The Betuweroute takes its name from a district of the central Netherlands through which it passes. It is a 160km, €4.7bn, double-track freight rail line stretching from the port of Rotterdam, Europe’s largest, to the German border at Zevenaar-Emmerich.
The project fits in well with the deregulation of Europe’s freight railway network, furthering the aim of seamless transfers across national frontiers and different railway systems. However, the eventual opening in June 2007 was a year behind schedule and under diesel power only.
The new line is unusual for modern railway in a densely populated region in being built specifically for freight traffic only. It will provide greater continuity of power supply for up to 150 freight trains per day, as its 25kV AC supply, supply, different from the systems of the host country or the destination, allows heavier trains and better acceleration with larger loads.
The Betuweroute was deemed necessary because passenger trains are increasingly using up the capacity of the Netherlands’ rail system. It is a key part of the Trans European Network’s (TEN) Trans European Freight Rail Network (TEFRN), which aims to allow freight trains free access across the entire EU without having to stop at borders or make way for passenger trains.
It is a key part of the Trans European Network’s (TEN) Trans European Freight Rail Network (TEFRN), which aims to allow freight trains free access across the entire EU without having to stop at borders or make way for passenger trains.
The line is operated by Keyrail, a company formed by the companies of the ports of Rotterdam and Amsterdam and Dutch infrastructure operator ProRail. Covering infrastructure and scheduling, their aim is to ‘make the Betuweroute an indispensable link in the international transport chain, in which Keyrail is the natural partner for facilitating rail freight transport’.
The first section opened in July 2004; the Havenspoorlijn in Rotterdam docks replacing a poorly aligned link between Barendrecht and Waalhaven Zuid. The objective of the new line is to allow uninterrupted journeys through the Netherlands, with more and faster carriage of loads between the port area and central Europe.
Construction began in summer 1997. The 160km crossing-free line is in two main parts, a 45km renewal covering the Rotterdam port area and the 110km from Kijfhoek freight yard to Zevenaar, junction with the German system near Emmerich.
Unusually for the low-lying Netherlands, the line includes substantial tunnels with a total length of 18km and 130 bridges and viaducts totalling 12km. Major tunnels include the 3km Botlek tunnel, bored using the earth pressure balance method, the 8km Sophia Tunnel, which used the hydroshield method, and the 2.7km Pannerdensch Canal Tunnel.
All Betuweroute tunnels can accommodate double-stack trains, expanded and upgraded to cope with the extra traffic. For example, the four tracks at Barendrecht are converted to nine (four passenger, two high-speed for the Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerpen HSL Zuid and three freight) and have a special 1,500m landscaped cover to protect the surrounding environment.
Much of the line is bundled with the A15 motorway. To enable construction over 400 commercial buildings and houses were demolished. Environmental protest continued with the official opening of the line, with some contesting the legality of aspects of the line’s creation.
Near Barendrecht, Kijfhoek yard has also been upgraded in connection with the Betuweroute. The yard capacity (originally built in the 1970s) has increased from 1,600 to 2,800 wagons per day by laying extra tracks.
A new 1km-long flyover allows trains heading for Rotterdam port to avoid getting stuck behind shunting movements.
A large proportion of the line was built by Strukton Railinfra, who with German company Fahrleitungsbau GmbH also provided much of the overhead equipment.
The line was built to the UIC D4 standard, suitable for trains with an axle load up to 22.5t driving at a maximum speed of 120km/h. Given that the Betuweroute has 25kV ac overhead supply, no domestic NS electric locomotives can work the line.
Many operators have access to similar locomotives through leasing companies such as Angel Trains Cargo and hire pools such as Mitsui-owned Dispolok.
The latter offers both the dual-voltage ES64U2 (Austrian Class 1116) and ES64F4 (Railion Class 189) to work over the international route.
To begin operations, Mitsui Rail Capital Europe (MRCE) and NedTrain were contracted to fit 23 diesel locomotives with the European Train Control System for the 2007 opening. A total of 11 Vosslah G1206 and 12 EMD Class 66 diesels will be so-fitted.
Signalling and communications
The Betuweroute has ERTMS/ETCS LEVEL 2 which uses GSMR for communications between train and traffic control, allowing travel at up to a speed of 120km/h (75mph). The primary function is to verify right of access to a section of track and, if a driver proceeds into the section unauthorised, to automatically take over the train’s controls.
ERTMS/ETCS LEVEL 2 also stops drivers passing red signals and monitors braking curves to allow trains to drive closer to each other. The Havenspoorlijn is fitted with NS first generation ATB, while the German end is equipped with standard DB Indusi (PZB) train protection. The Betuweroute has capacity for ten heavy freight trains per hour in each direction, with a transit time for the line of 90min.
In 2006, at 42 million tonnes carried, Dutch rail freight grew by 9% over the previous year. Growth up to 90 million tonnes by 2020 is forecast. Following a European competition attracting five bids, in October 2007 Keyrail and Strukton Railinfra signed a contract for the entire Betuweroute maintenance and management from 1 January 2008 until 1 January 2011.
The freed-up capacity on the classic Dutch network will allow an increase in passenger train frequencies, as eventually should the much-delayed HSL Zuid high-speed line which has overlapped with the development of the Betuweroute.
The envisaged third DB track from Emmerich to Duisburg to speed freight transits beyond the Betuweroute is not likely to be built before 2012.
Keyrail anticipates that by the end of 2007, 50 trains per week will be using Betuweroute, rising to 150 a day in five years. The immediate objectives following the opening were for operation by electric traction and for all junctions with feeder lines to become operative. With the route energised and use of multi-system equipment, regular running without a loco change between Rotterdam and Italy can become a reality.