ON MARCH 27 NS Hispeed was unveiled as the marketing brand name for services using HSL-Zuid between Amsterdam and the Belgian border, now expected to commence on December 9 2007.

The fleet of V250 high speed trains ordered from AnsaldoBreda are to be marketed as Albatros. As these sets will not be ready until late in 2008, the NS-KLM High Speed Alliance will launch with an interim service using Bombardier multi-system locos hauling refurbished ICRm coaches.

Limited to 160 km/h, the loco-hauled trains will take 2 h 12 min from Amsterdam Centraal to Brussels Midi calling at Schiphol, Rotterdam, Breda and Antwerpen Centraal. NS wants to withdraw the hourly Benelux service between Brussels and Amsterdam (which takes about 3 h), but this has already led to protests as NS Hispeed fares will be higher, even for the interim service.

Thalys TGVs working between Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam will switch to the new line as soon as they have been retrofitted with ETCS Level 2, but this is not expected before April 2008 at the earliest.

The principal delay to opening the new line has been related to the ETCS Level 2 equipment, being installed by E&M concessionaire Infraspeed. Alcatel is providing the two radio block centres and axle counters, and Siemens the interlockings. But the RBCs on either side of the Belgian border, supplied by Alcatel and Alstom, were not built to common standards.

Having installed Version 2.2.2, the Dutch side has now decided to upgrade to Version 2.3.0, as used in Belgium. Until this work is completed, trains will be able to run in the Netherlands using Version 2.2.2, but will have to drop to Level 1 to cross the border. Our correspondent reports that it should be possible to run a limited service at 160 km/h on HSL-Zuid using the ETCS Level 1 and block marker boards installed as a backup to Level 2, but only at 6 min headways.