The former Bentheimer Eisenbahn line, between Bad Bentheim and Gronau, was closed in 1965. The alignment in Gronau has been built over, but with a modified alignment this section could be re-opened. The rest of the line is freight-only, but restoration of passenger traffic from Bad Bentheim to Nordhorn is planned.
The proposal here is a simple regional line: electrified, and double-tracked where necessary. Earlier proposals here would transform the rail network of the region, and facilitate re-opening.
The proposed Twente – Münster high-speed line (HSL), would create a high-speed axis through the region, extending the proposed HSL Amsterdam – Zwolle, and the connecting Zwolle – Twente HSL to Münster.
Intensified regional services would run parallel to the HSL, including an upgraded Enschede – Gronau – Münster line, and a new regional and inter-regional line Enschede – Gronau – Rheine, via Ochtrup. An upgraded version of the present regional service to Dortmund would start in Almelo, and serve the whole Twente axis.
That would downgrade, at least relatively, the Hengelo – Rheine line through Bad Bentheim. This is the present Amsterdam – Berlin route, although with only 7 trains per day, it is not overloaded.
A restored service Gronau – Bad Bentheim – Nordhorn would run at right angles to these routes, operationally isolated from them. (It is not logical to integrate it with services on the east-west lines). Apart from Gildehaus, there are no other settlements large enough to justify a station. From Nordhorn, the Bentheimer Eisenbahn continues to Coevorden: more on that route later.
Gronau (population 47 000) is on the Enschede – Münster line, that would be widened to four tracks for the Twente – Münster HSL. The station is just north of the town centre: the old line to Bad Bentheim diverged about 500 m further east. The line ran parallel to the Gildehauser Strasse, but the first 2 km have disappeared under new housing. The line followed this road (L42), curving to avoid the border. South of Bardel, it turned toward Gildehaus, in a straight line.
Gildehaus and Bad Bentheim are on parallel east-west ridges. The line from Gronau crossed the low west end of the Gildehaus ridge, and then ran parallel to the ridge, through the village. It avoids the ridge at Bad Bentheim in the same way. The Gronau – Bad Bentheim section was 19 km long.
There is no reason for a reactivated line to avoid the border, so at the very least, that section would be relocated. That would still require a tunnel in Gronau, under the Gildehauser Strasse. The line could serve a new station in northern Gronau, but it is not suitable for a full urban service. An alternative is to relocate the line, east of the built-up area. That would mean 4-5 km of new alignment, rejoining the old alignment 2 km south of Bardel.
A third option (shown in red) is to relocate the line: east of Bardel, but west of the Gildehauser Venn nature reserve. This would amount to a new line. It requires a tunnel under the Gildehaus ridge. The line could still serve the centre of Gildehaus (4000 inhabitants), possibly using the old station. This option amounts to a new line Gronau – Bad Bentheim, east of the old line.
After Gildehaus, the Bentheimer Eisenbahn turns north, crosses the main line (Hengelo – Rheine), and then turns east into Bad Bentheim Station. The line also served a halt on the western edge of Bad Bentheim, which could be reopened.
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The main station is north of Bad Bentheim (population circa 10 000), because the main line avoids the ridges. It is a classic border station, and international trains stop to change locomotives. Both functions are obsolete: dual-voltage trains would allow a through regional service. The present Regionalbahn 61 runs to Bielefeld. The Bentheimer Eisenbahn has separate tracks on the north side of the station.
500 m east of the station, the Bentheimer Eisenbahn turns north to Nordhorn. This 18-km section is still in use, for transit freight to Coevorden in the Netherlands. It runs through forest and open fields, approximately parallel to the Vechte river. The line had two passenger halts, but there is no village large enough to justify a station.
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The original alignment from Gronau to Nordhorn was 36 km long. New sections north of Gronau would shorten it, and a new line to Gildehaus would be several km shorter. With an electrified and upgraded line, a Gronau – Nordhorn journey time of 35 minutes should be no problem.