Terneuzen Gent canal (Photo: Erich Westendarp/Pixabay)

EUROPE: The Dutch cabinet is to make available €105m from the National Growth Fund towards the Rail Gent Terneuzen project to improve access to North Sea Port, the 60 km area on the Western Scheldt between Vlissingen in the Netherlands and the Belgian city of Gent on the Gent-Terneuzen Canal.

The decision to commit Dutch funds to the project was announced on April 14 based on advice from the independent committee for the National Growth Fund chaired by former Minister for Finance Jeroen Dijsselbloem.

The move follows the signing of a letter of intent last year by the governments of the Netherlands and Belgium, the provinces of Oost-Vlaanderen and Zeeland, Terneuzen municipality, the city of Gent, ProRail and North Sea Port.

The project comprises several individual schemes to increase capacity on the network of port railways in the area, the biggest of which would be a new link straddling the Dutch-Belgian border between Axel and Zelzate on the east bank of the Gent-Terneuzen Canal. Other schemes include a new south to east curve east of the Sluiskil road-rail swing bridge that will avoid the need for trains to and from the Axelse Vlakte to reverse at Terneuzen, expansion of Zandeken yard with a new northern spur, improvements in the Wondelgem area as well as selective double-tracking.

Work is expected to start in 2024 for completion in 2029. In the longer term there would be opportunities for passenger services between Gent and Terneuzen.

Related non-rail improvements include construction of a 427 m long lock at Terneuzen able to accommodate post-Panamax vessels that is due to open later this year or in 2023.

Dutch Secretary of State for Infrastructure & Water Management Vivianne Heijnen said ‘it is fantastic news that the National Growth Fund has decided to invest €105m in the cross-border rail link between Terneuzen and Gent. I think it is very important that we better connect border regions.’

She added that this is ‘a major step in the field of sustainability’, explaining that the project will save between 8 000 and 9 000 lorry movements a month. ‘We are doing this great project together with our Belgian neighbours. I hope that they will also make a contribution, so that we can be even better connected.’

Daan Schalck, CEO of North Sea Port said that ‘with this decision by the Dutch government, a crucial step has been taken in financing this cross-border railway. In addition to economic motives, North Sea Port is fully committed to improving sustainability and quality of life in and around the cross-border port area.’ He hoped that EU sources would co-finance the project.