ON JANUARY 17 Dutch Transport Minister Karla Peijs signed a contract with the Green Tulip consortium for operation of the Betuwe Route.

Consisting of Babcock & Brown (which has just purchased Swiss intermodal operator Crossrail AG, p60), TowRail, national network manager ProRail and the port authorities of Rotterdam and Amsterdam, the consortium has a five-year contract to run the dedicated freight line.

The government has agreed to meet the initial operating loss estimated by Green Tulip at €35·6m (RG 10.05 p598), and the intention is to open the line on January 1 2007. Should this prove unrealistic, the transport ministry would resort to a temporary management contract.

The deal has been signed without agreement on the level of access charges, but it is clear that they will be higher than those currently charged by ProRail for using the existing network. The 2007 charge could be €2 per tonne-km, rising to €4 or €5 per gross tonne-km in 2010. The change in the basis of calculation from train-km to tonne-km is critical (RG 10.05 p605), and it is expected to lead to a significant proportion of heavy traffic such as coal and ore diverting to inland waterways or to other ports such as Dunkerque.

ProRail has now acknowledged that it will not be possible to have ETCS Level 2 operational on the Betuwe Route by 2007, and we understand that Alstom is to supply a back-up in the form of a cut-down version of the Dutch ATBNG system.

In the meantime work is drawing to a close on the southern section of the HSL-Zuid high speed line, and Siemens has begun tests with an Austrian Class 1216 Taurus locomotive. Paired with two test coaches, this machine established a Dutch speed record of 202·6 km/h on January 17.