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With no less than 7300 km of network rail, the Dutch rail system is not only extensive, but also very impressive. There are direct connections to inland container terminals and links to destinations across the EU, Scandinavia and the Middle East. Furthermore, companies have fast, direct access to Europe’s major logistic hubs, thanks to Holland’s high-speed rail lines and the Betuweroute. The Betuweroute is a double-track freight railway that connects Rotterdam to the German border.

Betuweroute is named after the district of the central Netherlands through which the rail line passes. It stretches 160 km, from the port of Rotterdam, the largest port in Europe, to the German border at Zevenaar- Emmerich. Considering the density of the population in the region, the line is unusual for modern railway as it has been built specifically for freight traffic only.

Although the Dutch railway network currently runs satisfactory, it is as good as full. According to the Dutch railway infrastructure manager, ProRail, the existing network must be optimized in order to handle the expected growth in traffic in the coming years.

Increase in traffic

The Dutch rail network is the busiest in Europe, and ProRail expects a 30-40 percent increase in passengers between now and 2030. The current lines will not be able to handle the expected growth, and the Dutch rail network must be prepared. If not, ProRail expects significant capacity problems, especially around Schiphol and Amsterdam which are two of the busiest stations in the Netherlands. There is still a little room to grow on these routes, but it is very limited. ProRail fear that they will become potential bottlenecks in the future.

At first glance, it might seem easier to just build new lines, but ProRail struggles to see the point. They believe the rail network has reached its capacity and that there will be no room to build new lines. Instead, they have suggested that the existing lines should undergo a substantial renovation.

New investments

ProRail has announced plans to invest 3.5 billion Euros on upgrading the Dutch rail network over the next ten years.

One of the main causes to the limited capacity is the security systems installed on the rails. The maximum limit of the current security system, ATB, is one train every three minutes, or 20 trains per hour. The system was installed on the Dutch rail network back in 1962 and back then it was already a few dozen years old. In other words: until recently all Dutch trains were running on a security system that was more than 80 years old.

It has been decided to install a new security system, the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) on certain routes in the Netherlands. By running trains closer together, ERTMS can increase the capacity of the track. However, the system is quite expensive, and with the current budget, it will not be possible to install it throughout the Netherlands without extra funding.

Luckily, the Dutch government has acknowledged the growing need for an improved infrastructure. They have decided to invest millions of Euros into improving accessibility within the Netherlands. So far, 2 billion Euros have been earmarked the installment of ERTMS and in time, more investments will be provided to ensure good accessibility in all regions.

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