SHORTLY after our last issue went to press (RG 4.06 p173), Transport & Public Works Minister Karla Peijs announced that operation of the Betuwe Route would, after all, be undertaken by Prorail, the Dutch rail infrastructure manager.

Her statement was received badly by the lower house in parliament, where MPs insisted on partners with market knowledge because they say Prorail lacks commercial experience. Peijs finally reached agreement with the MPs on April 18 with a proposal for the port authorities of both Rotterdam and Amsterdam to share control of the new line in a 50:50 joint venture with Prorail. Rotterdam will invest €10m in Betuwe Route Exploitatie Maatschappij, and Amsterdam €3m. The plan is to bring some commercial partners into BREM by the end of 2007.

Meanwhile, Prorail summoned the freight operators using the Dutch network to a meeting in Utrecht on March 28. Despite critical uncertainties such as pricing, who the infrastructure manager would be, and a lack of clarity about heavy trains and the signalling, operators were asked to order their timetable paths on the Betuwe Route for 2007 by April 10, just 13 days later.

The operators were also told that Betuwe Route access charges would be the same as those for the existing network. By way of encouragement to switch to the new line, they were advised that from December 10 2007 there will be no quality freight paths available on the parallel route between Rotterdam and Emmerich via Utrecht, and the four existing paths each hour between Rotterdam and Venlo will be cut to one.

Although Prorail still believes ETCS will be ready in 2007, a fall-back scenario involves temporary installation of ATB NG using block sections of 8 to 10 km. This would leave the Betuwe Route with less capacity than the six to eight hourly paths on the current network.

Prorail says the new line between Kijfhoek yard and Zevenaar should be available for diesel traction from January 1 2007, with 25 kV power switched on by April. ETCS will probably be switched on between Kijfhoek and Maasvlakte in July 2007, again followed by the 25 kV three to four months later.

On March 31 the ministry announced a national flat rate track access charge for 2007 of €1·61/train-km, irrespective of axleload and train length. It expected this to reduce the net tonne-km of freight moved by rail within the Netherlands by 3% to 8%.

The freight operators immediately rejected this proposal, pointing out that the previously-agreed method used to calculate loss of demand showed a reduction exceeding 20%, especially for intermodal traffic. The operators are still sticking to their demand for €1·00/train-km in 2007, with annual increases not exceeding 5% thereafter. They are also appealing to the competition authority on the grounds that Prorail is abusing its monopoly. n