The Betuweroute solution

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Europe’s transport network faces many challenges and concerns with congestion, tolling, higher operating costs and worsening environmental impact being just some of the continuing constraints and problems imposed by the growth in road transport. Such issues are responsible for the consequential inefficiencies in the logistics supply chain, which will become even more problematic by further growth in road traffic levels.

Unfortunately the imbalance in Europe’s transport system, due to the dominance of road, is also likely to be compounded by the entry of new member states into the EU later in 2004.

The Europeans are well aware of these issues and the desperate need for practical solutions. For some time it has been a central plank in EU countries to optimise the use of alternative transport modes to road, especially the use of rail and water – and which are also more sustainable for the long term.

One country, above others that stands out for its innovative, initiatives and application of technical ideas to transport problems is the Netherlands. Though the Netherlands is a relatively small country, it is nonetheless an the betuweroute at a glance:l The Betuweroute is a Euros 4.7Bn 160km double-track, high-speed rail freight line stretching from the port of Rotterdam to the German border at Zevenaar.

It will be operational by 2007, in time for the planned deregulation of Europe’s freight railway network.

It is being built because passenger trains are using up capacity on the current Dutch rail system, while at the same time demand for freight transport by rail is growing.

The Betuweroute will be the Netherlands’s link to the Trans-European Freight Rail Network.

The Betuweroute tunnels are being built to accommodate double stack trains to reduce the cost and time of any future upgrade to the network.

 It will use existing lines in many places, some extremely active and important player in Europe’s logistics industry. This is due in part to the strategic location of the major international seaport at Rotterdam, which is regarded as Europe’s premier entry/exit point for freight, including bulk products, manufactured goods and containers. Indeed, Rotterdam is one of the few ports in Europe that can accommodate the new generation of large fully laden container ships.

Consequently, the Dutch government has been particularity keen to slow the inexorable growth in road transport and reverse the decline in the use of rail freight. This has entailed much thought and planning to the building of a new 160km dedicated double-track freight line known as the Betuweroute, costing almost Euros 5Bn (with EU funding support).

The freight line will stretch from Maasvlakte – Rotterdam’s westernmost port and industrial zone – to Zevenarr on the German border. The line is regarded as being indispensable towards increasing rail freight and allowing quicker accessibility to the wider European market. When complete and operational in 2007 the Betuweroute will connect with Germany’s railway infrastructure in the heart of the industrial Ruhr area, and then onward throughout Europe.

The evolution

The beginnings of the Betuweroute date back to the 1980s when demand for good transport connections for freight movements was becoming more obvious, and requiring a higher priority. In response, the Dutch and German governments entered into talks about identifying and finding the best solutions to meet the ever growing freight flows. As a result, in 1992 both governments signed an agreement (Agreement of Warnemunde) aimed at developing and expanding the rail network.

It was agreed that an attempt would be made to intensify the transport of freight and high-speed transport. The Dutch part of the agreement involved the construction of the Betuweroute, a separate freight railway line to of which are being expanded and upgraded to cope with the extra traffic.

l The Betuweroute train control safety systems will allow up to ten trains per hour, travelling at 120km/h.

l The project will be the first double-track rail freight link in Europe that is exclusively intended for freight transport.

l The Betuweroute is the largest single transport infrastructure project in the Netherlands.

l It forms part of a strategy to increase the volume of freight moving by rail. In 1990 some 20 million tonnes of freight was transported by rail in the Netherlands. The figure is expected to increase to 65 million tonnes by 2010. The Betuweroute is expected to carry some 43 million tonnes of freight by 2010.allow for the faster movement of goods between the port of Rotterdam and the European hinterland, via Germany.

To appreciate the Betuweroute as a dedicated, freight rail line it is necessary to view matters from the wider European perspective. For starters there are two great barriers that hinder international rail freight including:-

lPassenger trains usually have right of way over freight trains.

lBorders often constitute too much delay, due to factors such as documentation, or locomotive changes.

To overcome such problems several European countries have, since 1997, been running a pilot project to have international freight trains run without stops at borders or to prevent other delays. The objective is to establish a set of freight freeways – utrans-European Rail Freight Freeways (TERFFs). These freeways are high-quality high-speed train paths along which freight trains can travel unhindered at high speeds in all directions, and the Betuweroute would form part of such train paths. An important aspect of TERFF is the establishment of a One-Stop Shop to minimise delays for freight services.

In contrast to TERFF, the TERFN stands for the entire trans-European freight rail network. In other words, practically all the important railway lines running through the EU countries. Since March 2003, this rail network was opened to international transport. The plan is that by March 2008, all European rail operators will have formal access to all the European network’s lines, as part of a much wider liberalising process.

However, as late as February this year the package of European directives designed to fully open Europe’s rail freight industry to competition was still stuck in deadlock. A particular stumbling block is priority for liberalising rail passenger services.

Operational Betuweroute

The Betuweroute will consist of two main parts – the existing railway network in the Port of Rotterdam, and the new part of the line which will run parallel with the A15. The Port Railway section of the line is 48km long and runs from Maasvlakte, the entrance to the Port of Rotterdam, via the Waahaven to the Kijfhoek shunting yard (situated between Rotterdam and Dordrecht). Large sections of the Port Railway are being duplicated and electrified so that the whole route will have twin tracks. The line will also be re-positioned at several places to reduce the level of noise.

At Maasvlakte, a new rail service centre will be built so freight containers arriving by sea can be transferred to road, rail or inland waterways. Freight shuttle trains will then leave this transfer point at fixed times and travel along the Betuweroute towards Zevenaar, on the German border (in just over two hours), and onwards to Europe’s industrial zones.

So that freight trains can run safely and unhindered, there will be no railway crossings on the new route. More than 100 viaducts and tunnels will make this possible, which means that road traffic will not encounter a freight train anywhere along the route. A number of municipalities along the route have taken the opportunity, together with the Betuweroute project organisers of relieving old traffic bottlenecks and improving local accessibility.

When finished the Betuweroute will be the first railway in the Netherlands that is designed exclusively for freight transport. The track will ensure that freight arriving at the Port of Rotterdam is transported quickly and safely to the European hinterland. It is anticipated that many rail wagons will return along the same route with products that will continue to their final destination by sea.

The future

As in most European countries, and also Britain, road transport dominates the freight market, with rail continually fighting to retain its share, or capture new markets. These issues are well known in the Netherlands. Presently, rail market share of the Rotterdam hinterland traffic is around 11%, a drop from the 13% a few years ago. Given such a situation, the Betuweroute is seen by some as a potential saviour of the rail freight industry.

The key to the success of the Betuweroute is that it will provide a fast, safe and frequent service, and importantly a cost-effective alternative service to road that is sustainable. Presently, and more so in the future, sustainable transport will become more essential for the logistics industry to function efficiently and effectively throughout Europe. This means making increased use of all transport modes, but with particular attention to rail and water. This will be necessary to cope with increasing demands for carrying consumer goods, raw materials, agricultural products and other freight on a pan-European basis.

In terms of rail freight a new route has been urgently required because of the increasing use of the existing network by passenger trains. One result is that the capacity for the future growth of rail freight is being seriously constrained. However, at the same time the flow of goods and demand for container transport, in particular, continues to grow annually. It is in such a context that the Betuweroute is hopefully seen as being an answer to relieving part of the transport bottleneck in Europe.

It also serves as a model that in time may become part a single vast European rail freight network, assuming there is the political will for modernising, investing and expanding on such a grand scale. On that note it is interesting to observe that plans were recently floated for a 400-mile freight railway line between Liverpool and Lille in France, apparently with Government support. It is claimed the line would run mostly along under-used or disused lines and cost more than £10Bn.

Once freight trains start to run on the Betuweroute in 2007, the Dutch will have completed a transport infrastructure project, forming the heart of the rail freight network. When the first trains run in 2007 it will be some 13 years since the Dutch government gave the green light for the project. In terms of time-scale for such a large project this is a relatively short period. Hopefully, if a similar project was undertaken in Britain it would also be completed in the same time-scale. n

Frank Worsford works in the transport studies group at the University of Westminster.

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