WHAT TYPE of train, we wonder, will Dutch operator High Speed Alliance use on the HSL-Zuid high speed line when it opens in April 2007? Or will the line open at all on that date?

The reason we ask is an acknowledgement by HSA last month that the 12 Type V250 EMUs ordered in 2004 from AnsaldoBreda for services between Brussels and Amsterdam cannot be fitted with Level 2 ETCS in time for the planned opening. A fundamental problem is that HSA has yet to receive the train control specification from the Dutch Transport Ministry.

The conundrum cannot be solved simply by using the fleet of Thalys trains that work existing services between Paris and Amsterdam. Apparently these cannot be fitted in time with ETCS Level 2 either. Certainly any attempt to modify the four-system sets is likely to prove a serious technical challenge because of the complexity of the existing train control and signalling equipment needed for operation in four countries. Although an attempt was made at the design stage to develop a single item of equipment able to handle all the different types of signalling, the PBKA trains have different cab signalling displays carefully juxtaposed in the cab.

HSL Project Organisation confirmed to us earlier this year that 'no dual system or fallback with a conventional signalling system will be fitted' on HSL-Zuid (RG 4.05 p202), precluding its use by trains not fitted with Level 2. This would seem to leave no option other than to defer routing services over the high speed line until they are fitted with Level 2 equipment - or to resort to installing back-up conventional ATB automatic train protection, the choice made for the freight-only Betuwe Route. Jan-Willem Siebers, HSA's Commercial Director, has conceded that the chances of high speed trains running over the new line in April 2007 are exceedingly small.