INTRO: Despite vocal opposition, construction is getting under way on a billion guilder 160 km freight railway between Rotterdam Maasvlakte and the German border. The electrified line is expected to boost rail’s share of the steadily-increasing flow of freight to and from the port of Rotterdam

BYLINE: Leendert Bouter

DirectorProjectorganisatie Betuweroute

BY THISSUMMER, all of the land required for construction of the Betuwe Route should be under the control of the Project Organisation. By mid-March, we had control of around 95% of the land, and within the next three months we expect to make significant headway with building work.

It is no easy task. No less than 28 municipalities, two provinces and a number of district water and recreation boards have had to be consulted, and applications lodged for 8 000 permits. Numerous civil and structural engineering projects have been or will be put out to tender, while the market continues to come up with new technical solutions and options.

Economic growth is only possible when international trade and transport can increase. On average, we forecast that transport will grow 1% faster than the national economy, and international transport will grow faster than transport in general. It is impossible for the Netherlands to meet this demand with lorries alone, and though inland shipping is booming, its growth has economic and natural limits. This has put rail freight firmly back on the international agenda, and countries such as Germany and Switzerland are investing heavily in rail projects.

Because of the Netherlands’ location, it hosts several important international transport corridors. Both transit trade and the Dutch economy would benefit from improved road, water, rail, and air access. Standing in the way of this is a severe capacity shortage on the rail network, which is mostly occupied by passenger traffic during the daytime (RG 3.00 p144). The main freight routes have the additional disadvantage, especially at night, that they run through the city centres in Utrecht, Arnhem, Breda, Tilburg, Eindhoven.

The Netherlands’ capacity to handle international rail freight falls short of what is needed, and it is a strategic requirement to improve access to the economically important region in the west. Purely local infrastructure, timetable and traffic control improvements can no longer solve the problems. We are regularly exchanging information and ideas with other European freight railway projects, including the AlpTransit scheme in Switzerland and the proposed Lyon - Torino line.

The Betuwe Route

To address the capacity issues, the Dutch government decided in 1994 to build a dedicated double-track freight railway stretching 160 km between the port of Rotterdam and the German border. This decision was ratified by a commission and a vote in parliament during 1995. Design changes were authorised in 1996-97, and the line is now expected to open in 2005.

In terms of project preparation, decision-making and especially construction, projects this large are rare in the Netherlands. Laying 160 km of railway in a densely built-up and highly regulated country requires extreme care and meticulous planning. As an indication of the complexity, the acquisition of 3300 plots of land, some needing soil treatment, required negotiations with 1450 landowners.

To minimise the impact on the landscape, much of the line will run alongside the A15 motorway, avoiding built-up areas as much as possible. To reduce the effect on fauna, 190 wildlife tunnels are being built, and archaeological investigations have been completed at 15 locations.

The project includes upgrading of the existing Port Railway between Rotterdam and the Maasvlakte area at Europoort. A new Rail Service Centre is being built at Maasvlakte to accommodate the increased container traffic using the Betuwe Route. Maasvlakte will be able to handle up to 600 000 TEUs a year, and the existing terminal at Waalhaven, which has a capacity for 200 000 TEUs, has also been modernised.

As part of the Port Railway works, the single-track Dintelhaven bridge has been replaced by a 270m double-track steel arched structure. In 1997 work began on the 3065m Botlek tunnel, running alongside the existing A15 road tunnel, to replace the present bridge. A 4 km cut-off is being built to keep through trains clear of Waalhaven, and another

6·5 km is being realigned to run alongside the A15 through the residential areas of Zuidwijk and Lombardijen.

Over the next few years the existing main line alignment through Barendrecht will be expanded to accommodate both the Betuwe Route and the Amsterdam - Paris high speed line. To reduce noise, all nine tracks and Barendrecht station will be roofed over for a length of 1·5 km, with 300 parking places and a park the size of 13 football pitches above. Beyond this, the marshalling yard at Kijfhoek is being rebuilt to play a key role in the logistics of the new line.

The Betuwe Route will leave the Rotterdam area via the longest of the three bored tunnels. The 8 km Sophia line under the Rietbaan branch of the Maas river will include a 4 km bored section in the centre, plus 2 km to be built by cut-and-cover with sunken entrances.

Where the route runs close to residential areas, the railway will be laid in cutting to minimise intrusion. Elsewhere the A15 and the railway will be built at ground level, with local roads raised on bridges - again to reduce the visual impact.

Connections with the existing network will be built at Geldermalsen and Elst, enabling other freight trains to reach a new Container Interchange Point to be built at Valburg. This will form part of a multimodal water, road and rail transfer point, bringing around 5000 new jobs to the region. The Betuwe Route will then continue in a 1 850 m bored tunnel under the Pannerdensch Canal to meet the existing line from Arnhem to Emmerich. It will parallel the present line through the centre of Zevenaar in a 1 500 m cut-and-cover tunnel, and join the existing tracks at Babberich near the German border.


Even though no official decision has been made by allEuropean countries, it has long been accepted that 25 kV 50Hz should be the new standard for European electrification. France, Denmark and Spain are already using 25 kV on new conventional and high-speed lines. The Dutch network still uses 1·5 kV DC, but expects to adopt 25 kV in the future (RG 8.97 p517). Hence, although there are no indications that the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium will adopt it in the short term, the Betuwe Route is to be electrified at 25 kV.

Extensive tests are being performed, to ensure the safety of people near the track and the reliability of existing safety systems. Tests on locomotives were started earlier this year, and the results of these will be announced by summer.

Enquiries are under way into whether the operators likely to use the line will be prepared to switch from diesel to electric, or at least low-emission diesel, locomotives.

The majority of the Betuwe Route will be equipped with ertms/etcs Level 2 train control, which is currently under development. As an infrastructure-based system, this will monitor the position of points and the position of trains, and transmit movement authorities directly into the drivers’ cabs. There will be no traditional lineside signals.

Market research

In 1999 the government approached over 850 companies internationally to assess their expectations for the Betuwe Route. The consultation considered various categories: energy and telecommunications, building, rail equipment suppliers, port and terminal organisations, finance, rail infrastructure and train operators, consultancies and engineering firms, and other transport organisations. Responses were divided between the construction and the use of the line.

The responses on use showed that marketing and sales will be essential if the operation is to be successful, but the respondents suggested that the supply side is currently under-developed. The market expects the government to take an initiating role, especially in the early stages. Uncertainties include the speed of European rail deregulation, and how external and user costs will be passed on in future. Businesses suggested that governments should issue guidelines on these subjects over the next few years.

The Dutch government is not taking any initiatives to develop particular traffic on the Betuwe Route. It will be left to the market to come up with ideas that seem viable from a wider perspective. However, a study was undertaken to see if operations can be set up in a way that makes it easier for independent firms to participate in developing traffic on the route. This concluded that there was a potential market for piggyback business on the route and adjoining lines.

Operational drawbacks such as high vehicle wear and costs can be overcome through the development of a wagon with a maximum floor height of 680mm above rail. This will allow piggyback operation on other lines, whereas widespread loading gauge enhancement would be a considerable burden on the budget and timetable.

At the end of last year a Freight Rail Transport User Group was established on the initiative of businesses, to look at the practical problems preventing a free market in rail transport. The group wants to hold discussions with the railway infrastructure manager (Railned), as it believes that rail will be a vital link in future logistic chains serving both the national and international markets.

By establishing the user group, businesses are clearly saying that they consider rail to be important. Up to now, the dominant voice in public opinion has been from opponents of the project. Now, behind the scenes, people are explaining why it is a good thing. The issue revolves not so much around the line itself, but the need to boost rail’s share of the freight market. Road congestion is a growing problem, increasing costs, and the need to provide a driver for every container is inefficient - and at the moment there is a shortage of long distance truck drivers.

Community relations

In the Netherlands, the Betuwe Route is perceived as having limited public support, so communication with neighbouring residents is extremely important. This is a two-way affair, with residents and information officers together trying to find ways of minimising any inconvenience during construction and afterwards.

The route has been divided into six sections, and each has its own information officer to maintain direct contact with the community. As well as informing residents of developments, they also look out for any emerging problems and looking for positive ideas which can be adopted.

The project management organisation believes that public support is intimately linked with image. The starting point is to underline the benefits for the local community.

Opponents tend to be louder than supporters, and are more motivated to explain their points as often and clearly as possible.

Pressure groups rose with unprecedented fanaticism and even joined forces on some issues. Although the opportunities for resistance are disappearing fast, they seize with both hands the few chances that still occur.

While the period before construction was marked by physical attempts to obstruct the work, with angry activists barricading themselves on the building sites, today the war is mostly fought on paper.

Winning the battle for hearts and minds requires good internal communications too. If a project organisation wants to be ready for its tasks, everyone within the organisation must be adequately briefed. Any external message or representation is pointless if the internal organisation cannot live up to them.

Betuwe Route in figures

Length km 160

of which alongside A15 95

Length of noise screens km 160

No of wildlife passages 190

Number of tunnels 5

Total length of tunnels km 18

Length of sunken construction km 7·5

Number of viaducts/bridges 130

Total length of viaducts/bridges km 12

Number of overhead line gantries 5 600

Maximum design speed km/h 120

Maximum axleload tonnes 25

Design capacity trains/h per direction 10

Total cost (at 1995 prices) bn guilders 8·5

CAPTION: Top: The new double-track Dintelhaven bridge received a National Steel Award in 2000, the only structural engineering work to receive a citation in the infrastructure category. It also won the 1998 Brunel design award for rail construction projects

Photos: Ronald Tilleman

CAPTION: The existing marshalling yard at Kijfhoek near Rotterdam is being rebuilt to form a key hub for the new corridor

CAPTION: Piling is under way for construction of the entrance to the Sophia tunnel at the Rotterdam end

CAPTION: The Betuwe Route is the first major railway project in the Netherlands to use tunnel boring machines; work has already started on the Botlek tunnel to replace an opening bridge on the Port Railway

CAPTION: A 25 KV electric loco and test coach have been hired from Hungarian State Railways to test the first section of high-voltage AC electrification in the Netherlands, covering a 12 km section of the Port Railway at Maasvlakte

CAPTION: Right: Between Kijfhoek and Barendrecht, the Betuwe Route and HSL-Zuid will parallel and relieve the existing NS main line from Rotterdam to Dordrecht, which carries intensive local, inter-regional and inter-city passenger traffic as well as freight

CAPTION: Preliminary works are well in hand for the Sophia tunnel

Betuweroute designed to solve long-term freight congetsion

Despite vocal opposition, construction work is now getting under way on the Betuwe Route, a 9bn guilder 160 km freight railway between Maasvlakte and the German border across the south of the Netherlands. To be electrified at 25 kV 50Hz, the line is expected to boost rail’s share of the steadily increasing flow of freight between the port of Rotterdam and destinations throughout Europe

La ligne Betuwe conçue pour résoudre, à long terme, les engorgements du trafic fret

En dépit d’une vive opposition, les travaux de construction sont en cours sur la ligne Betuwe, itinéraire ferroviaire de 160 km avec un coût de 9 milliards de guilders qui relie Maasvlakte à la frontière allemande en traversant le sud des Pays-Bas. Devant être électrifiée sous 25 kV 50Hz, la ligne doit donner un coup de pouce à la part du rail dans un trafic fret qui s’accroît de manière continue entre le port de Rotterdam et diverses destinations à travers l’Europe

Betuweroute soll langfristig Güterstaus verhindern

Trotz lautstarker Opposition haben die Bauarbeiten an der Betuweroute, einer 9 Milliarden Gulden teuren in den südlichen Niederlanden Maasvlakte mit der deutschen Grenze verbindenden 160 km langen Güterbahn, begonnen. Die Strecke wird mit 25 kV 50Hz elektrifiziert und soll den Marktanteil der Schiene am laufend wachsenden Güterverkehr von Rotterdamer Hafen nach über ganz Europa verstreuten Orten steigern

La Betuweroute, diseñada para resolver la congestión del transporte de cargas a largo plazo

Pese a una fuerte oposición local, las obras de construcción ya han comenzado en la Betuweroute, una línea de mercancías de 160 km de recorrido con un coste de 9000 millones de guilders entre Maasvlakte y la frontera alemana, a lo largo del sur de Holanda. Electrificada a 25 kV 50Hz, se espera que la línea aumente la parte del ferrocarril en el creciente tr