NETHERLANDS: Transport Minister Camiel Eurlings published on January 21 a discussion paper on reducing journey times for inter-regional passenger services. He has reserved €70m for this, budgeting €40m for infrastructure improvements and €30m for increasing the maximum speed from 140 to 160 km/h.

Four routes have been upgraded in the last few years to permit 160 km/h operation: Den Haag Mariahoeve - Hoofddorp, Amsterdam Bijlmer - Utrecht, Boxtel - Eindhoven and the Flevo line from the Hollandse Bridge to Lelystad. Eurlings' top priority is faster running on Amsterdam - Utrecht from 2009. This is dual-signalled, with ETCS Level 2 added during the recent quadrupling (RG 9.07 p570). The new NS Sprinter EMUs (p180) will be able to make use of this facility, saving 1 min on the current journey time.

The minister has already committed to accelerate services between the Randstad cities and the northern provinces. The Hanze line under construction between Lelystad and Zwolle will have dual signalling, for which ProRail is due to let a contract this year. The infrastructure manager has now been asked to look at the possibility of extending the ERTMS overlay on the existing route from Lelystad to Almere Oostvaarders, with ?Eurlings offering €30m to make Almere - Zwolle fit for 160 km/h throughout.

In 2006 ProRail and NS produced a list of minor infrastructure enhancements, and the Ministry has identified locations where works totalling €40m could permit faster acceleration by modifying curves and platforms. Here Eurlings has given priority to two routes. A refuge loop for freight trains at Beilen on the Zwolle - Groningen line, costing €4m, offers the prospect of a 7 min time saving for peak-hour inter-city extras. Another €20m package would cut 1 min from running times between Sittard and Heerlen.

Another idea was to accelerate freight trains to reduce the speed differential, offering access charge inducements based on time and location. But according to ProRail this would only improve journey times on a few routes such as Eindhoven - Venlo, Arnhem - Deventer and Amersfoort - Onnen (south of Groningen). In practice, inter-city timings on these routes proved to be dictated by junction requirements. Raising the minimum speed of freight trains above 100 km/h was seen as unrealistic, although ProRail believes that some acceleration may be achieved by tighter planning of freight train paths and modification to track layouts at critical locations.