TWO MONTHS ago we reported the formal opening of the Betuwe Route by Queen Beatrix on June 16 (RG 7.07 p419). By July 15 just 10 freight trains had passed over the line each way. That's 10 a month, not 10 a day. And infrastructure operator Keyrail imposed a three-day blockade every weekend for engineering works.

In August no trains at all were using the line and the rails are now rusty. It seems that ETCS Level 2 train control does not work, as the few locomotives that have been fitted are not communicating properly with lineside equipment. As a result the biggest freight operator, Railion Nederland, was forced to suspend driver training.

Barendrecht – Zevenaar is around 110 km and the line speed is 120 km/h, so there is no rational reason why the track in each direction should not be operated as a single block section. All points are clamped and locked, and working the line in this way was planned if ETCS failed to function.Keyrail told the freight companies that 12 paths a day each way would be provided on this basis, but now it seems that the safety authorities have decreed that without signalling the line cannot be used.

From the start of the new European timetable on December 9, paths currently available from Rotterdam to Germany via Venlo will no longer exist on both sides of the border. Paths are available from Emmerich into Germany, but not on the Dutch side through Utrecht. Meetings were taking place last month in an attempt to deal with the impending crisis, but it is very late in the day to be making fundamental changes to the 2008 timetable.

This is a testing time for Railion Neder-land's new General Manager Detlef Heydt, whose remit from Railion Deutschland headquarters in Mainz was to improve reliability, reduce costs and integrate the Dutch business more closely into the much larger German operation. Not a good time to face an enforced cut in freight train movements between the two countries.