The Betuweroute

Posted: 2 March 2005 | | No comments yet

In part 1 of his article on the Betuweroute project, Patrick Buck looks at the background and characteristics of the route.

In part 1 of his article on the Betuweroute project, Patrick Buck looks at the background and characteristics of the route.

In part 1 of his article on the Betuweroute project, Patrick Buck looks at the background and characteristics of the route.

In 1995, the Dutch government took the decision to construct the Betuweroute: a freight line between the port of Rotterdam and the German border.

Preparatory work was initiated shortly after this. Now, almost ten years on, 80% of the work is complete and the crucial phase of testing the various technical systems is about to get underway.

The Betuweroute will become operational in 2007. This article discusses the background to the decision to construct the Betuweroute and provides an overall description of the largest rail construction project ever undertaken in The Netherlands.

Background to the construction of the Betuweroute

The public debate in The Netherlands about the usefulness and need for the Betuweroute has never really stopped. The debate regularly resurfaced even while construction work on the freight line continued. Opponents see it as an expensive prestige project that will never recoup its investment costs. The many voices raised in opposition also express doubts that the project can ever become self-financing. Amongst the discussion, sight is sometimes lost of the original reasons behind the decision to realise the project. However, these are just as valid today as when the project was first mooted.

The Betuweroute will make a significant contribution to retaining and strengthening the competitive position of Rotterdam and its port and, therefore, of The Netherlands as an international transport and distribution centre. The Betuweroute constitutes a fast, direct freight rail link between the port of Rotterdam and the European hinterland and ensures that freight transport by train is a viable alternative to transportation by road or water.

Shipping companies will benefit from a transportation system in which all modes of transport (waterways, rail, pipeline, air, and road) play a full role. At the moment, freight transport by rail in The Netherlands is in a weaker position, partly due to the increasing congestion on the rails and the conflicting needs of freight and passenger trains. The Betuweroute provides additional capacity that will not only benefit freight transport, but rail passenger transport as well.

Congestion on the roads is a growing problem. Trucks can transport only relatively small loads and, consequently, contribute more to environmental pollution. The opening of the Betuweroute will ensure that transport by road will grow at a slower rate. The Betuweroute is an investment in improving rail freight transport to realise the accessibility targets set out in the Nederlandse Verkeer & Vervoersbeleid (Dutch Traffic & Transport Policy).

The Betuweroute will carry many freight trains that currently run on the existing rail network through town and city centres. As a result, there will be a significant reduction in the volume of trains carrying hazardous substances on the existing rail network. This affects rail routes, such as the Brabantroute, and railway yards, such as the one at Venlo. The Betuweroute by-passes urban areas.

Characteristics of the Betuweroute

The Betuweroute is 160 kilometres in length, goes through 28 municipalities and extends across two provinces. The realisation of the Betuweroute can be divided into three sections:

  • The Havenspoorlijn (Port Railway Line) between the Maasvlakte and Barendrecht
  • The modernisation of the Kijfhoek shunting yard
  • The construction of 120km of new track on the ‘A-15’ route

The Havenspoorlijn

Work on the Betuweroute began in 1996 with the upgrading of the existing Havenspoorlijn. Until then, the line had been single track and was not electrified. The railway line was upgraded to double track and prepared for 25kV electrification. In total, 40km acoustic screens have been erected, all level crossings and existing infrastructure have been removed and the Maasvlakte-East, Europoort, Botlek, Pernis and Waalhaven railway yards have been radically modified. The Havenspoorlijn was officially opened on 10th July 2004 by the Minister of Transport, Public Works and Water Management, Mrs. Karla Peijs, during an EU Transport Council meeting.

The key projects on this part of the Betuweroute included:

The Maasvlakte-West railway yard

A completely new Rail Service Centre was constructed at the Maasvlakte as part of the Betuweroute project. Containers are transferred from sea to road or rail at the centre. This new transhipment hub serves as the starting point for many shuttle services to various European economic centres. The yard consists of three six-track bundles. Transhipment capacity has risen significantly as a result of construction of the Rail Service Centre. New rail links connect the railway yard to the ECT, the EMO and the Lyondell/Bayer sites.

The Dintelhaven railway bridge

In April 1998, the new railway bridge over the Dintelhaven (Rotterdam Europoort) was positioned. Unlike the old bridge, the new 270 metre long arched bridge has a double track. The transport capacity of the Havenspoorlijn has increased significantly as a result. What’s more, the new bridge is no longer supported by a centre pier which means that push-tow barges can now pass more easily. The bridge was put into operation on 1st May 1999. The Dintelhaven railway bridge received the prestigious Brunel Award for Outstanding Railway Design 1998.

The Botlek railway tunnel

The existing railway bridge over the river Oude Maas needs to be opened regularly to let shipping traffic go through and does not provide enough room to accommodate a second track. Consequently, alongside the existing Botlek tunnel for road traffic, a separate 3,065 metre long tunnel has been constructed for freight trains. This is the first bored rail tunnel in The Netherlands. It is not until the tunnel-related technical systems have been installed and the track has been electrified that the tunnel will become operational. This will take place when the entire Betuweroute comes into service at the beginning of 2007.

The repositioned Havenspoorlijn

Between the Waalhaven and Barendrecht-North railway yards, the Havenspoorlijn has been moved towards the A15 motorway and as a result, it is further away from the residential areas on the southern perimeter of Rotterdam. After the repositioned Havenspoorlijn was opened in March 2004, the old railway line could be dismantled. The space freed up as a result will be incorporated into a park. A cycle path will take the place of the old railway track. The repositioned Havenspoorlijn is 6.5km long, approximately one kilometre of which is over a viaduct, known as the ‘M’-track. This intersects through various routes as well as the Rotterdam metro line.


To the south of the Waalhaven-South railway yard, a four kilometre long railway line called the Kortsluitroute (short-cut route) will be constructed for through train traffic on the Betuweroute. This route will ensure that trains can complete their journey over the Betuweroute quickly and without impinging on the capacity of the Waalhaven-South railway yard.

Barendrecht covering

A total of nine tracks have been covered in Barendrecht: the HSL, the Betuweroute and the Rotterdam-Dordrecht route tracks. The covering will prevent noise nuisance for local residents. The new station at Barendrecht will also be accommodated within the covering. 300 parking spaces and a city park the size of 13 football pitches will be constructed on top of the covering.

The Kijfhoek shunting yard

This is the largest shunting yard in The Netherlands and plays a key role in the logistics of the Betuweroute. The yard is being upgraded as part of the Betuweroute project with the overriding aim of increasing capacity and improving the free passage of through trains on both the Betuweroute and HSL-South. The humping system is being modernised as part of the project. The system will sort wagons using gravity which will reduce the noise nuisance resulting from shunting. In addition, two fly-overs will be built, thus providing a fast, quiet and safe through-flow of freight.

Like the Havenspoorlijn, the work at Kijfhoek is very complex with dozens of intermediate milestones because the route will remain in operation throughout the project. Consequently, the track has to be closed hundreds of times for shorter and longer periods in order to complete the work.

A15 route

Construction of 120 kilometres of new and electrified double track immediately to the north of the A15 motorway. The road and railway track will be bundled along the same corridor for virtually the entire route. This allows the Betuweroute to blend into the existing landscape as unobtrusively as possible and to avoid towns and villages to a large extent.

The Betuweroute and A15 are at ground level and all intersecting infrastructure has been constructed over them. To achieve this, large stretches of the A15 have been renovated and local, intersecting infrastructure has had to be modified.

Prominent points along this section of the Betuweroute include:

The Sophia railway tunnel

The Sophia tunnel between Zwijndrecht and Oud Alblas is eight kilometres in length, making it the longest tunnel on the Betuweroute. The tunnel crosses four polders, five municipalities, two rivers, two motorways, one provincial road, 10 local roads and the Rotterdam-Dordrecht passenger line. The bored part of the tunnel is over four kilometres long and consists of two parallel tunnel tubes with a diameter of close to nine metres.

Centraal Uitwisselingspunt

The Centraal Uitwissel Punt (CUP, central exchange point) is an important logistics hub. The CUP sorts complete train sets by destination over a length of approximately four kilometres. From the CUP, two northern curves and one southern curve connect to the Arnhem-Nijmegen track.

Pannerdensch Kanaal tunnel

The tunnel is 2,680 metres in length including the access ramps. At its deepest point, it is 25 metres below ground level. The bored section is 1,615 metres in length. The tunnel is made up of two tubes with a diameter of close to 10 metres. The tunnel was bored, but the access ramps were constructed using the traditional trench approach. The tunnel, access ramps and service buildings were designed to fit into the surrounding landscape using appropriate materials.

Zevenaar tunnel

A tunnel was constructed under the town of Zevenaar to relieve its residential areas as much as possible of Betuweroute traffic. The tunnel is 2,300 metres in length including the access ramps. This is a traditional ‘cut and cover’ tunnel with two tubes 10 metres in height. The access ramps start at the edge of the town and are mainly in the countryside. The southern ring road runs over the tunnel roof. As a result, the ring around Zevenaar is now closed and through traffic can be diverted away from the town centre.

Connection to existing Arnhem-Oberhausen line

To the east of Zevenaar, the Betuweroute follows the route of the existing railway line. Using a series of points, the Betuweroute tracks are gradually fed into the existing track until, not far from the border, the Betuweroute is completely integrated with the Arnhem-Emmerich line. This section over existing track covers two kilometres up to the German border.

Acoustic screens and portal structures

Design has been a key consideration throughout the Betuweroute project. The Masterplan Vormgeving (design master plan) lays down the agreements on the physical appearance and landscaping for the Betuweroute. The acoustic screening is one of the most prominent visual features. The shape of the screens and the materials used for their construction match the characteristic appearance of the Betuweroute. The screens form a kind of half open cylindrical container through which the tracks run. The arched profile along its whole length makes it instantly recognisable. At the same time, it has a sound-absorbing effect: noise, mainly created by the wheels, hits the arched panels and bounces back onto the sound-absorbing ballast bed. The screens are constructed from concrete up to a height of three metres. On four-metre screens, the top metre is constructed from glass. Acoustic screens have been constructed along 160km of the A15 section of the Betuweroute, making it by far the largest acoustic screening project in the history of The Netherlands. The same arched design used for the acoustic screens has been adopted for the arched overhead line portals. These rigid portal structures have been positioned outside the screens so that the entire construction is still clearly recognisable as a railway line.

Technical features of the Betuweroute

Attention to safety

Safety and risk analysis featured high on the list of priorities in the design of the Betuweroute. This was an important reason behind the decision to lay a large part of the railway line along the A15 motorway. Since freight trains do not need to stop at stations, a new route was chosen that by-passes densely populated areas as much as possible. In the unlikely event of an accident, emergency services could get to the scene quickly using the A15. The rail route does not have any level crossings, ruling out the possibility of accidents involving road users.

The risk of derailment is minimised by means of systems that monitor maximum train speeds. In addition, heat meters placed along the track (‘hot boxes’) automatically detect overheating of either brakes and/or wheels as a consequence of seizure. Should a train become derailed, guidance devices on viaducts and in tunnels prevent it from tipping over.

The Betuweroute has five tunnels, each with two separate tunnel tubes. This prevents train collisions in tunnels. If an accident were to take place, an automatic sprinkler system that extinguishes the fire and prevents it from spreading is executed. This minimises the risk to the environment and, at the same time, the sprinklers limit damage to the tunnel.

Ditches alongside the railway, gentle curves along the route and, not least, close collaboration with municipalities, fire brigades, police forces and ambulance services also contribute to safety. These measures and facilities combined with the ERTMS/ECTS safety system (see below) make the Betuweroute the safest railway in The Netherlands and one of the safest in Europe.

Safety systems

The Betuweroute will be the first railway line in The Netherlands to be equipped with the advanced ERTMS/ETCS LEVEL 2 (European Rail Traffic Management Assistant System, European Train Control System) system. The system – the new European standard – is integrated into the infrastructure while the driver receives the signals in the locomotive. ERTMS/ETCS checks whether a train can enter a line section (a section of the railway line between one and 1.5 kilometres in length). For example, the system detects and signals a driver entering a line section that has not been cleared for entry because there is another train there, repair work is being carried out or there are track workers on the line. If the driver does not respond to the signals and take appropriate action, the system takes control. The track will no longer carry signals, all signalling takes place in the locomotive cab.

The system also checks whether the points are in the correct position and have been released. The ATB Automatic Train-running Control system in use at present does not function if a train is travelling at less than 40 kilometres an hour; which means a driver could go through a red signal at slow speed. The new safety system will not allow this, again increasing the level of safety.

Finally, ERTMS/ETCS LEVEL 2 calculates the braking distance of the train. This allows trains to travel closer together and, therefore, at a higher frequency. The system also intervenes if two trains are running into each other on the same line section.

Electricity supply

The Betuweroute, like the HSL, is supplied with 25kV (25,000 volts AC). The existing rail network in The Netherlands is electrified at 1,500 volts DC. The decision to opt for 25kV was taken as this allows freight trains to accelerate more quickly, run faster and carry heavier loads. In addition, eventually 25kV will be used throughout Europe. Although it will take some years before full implementation, some countries are in the process of converting to 25kV (Switzerland) or have already converted (England, Portugal and most Central and Eastern European countries). The major rail carriers are adjusting to this by purchasing multi-standard locomotives capable of running on different voltages.

As power companies supply 150kV, transformer stations will be built to convert the current. The Betuweroute will have three: at Maasvlakte, Tiel and Zevenaar.

Operation and the future

ProRail and the Rotterdam Port Authority submitted their plan for the operation of the Betuweroute to the Minister of Transport, Public Works and Water Management at the start of December. Most of the contents of this business case for the operation of the Betuweroute is confidential. The Minister decided however on 27th of April that she will opt for another alternative by asking more companies who showed their interest in operating the route for alternative operating plans.

However, it is already clear that the prospects for operation of the Betuweroute are good. It is forecast that 30 million tonnes of international freight will be transported on the railways by 2015, double the current levels. There are new opportunities for freight to Eastern Europe and power stations in Germany, and in the transportation of containers and ‘trailers on trains’. It is hardly surprising in these circumstances that a new contender has emerged in the market with the stated aim of operating the Betuweroute. These developments show that the fortunes of this intensely debated project look set to steadily improve.


Betuweroute facts and figures:

  • Length: 160 kilometres
  • Running alongside the A15: 95 kilometres
  • Length of acoustic screens: 160 kilometres
  • Number of fauna passages: 190
  • Number of tunnels: 5
  • Length of tunnels: 18 kilometres
  • Electrification: first 25kV railway line in The Netherlands
  • Safety system: ERTMS/ECTS (European Rail Traffic Management System/European Control System)
  • Length of cuttings: 7.5 kilometres
  • Number of viaducts and bridges: 130
  • Number of overhead line portals: 5,600
  • Number of sleepers: 600,000
  • Number of points: 155
  • Sand required: 16 million m3
  • Man-years for construction: 20,000
  • Maximum speed: 120kph
  • Axle load: 25 tonnes maximum
  • Capacity: 10 trains per hour in each direction
  • Completion: 2006
  • Cost: e4.7 billion
  • The Betuweroute is partly financed by the European Union

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