parallel to the A1 motorway to bypass the bottleneck at the junctions at Weesp. This would yield improvements for services from Amsterdam to the large dormitory town of Almere as well as Hanze Line destinations including Groningen.

The Hanze Line is now expected to open in 2013. The first serious plans date from the early 1990s, but the poor economic climates of 1998 and 2002 led to the planned 2009 opening date being postponed, and at one stage it seemed possible that the Hanze Line would be sacrificed in favour of improvements to suburban services between the Randstad municipalities. Under the current Benutten en Bouwen policy of getting the maximum use out of existing assets before turning to expensive new-build projects, the Hanze Line will be the only new railway to be built in the Netherlands until 2020.