The national railways in Belgium and the Netherlands are modernising their passenger rolling stock fleets, but commercial and political objectives complicate the task. Harry Hondius MSc Eng compares the two railways' traction policies

WHILE geographical conditions dictated the size and shape of the rail networks in Belgium and the Netherlands, today politics and the competitive environment of Europe in the 2000s exert a strong influence on development of both railways.

In the Netherlands, the objectives are to raise speeds and comfort standards on the profitable inter-city routes and to operate the loss-making regional network at acceptable cost, but changes such as the separation of track and operations complicate management decisions. In Belgium, the state still controls the integrated railway directly by means of a management contract, and a long-delayed fleet modernisation programme is now being implemented to raise comfort standards.

From its earliest days Belgian National Railways served a heavily industrialised country, requiring robust track able to handle 23 tonne axleloads at a relatively early date, much of it for smokestack industries that declined towards the close of the 20th century.

In contrast, Netherlands Railways had lean infrastructure limited to 18 tonne axleloads. Freight traffic was light and never exceeded 30 million tonnes a year. Although NS is 100% state-owned, since 1992 operations and infrastructure have been split, and although the Railned (network), Railinfrabeheer (infrastructure management) and Verkeersleiding (Traffic Control) businesses still feature in the annual report, they form part of the Ministry of Transport, Public Works & Water Management, which covers all their costs.

Within the NS group are three limited companies: NS Stations, NS Property and NS Reizigers (Passenger). A fourth consists of a 6% share in the Dutch-German freight company Railion GmbH, whose subsidiaries are Railion Benelux, based in Utrecht, and DB Cargo AG.

Some fundamental differences between the two railways are shown in Table I. It is interesting to note that in Belgium there are 2932 inhabitants per route-km compared with 5555 in the Netherlands, which explains the greater use of NS as a passenger network.

The Belgian network is star shaped, with Brussels at the centre. The capital has over two million inhabitants, and this concentration of people leads to strong peak hour flows twice a day on weekdays, supplemented in the summer by heavy traffic to and from the coast.

This explains the high seating capacity of SNCB trains, although SNCB carries only half the number of passengers on a 20% larger network than NS - and there are nearly 30% more staff. With freight, the position is reversed - SNCB handles 21/2 times as much traffic as NS, thanks mainly to the steel and automotive industries.

Capital investment, subsidies and state grants are 13·5% higher in the Netherlands, but the Belgian state provides 545m euros a year for pension payments. The Dutch government supports a 'contract' for students worth 130m euros a year, and this inflates passenger-km to around 4 billion a year.

Before 1992 the NS enjoyed generous subsidies for operations and grants for investment, and this is reflected in the excellent state of the infrastructure, and in the relatively low average age of the passenger rolling stock fleet. Since 1988 much investment has been poured into the historically limited infrastructure to eliminate bottlenecks, but in marked contrast SNCB has suffered since 1975 from systematic under-investment and lack of maintenance.

Towards 25 kV electrification?

Electric traction was introduced in the Netherlands when the private company ZHESM built and wired the 34 km main line from Rotterdam Hofplein to Den Haag and Scheveningen at 10 kV 25Hz as early as 1908. This was fed by the railway's own power station and operated by Siemens EMUs. The line was a great success, leading HSM, which owned ZHESM, to propose in 1917 electrification of the central part of its network in the Randstad at 15 kV 16 2/3Hz.

In 1921 a government appointed commission recommended after a world survey that 1·5 kV DC be adopted, and indeed a similar choice was made at that time in France. Much destruction was wreaked on the Dutch network in the Second World War, and in the aftermath NS pondered a change to 3 kV. The choice rested unhappily with 1·5 kV, and by 1966 much of the network had been wired at this voltage.

Today, what seemed a reasonable choice 80 years ago with EMUs using 750V DC traction motors is a major anachronism with locomotives rated at 4·8MW hauling relatively fast trains at 5min intervals. A seven-car EMU in 1927 had an hourly rating of 1·8MW, but in 1996 a seven-car double-deck DD-IRM EMU was rated at 3·2MW. The result is thermal losses of 10% because of the 4kA currents. Not only that, but 60 additional substations are being built in the short term simply to maintain the minimum catenary voltage.

The problem has long been recognised, and discussions began in the early 1990s about converting the 1·5 kV network in part or fully to 25 kV 50Hz (RG 8.97 p517). So far there has been no decision because of the high costs, especially as there is a great deal of recent rolling stock. But a start is being made with electrification at 25 kV of the high speed routes such as HSL-Zuid. The Betuwe freight line into Germany will also be electrified at 25 kV 50Hz, and SNCF will act as consultant. The Maasvlakte freight line forming the first part of the Betuwe route serving the port of Rotterdam is already being wired at 25 kV.

In Belgium a private railway between Gare de Luxembourg and Tervueren was electrified in 1931 at 1·5 kV DC but in 1935, after comparing the cost of 3 kV, SNCB wired the Brussels - Malines - Antwerpen line at the higher voltage. This became the national standard, and 3 kV electrification has continued systematically from 1949 to this day.

Exceptionally, the line from Rivage to Gouvy on the Luxembourg border is now being electrified at 25 kV 50Hz to match the CFL network. The high-speed line from the French frontier to Lembeek is wired at 25 kV 50Hz using 2 x 25 kV autotransformers, and this voltage will also be used on the line from Neffe (near Dinant) to Athus when completed in 2003. The high-speed line from Brussels to the German frontier will be wired at 25 kV from Louvain to Bierset and from Grivignée to Welkenraedt.

Via choppers to AC drives

The first Belgian emus built in 1935 and 1939 had GE and Sécheron equipment built under licence in Belgium by SEM and ACEC. The motors were fully suspended. From 1946 the asymmetric bogie led to A1'1A' A1'1A' trains with 170 kW nose-suspended motors, an arrangement which was to continue up until the last of 52 class 86 cars were completed in 1994. In 1962 the Pennsylvania bogie was abandoned for the Schlieren bogie. All cars built until 1980, including the 44 Class 75-77 four-car rakes with two motor coaches in the centre, are equiped with Henricot Atlas couplings and can operate as multiple-units.

From 1970 onwards the once-diversified Belgian rolling stock industry shrank to just two companies: BN, which became Bombardier Transportation, and ACEC, which in 1988 became part of what is now Alstom. The pair had long been the national suppliers of rolling stock, evolving EMU and locomotive designs closely with SNCB. From 1968 the ACEC chopper was introduced and the first EMUs able to run at 140 km/h entered service.

In the 1990s SNCB formulated a 10-year rolling stock modernisation and renewal policy (RG 6.95 p349). This included major orders for EMUs and push-pull stock, plus refurbishment of 181 two-car EMUs built between 1966 and 1980. This work costing 111m euros will see 25 sets treated a year until 2005 to give them a life extension of 15 years.

The 140 two-car AM Break sets with chopper control introduced in 1980-84, the first in Belgium to be built for 160 km/h, were improved in the early 1990s by addition of a centre car mounted on Fiat bogies.

SNCB's latest EMUs are the three-car AM96 sets purchased just before EU rules on competitive procurement came into effect. Delivery of this 160 km/h fleet will be completed this year. There are 70 sets for operation at 3 kV and 50 for dual-voltage working at 3 kV and 25 kV. Built by BN and Alstom Belgium for 653m euros, they have one car powered, as on the AM Break sets. The fully-suspended asynchronous motors have a continuous rating of 350 kW. Diode rectifiers are fitted to supply 3 kV, and a GTO 4500V inverter feeds each motor bogie. The units were described in RG 3.96 p129.

SNCB introduced chopper control on its electric locomotives in 1975 with 25 units of Class 20, a fleet of 5·15MW Co'Co' machines built by ACEC and BN for the steeply graded line into Luxembourg. They were followed in 1981-85 by the Bo'Bo' Classes 11 (1·5/3 kV), 12 (dual-system), 21 and 27, 144 locomotives in all, designed by SNCB and built by BN and ACEC. Class 27, the most powerful, has a continuous power rating of 4·15MW.

The 5MW asynchronous drive entered the scene with 60 Class 13 locos purchased from Alstom after an EU tendering procedure for 209m euros (RG 5.98 p325), although difficulties with electronics and signalling interference plagued their introduction into service.

Diesel traction still plays an astonishingly large role on SNCB routes and will continue to do so, although many loco-hauled trains will give way to DMUs. The diesel fleet consists of EMD and Baldwin designs adopted in 1954 and built until 1966. The 16-cylinder EMD 16-567C (1435 kW) and Belgian built Baldwin eight-cylinder 608A (1583 kW) engines power a fleet of Co'Co' locomotives, built either by Anglo-Franco-Belge or Cockerill MI with electrical equipment under licence from ACEC or SEM. In the medium power range, EMD 12-567C (1050 kW) and Baldwin Lima Hamilton eight-cylinder or ABC six and eight-cylinder engines (1000 or 1300 kW) power Bo'Bo' locos on SLM bogies.

Deliveries will start later this year of 80 Class 41 two-car diesel-hydraulic sets to replace pull-push trains using obsolete M2 stock hauled by the medium powered locos. The sets were ordered after an EU bid procedure from Alstom Transporte of Spain for 142m euros (RG 8.97 p499).

ABC engines power a fleet of elderly diesel-hydraulic V60 shunters, and these and some of the medium-power main line diesel locos are being replaced by 90 B'B' 1150 kW Class 77 locos on order at a cost of 128m euros from Vossloh Schienenfahrzeugtechnik of Kiel, formerly Siemens and before that Krupp MaK (RGI 11.99 p.694).

Because of high peak loads over relatively long distances, locomotive-hauled coaches ordered up to 1984 for inland services all had five seats abreast in second class, and only in 1987 was this practice abandoned. Passengers will soon benefit from further modern stock with replacement of the 620 M2 cars dating from 1958-60 by 210 double-deck M6 cars ordered from Alstom and Bombardier BN at a cost of 210m euros and by 163 Type I11 coaches already built at a cost of 188m euros by Bombardier BN (RG 6.95 p352); 21 of these are driving trailers.

The refurbishment programme also covers 578 Type M4 cars and 32 driving trailers built in 1979-82. This work started in 1996 and will have cost 114m euros by the time it is completed in 2006.

Passengers do not like SNCB's 130 M5 double-deck pull-push cars, which date from 1988. These will be modernised too, with better seating layouts, installation of air-conditioning and retention toilets. All the refurbished trains will have the same character, although different types of air-conditioning are being used. All in all, SNCB is investing 1755m euros in rolling stock over a 10-year period.

Dutch policy

NS in 2000 is a very different organisation from 10 years ago. Now it must stand on its own financial feet, and this has had a substantial impact on its rolling stock plans. For a long period it developed its own designs and bought the components in competition from the various suppliers. This last happened in the mid-1990s with double-deck EMUs built by Bombardier Talbot and Traxis (formerly Holec), a batch of nine prototype DM90 DMUs supplied by Siemens Duewag and 50 Bo'Bo'Bo' double-deck EMU power cars on Fiat-SIG bogies, built by Alstom, De Dietrich and Adtranz (RG 1.97 p23).

Development of EMU designs in the Netherlands was largely based on US inspired technology such as Pennsylvania bogies, nose-suspended motors and electrical equipment built under licence from Westinghouse and its British offshoot Metropolitan Vickers. Since 1934 NS has had four seats abreast in second class and three in first class. From 1954 NS adopted Commonwealth bogies developed by Werkspoor. Several similar builds of streamlined EMUs dating from 1935 to 1957 had Scharfenberg couplers with built-in electrical connections and could be operated in multiple.

The T and V series EMUs built from 1961 onwards breach this principle as they can only be coupled with like units. The same applies to all later EMUs - Sprinters, ICM and DD-IRM sets can be mechanically coupled, but not electrically.

From 1975 SIG bogies were adopted, subsequently built under licence by Stork RMO, and fully-suspended TC Oerlikon traction motors, which were later furnished by Traxis. The SM90 and DD-IRM trains (RG 5.94 p285) were equipped with Stork RMO power bogies (RG 2.93 p103), SIG trailer bogies and fully-suspended Traxis AC motors.

At the heart of loco-hauled operations are 58 Class 1600 and 81 Class 1700 chopper-controlled B'B' locos with monomotor bogies built from 1981 and 1991 respectively. Derived from SNCF's Class 7200, they have a continuous rating of 4·5MW. Chopper control without regenerative braking was introduced in 1981 on locomotives and in 1987 on EMUs. AC traction motors were first fitted to diesel locos in 1988 and the SM90 EMUs from 1990.

In the 1980s two batches of 60 Bo'Bo' diesel-electric locos of Class 6400 were purchased to replace 130 Alsthom-built Bo'Bo' freight locos of Class 2400 dating from 1954 and the 150 Bo'Bo' Baldwin/Westinghouse GP locos of Class 2200 built under licence in the Netherlands in 1958 with Superior engines. Class 6400 was a modified standard German design with bogies partly built under licence by Stork RMO. In the shunting field the LMS designed Class 600 diesel-electric shunters with EEC naturally aspirated engines soldier on.

After the closure in 1972 of Werkspoor, the last Dutch rolling stock manufacturer, most NS rolling stock was built by Talbot in Aachen, just over the border in Germany. NS Engineering strongly stimulated the revival of a components industry for bogies (Stork RMO), doors (Tebel, now SAB Wabco), and Traxis for electrical equipment, which had benefited in the 1980s and early 1990s by developing two different AC drive systems in two EMUs put at the company's disposal.

Future plans

The first rolling stock to be purchased under EU competitive procurement rules are 128 coaches to be used for lengthening 34 double-deck DD-IRM three-car sets to four cars and 47 DD-IRM four-car sets to six cars. This will require one of the two extra cars to be powered, and the other will be built to accept a 25 kV transformer.

To help cope with an expected 15% growth in passengers by 2005, NSR is considering exercising an option for another 124 double-deck coaches.These would be used to form further three, four or six-car DD-IRM sets, which with the other 128 vehicles would cost 550m euros.

Following a decision not to purchase further SM90 EMUs, NSR is working on an intensive modernisation plan for the 31 T class four-car EMUs dating from 1964-65, which will extend their life by 15 years (RG 5.99 p280). This follows the programme for the V class two-car sets already under way.

Under a 150m euros refurbishment programme for the 215 ICR coaches built in the early 1980s they will receive air-conditioning and 186 of them cables for multiple-unit operation between pairs of Class 1700 locos; 22 cars will be converted to driving trailers. NSR will then be able to form 14 trains with 10 ICR cars between two Class 1700 locos and 22 trains with six cars, of which one driving trailer and one loco. Two 84 tonne 4·5MW locos for 10 coaches evidently offers tremendous acceleration, but this seems a luxury and suggests that NSR has too many locos.

Still uncertain is whether the fleet of three and four-car ICM sets, in fact motorised ICR coaches with SIG bogies, built between 1977 and 1994, will finally receive air-conditioning.

The NS loco fleet was split on January 1 2000 between NSR and Railion. The 120 Class 6400, 37 Class 1600 locos and the remaining Class 1100 and 1300 units are now Railion's property, as are the remaining diesel-electric locos of Classes 2200 and 600. NSR kept 21 locos of Class 1600, and 81 Class 1700 split between 31 locos used to haul DD AR three and four-car pull-push rakes and 50 others used for a range of duties. NSR also received 17 Class 600 shunters. The separation apparently requires NS to roster 15 more locos a day than before because the arrangement is less efficient.

NSR is contemplating possible orders for 50 dual-system 220 km/h Intercity Max double-deck four-car sets for running on and beyond the high speed lines from Amsterdam to the Belgian and German frontiers and on CityLink services between the Randstad and the south of the country, but the order worth over 900m euros will depend on whether NSR is chosen as the HSL operating concessionaire. For the frequent stopping services in the Randstad, two-car low-floor SterSprinters may be acquired if NS is picked as the operator for these services.

TABLE: Table I. Comparison of data for NS and SNCB (1998)


Route-km 3410 2808

of which electrified 2511 1991

of which high speed lines 71 -

Passengers carried 000 145800 321000

Trips/inhabitant 14·6 19·5

Average km per trip 43·3 46·1

Passenger-km million 6700 14800

Freight carried million tonnes 60·75 24·7

Freight carried million tonne-km 7 600 3 778

Staff 40190 31240*

Seats available at 31/12/98 290566 197000

State investment grant million euros 24·7 873

Operating subsidy million euros 946·8 51

Total state funding million euros 971·5 924

'Profit' before taxes million euros 35·2 90

*includes 2757 in Railned, Railinfrabeheer and Verkeersleiding

TABLE: Table II. Rolling stock at Dec 31 1998


Electric locos 1·5/3 kV 20 -

3/25 kV 17 -

3/15/25 kV 7 -

four-system 5 -

3 kV 322 -

1·5 kV - 171

Diesel locos 244 182

Diesel shunters 326 54

Diesel tractors 33 -

EMU mDDM, 1·5 kV - 50

Two-car EMUs, 3 kV/1·5 kV 386 281

Three-car EMUs 3 kV/1·5 kV 210 154

Four-car EMUs 3 kV/1·5 kV 44 81

EMU DD-IRM3 1·5 kV - 34

EMU DD-IRM4 1·5 kV - 47

Single-car DMUs 17 19

Two-car DMUs - 86

Three-car DMUs - 41

Eurostar sets 4 -

TGV PBKA sets 7 2

ICE 3M sets - 4

Single-deck coaches 1645 555

Double-deck coaches 130 333

Seats available 290566 197000

Freight wagons 13508 3237

TABLE: Table III. SNCB rolling stock on order or being delivered

AM96 three-car EMU, 3 kV 70

AM96 three-car EMU 3/25 kV 50

Class 13 electric locos 3/25 kV 60

Class 41 two-car DMU 80

Class 77 diesel shunters 90

Double-deck M6 coaches 210

CAPTION: Between 1977 and 1994 153 three-car and 50 four-car ICR units were built for NS, of which 97 have chopper control

CAPTION: SNCB push-pull trains with I11 stock and Class 13 locos which will eventually run between Oostende and Welkenraedt/ Eupen and between Antwerpen and Charleroi

CAPTION: Refurbished for another 15 years service, this SNCB two-car EMU retains 2+3 seating in second class

CAPTION: SNCB's three-car AM96 units are being built in two versions, one for 3 kV DC and one for dual-voltage operation

CAPTION: Later this year, SNCB is due to take delivery of the first of 80 Class 41 two-car DMUs being supplied by Alstom Transporte of Spain

CAPTION: Outline design for NSR's proposed Intercity Max high speed trainsets

CAPTION: The DD-IRM double-deck EMUs built in the 1990s have AC traction motors. They were the first domestic NS trains to have air-conditioning

Dutch and Belgian rolling stock in a state of turmoil

Since 1996 Netherlands Railways has had to fund rolling stock renewal from its own resources, leading to the cancellation of plans for a new fleet of local trains. Inter-city and inter-regional trainsets are being refurbished and augmented, but plans for double-deck high-speed trains worth 1bn euros depend on the national passenger operator winning the concession to operate the high speed line to the Belgian border. Meanwhile, Belgian National Railways has launched a long-overdue modernisation programme worth 1·8 billion euros, which will see all passenger stock built after 1985 equipped with air-conditioning.

Les matériels néerlandais et belges en plein bouleversement

Depuis 1996, les chemins de fer néerlandais ont dû financer sur fonds propres le renouvellement de leur parc de matériel roulant, ce qui a conduit à l'annulation de projets de mise en service de matériels pour trains locaux. Les rames Inter-city et inter-régionales vont être remises en état et leur nombre sera augmenté, mais les projets de mise en circulation de trains à grande vitesse et à deux niveaux, évalués à un milliard d'euros, sont dépendants du choix de l'opéateur voyageurs national pour la concession d'exploitation de la ligne à grande vitesse jusqu'à la frontière belge. Pendant ce temps, la SNCB a lancé un programme de modernisation à la hauteur de 1·8 milliards d'euros; ce programme, qui était attendu depuis longtemps, comporte l'équipement de climatisation pour tous les matériels construits après 1985

Unruhe beim Rollmaterial in Belgien und den Niederlanden

Seit 1996 müssen die Niederländischen Bahnen die Erneuerung des Rollmaterials aus eigenen Mitteln finanzieren. Dies führte zur Aufgabe der Beschaffungspläne für neues Rollmaterial für den Regionalverkehr. Einheiten für den Intercity- und Interregio-Verkehr werden aufgearbeitet und modernisiert, und die Pläne für doppelst?€?ckige Hochgeschwindigkeitszüge im Wert von 1 Milliarde Euro hängen davon ab, ob die nationale Personenverkehrsgesellschaft die Konzession zum Betrieb der Hochgeschwindigkeitsstrecke zur belgischen Grenze erhält. In der Zwischenzeit hat die Belgische Staatsbahn ein längst überfälliges Modernisierungsprogramm im Wert von 1·8 Milliarden Euro gestartet, bei welchem sämtliche nach 1985 gebauten Personenfahrzeuge klimatisiert werden sollen

El material rodante holandés y belga en desorden

Desde 1996, los ferrocarriles holandeses han tenido que financiar la renovación del material rodante utilizando sus propios recursos, lo cual ha llevado a la cancelación de planes destinados a la consecución de una nueva flota de trenes locales. Se est? n modernizando y aumentando unidades y coches inter-city e interregionales, pero los planes para trenes de doble piso y de alta velocidad estimados en mil millones de euros dependen de que el operador nacional de pasajeros gane la concesión para operar la línea de alta velocidad hasta la frontera con Bélgica. Mientras tanto, los ferrocarriles belgas han lanzado un programa de modernización largamente esperado con un costo de 1800 millones de euros que har? que todo el material construido con posterioridad a 1985 sea equipado con aire acondicionado