Euregiobahn pushes the boundaries
TECHNICAL, political and administrative frontiers are also barriers to the success of international passenger services. So it is interesting to follow the progress of German Railway subsidiary Regionalbahn Rheinland GmbH. The company has teamed up with several partners in the Rhein-Maas region to develop a network of local services, linking towns in the Netherlands and Germany. A pilot Euregiobahn service began last year with trains every 30min from Aachen to Stolberg Hbf and to Stolberg Altstadt over a branch with four new stations. Every second train starts from Heerlen in the Netherlands.
Passengers quickly responded to the much improved services, with traffic rising from 600 to 3000 passengers a day. December 15 sees the reopening of lines from Herzogenrath to Mariadorf and from Stolberg to Weissweiler, from where a 3 km new line is being built to Langenwehe to allow trains to continue to Düren; 11 new stations will be opened. Two further phases of expansion are planned, ultimately adding 45 km and 27 new stations to the network.
Dutch drivers already work through to Stolberg and trains are fuelled and stabled in both countries, but much remains to be done. The advent of the Euro has simplified administration and fares, but there is no integrated fares structure, and crossing frontiers incurs high costs in obtaining operating and safety licences, staff training, train protection systems and so on.
Nonetheless, 26 two-car VT643.2 DMUs are on order for delivery from August. Designed to operate in both countries, they will also be Germany's first main line vehicles authorised to run on city tram tracks - something Euregiobahn plans in Aachen and Würselen.
Proposals exist to extend to Maastricht, and possibly to Liège in Belgium. But here the barriers are higher. According to Hans-Joachim Geupel, Managing Director of DB Regionalbahn Rheinland, 'it's very hard to co-operate with Belgian organisations as they are not so far advanced' in terms of railway restructuring.
Euregiobahn may still be a micro-network, but it could prove a model for others to emulate.