Ten years since the railway line’s opening, the Betuwe Route serves as an indispensable connection for the transport of freight to and from the port of Rotterdam. In recent years, the Betuwe Route has significantly contributed to the growth of throughput in Rotterdam, and consequently the Dutch economy as a whole. To keep building on this success, it is vital that we continue to raise national and international interest in rail as a mode of transport – to increase the sustainability of the freight transport sector, among other things.
These are the key conclusions drawn by the Port of Rotterdam Authority, ten years after the opening of the Betuwe Route in 2007. Ronald Paul, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Port of Rotterdam Authority: “A port is as good as its connections with the hinterland. That is why the Betuwe Route has proven a very sound investment in our view. It enables us to continue developing as a port, but it also allows us to shift transport from roads to rail. Not just the port of Rotterdam, but the entire Dutch economy benefits from this: less congestion, less nuisance for residents along the existing railway, more sustainable transport and more room in our railway network for passenger transport. The Betuwe Route is of crucial importance.”
Exclusively for cargo transport
The Netherlands is the only country in Europe that has a dedicated cargo transport railway line. For the transport of hazardous substances alone, this presents a very safe alternative, since one can bypass the cities and the existing rail network. But it also contributes immensely to the efficiency of all rail movements in the Netherlands, in light of the country’s relatively busy and mixed railway network. The key cargo types that are transported by rail are containers, iron ore, coal and chemical products (see figure).
In 2016, 10.4 percent of all the containers that left the port of Rotterdam were transported by rail. Thirty-five percent is transported over water; the rest via road. Every year, some 50,000 trains use the Havenspoorlijn (Port Section) – which is actually the first section of the Betuwe Route itself – and over 20,000 trains pass along the Betuwe Route’s A-15 connection. The busiest year so far was 2014, with 25,000 trains. In 2015 and 2016, work on the railway in Germany meant that more trains had to take the Brabant Route and were handled via Bad Bentheim. In 2014, 82 percent of all rail traffic along the Rotterdam-Germany axis was directed via the Betuwe Route. In 2016, this percentage had dropped to 57 percent due to the required detours (see figure).
Now that a substantial share of the port’s throughput is transported to the hinterland via rail, it is important to clear the various obstacles still standing in the way of further growth. Ronald Paul: “It is vital that we pay balanced attention to the share of cargo transport versus passenger transport on our railways. It is up to ProRail and the Ministry of Infrastructure and the environment to take targeted measures against issues that impede the further growth of rail transport.”
At the international level, it is important to work towards a level playing field. For example, in the Netherlands, we work with the more expensive European rail safety system ERMTS, and it is mandatory for our drivers to be bilingual. This results in relatively high operating costs for transport companies. In addition, a proposal is currently being reviewed in Germany to cut the usage fee by 50%. It is important to ensure that the Dutch usage fee remains in line with this.
And finally, it is very important that the German continuation of the Betuwe Route is fully up to standard. Although a start has been made on the construction of a third track between Emmerich and Oberhausen, it recently became clear that this project will not be completed according to schedule due to delays in the issue of permits for various route sections.