This is an English-language version of a proposal for a high-speed rail line (HSL) south from Utrecht. It is more than a simple translation of the Dutch-language version, and includes more background information, for readers unfamiliar with the line and the region.
The line is part of a series of proposed high-speed corridors out of the Netherlands, and would extend to Aachen.
- the Amsterdam – Utrecht line, which was built as part of the Amsterdam – Arnhem line. The line now has four tracks, and is in principle suitable for 200 km/h outside Amsterdam. With the present DC 1500V electrification, however, 160 km/h is the maximum. There are medium-term plans to double the voltage on the Netherlands electrified lines.
- a HSL Utrecht – Eindhoven, 80 km, as described here.
- a high-speed cut-off line between Eindhoven and Sittard proposed here earlier. The present route is indirect, via Roermond: the new line would run through Belgium, pass Maaseik, and then re-enter Dutch territory. An alternative is a shorter cut-off line along the A2 motorway avoiding Roermond.
- a proposed HSL Sittard – Aachen, bypassing Heerlen. At present there is only an indirect single-track rail link from Heerlen into Aachen, with an hourly diesel service.
The present use of the route is as a domestic main line to Maastricht, the capital of the Province of Limburg. Half the Intercity trains terminate at Heerlen, the centre of the former coal-mining region in Limburg. The line is no longer seen as an international route, although it did carry international trains in the past. There are cross-border regional trains from Maastricht to Liège, and from Heerlen to Aachen.
The railway from Utrecht to Eindhoven
A high-speed line from Utrecht to Eindhoven has been proposed in the past, but is currently off the political agenda. It would generally follow the existing Utrecht – Eindhoven route, which is relatively straight. Although this is now considered the main north-south line of the Netherlands, it was not built as a single line. The section from Boxtel to Eindhoven was completed first, as part of an east-west line from Breda (Staatslijn E, 1866). The connecting line from Utrecht was added a few years later (Staatslijn H, 1870).
Although the line climbs only 20 m from Utrecht to Eindhoven, the three major rivers are a significant obstacle. Prior to 1870, there were no bridges here at all. The line crosses two river dikes at each river, sometimes with a level crossing on the dike. Between the dikes, there are embankments or viaducts in the floodplain, leading to the railway bridge itself.
Cab video: Utrecht – Den Bosch June 2013
When the railway was built, Utrecht and Den Bosch (‘s-Hertogenbosch) were the only cities. Otherwise the region was agricultural, with market towns. The population along the line is still concentrated in those towns: Culemborg, Geldermalsen, Zaltbommel and Boxtel. Eindhoven itself was also a market town, but as the home of the Philips company, it grew to become the largest city in the southern Netherlands. Utrecht and Eindhoven are now agglomerations, with suburbanised villages such as Houten and Best on the main line. Between the rivers, however, the railway and the landscape have not changed much since the line was opened – although the small village stations have closed.
Utrecht – Houten – River Lek
The station at Utrecht Centraal is being reconstructed and expanded, a project which will not be complete until 2030. That includes extra tracks south of the station, and a grade-separated junction with the Arnhem line, at the edge of Utrecht. Four tracks are almost complete on the first 10 km out of Utrecht, as far as Houten.
The proposed HSL will incorporate existing four-track sections, and the rest of the line will also need two extra tracks, at Geldermalsen in the form of a bypass. In fact the whole line would need reconstruction, with the disappearance of all remaining level crossings, and conversion to 25 kV AC. This post describes mainly how the HSL would be combined with the existing infrastructure. Obviously that has consequences for all connecting lines – but a general reconstruction of the network is a precondition for the proposed HSL corridors anyway.
The line out of Utrecht must take account of another proposed HSL – a new new line Utrecht – Breda. Although this line has been planned since the the 19th-century, the current works make no provision for a junction with it. The junction design is problematic, because the Eindhoven line crosses two motorways, A12 and A27. Possibly the HSL to Breda could diverge from the Arnhem line, and then cross the Eindhoven line, and the motorway junction, on viaduct. That is probably easier, then digging up the entire junction south of Utrecht.
The four-track section Utrecht – Houten has the fast tracks on the outside, with island platforms for suburban services. There is no alternative for this arrangement, and very high speed through Houten is not possible. From the edge of Houten, the line is double-track. It climbs there to cross the Amsterdam – Rhine Canal. Because of limited space between the last station and the canal, the only option here is to extend the four-track section, with a new bridge over the canal, or two single-track bridges.
After the Amsterdam – Rhine Canal, the line leaves the Utrecht agglomeration, and runs through open polder landscape. Because of the soft soil, the 19th-century tracks can not simply be relaid for high speed: the best option is to build a parallel HSL. That means that one fast track must cross the slow tracks, as they descend from the canal bridges.
Then line then cuts through the village of Schalkwijk. It is a linear village, so in principle it is only two houses wide, but the rail line crosses it at the oldest part. By slightly shifting the alignment, it would be possible to cut through the village without demolishing any historic buildings, and improve two curves north and south of the village. The village once had a station, and with four tracks available, it could be re-opened. A simple underpass under the line is sufficient: thanks to the Amsterdam – Rhine Canal, the village is now on an island, and there is no through traffic.
A possible realignment through Schalkwijk: Base map by Jan-Willem van Aalst, with CC3.0 licence…
After Schalkwijk, the old line runs through open polder to the Lek River. To realign a relatively sharp curve here, the HSL might cross the slow tracks again. The 19th-century rail bridge is unsuitable for high speeds, so a new parallel bridge is essential here. The alignment through Culemborg, on the southern side, would determine its exact position.
River Lek to River Maas
The old line through Culemborg, and the station, are on an embankment. That was unavoidable, because the railway descends from a bridge into a lower polder. The new HSL must run close to the existing line, but simply widening a 19th-century embankment will not work for high-speed trains.
If the whole line was new, a tunnel would be the preferred option here. Given the existing line and station, a parallel HSL on viaduct seems the best option. There is a strip of land available on the west side of the embankment, so a viaduct could be built about 20 m from it, closer as it passed the station.
Culemborg: space for HSL just west of existing line, base map by Jan-Willem van Aalst, with CC3.0 licence…
South of Culemborg, the line again runs through open fields, with a few level crossings. Here too, a parallel HSL is the simplest to construct. Approaching Geldermalsen, however, a new alignment is essential.
Geldermalsen is a classic 19th-century mainline junction, built near a small town. It was once served by international trains, and the 19th-century elegance of Geldermalsen Station reflects its former importance.
Geldermalsen station in 1974: image by Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, with CC3.0 licence…
At Geldermalsen, the east-west line from Dordrecht to Arnhem and Nijmegen (Betuwelijn) crosses the north-south line from Utrecht. They join north of the station, and share a double-track bridge over the Linge river, into the station. The Betuwelijn diverges again just south of the station, turning eastwards. None of the junctions are grade-separated, the alignment is an S-curve, and there are several level crossings. That was not an issue in the 19th century, with a few trains per hour.
Geldermalsen: the north-south Utrecht – Eindhoven line, the east-west Dordrecht – Nijmegen Betuwelijn, the A15 motorway and adjoining freight line Betuweroute, and its junctions with the north-south line, base map by Jan-Willem van Aalst, with CC3.0 licence…
A bypass of Geldermalsen would diverge from the old line at km 22, and rejoin it at km 30. The alignment is only marginally shorter, but it can be designed for 300 km/h, impossible on the old alignments. The bypass would cross agricultural land, but a tunnel is essential to avoid the protected landscape along the River Linge.
A bypass has the additional advantage of avoiding the junctions with the Betuweroute. Not to be confused with the Betuwelijn, this is a new east-west freight line, parallel to the A15 motorway. The bypass would cross both in open fields, simplifying construction of the crossings.
Indicative alignment of a Geldermalsen bypass …
From the 30-km point southwards, the existing line through Waardenburg and Zaltbommel is straight. Here too, a parallel HSL is the best option. In both cases, the built-up area is west of the old line, so the new HSL would be on its eastern side. That means that it would cross the old line again, at the end of the Geldermalsen bypass. The extra cost is outweighed by the benefits elsewhere.
Between Waardenburg and Zaltbommel, the line crosses the River Waal. With a parallel HSL, a new bridge can simply be built alongside the old one, minimising disruption. With all fast trains diverted to the new line, the former station at Waardenburg can be reopened.
Across the Waal: Base map by Jan-Willem van Aalst, with CC3.0 licence…
On the other side of the river, in Zaltbommel, the line runs through an industrial zone. Apart from a few sheds, a parallel HSL alignment is clear of buildings. The new line would run on viaduct here. The old line and station will stay as they are. The station is inconveniently sited, but it can not be moved closer to the historic centre, because of the gradient on the bridge approach.
From the River Waal to the River Maas, the railway is a straight line through farmland, apart from a slight curve at km 40. The HSL would be built directly alongside it. Just before the River Waal, the line passes the village of Hedel. Again, the village is west of the line, so the HSL and a new Maas bridge will be on the east side. As at Waardenburg, extra capacity will allow re-opening of the old Hedel station.
The 30 km section, between Schalkwijk and the River Maas, can be built for relatively high speeds. The existing HSL-Zuid to Paris is designed for 300 km/h between Hoofddorp en Rotterdam, a distance of 48 km.
Through Den Bosch and Vught
Immediately after the Maas bridge at Hedel, there is a sharp curve. The parallel HSL needs a better alignment, but space is restricted. The city of Den Bosch has expanded northwards to the river, and there is housing near the line. The curve can be partly compensated by slanting the new Maas bridge a few degrees to the old one. There would be a slight curve on the north bank of the river, a straight bridge, and another curve on the south side. The sharp curve would be in effect ‘spread out’. The HSL will still be closer to the housing than the old line, but not directly alongside it.
Click to enlarge…
South of the bridge and the new curve, the HSL would leave its own alignment and join the old line, which would be widened to four tracks. About 4 km from the Maas, the line curves around the Ertveldplas lake, and then crosses the River Dieze into the main station. This alignment is an S-curve, which can however be improved by shifting the line toward the lake. This is an industrial zone, and nothing important will be demolished. The line will be widened anyway, to accommodate the extra tracks.
This realignment requires a new overbridge, followed by a new bridge over the River Dieze. The existing bridge has recently been replaced, with four tracks including a flyover for the line from Nijmegen. That is a great improvement on the old bridge with its flat junction, but the design does not allow for additional tracks. The brand-new flyover will probably need reconstruction, and a new track must be fitted in to the space between that flyover, and a new road bridge. The line to Nijmegen should also be upgraded and four-tracked, at least as far as Oss, but an 8-track junction is out of the question here.
It is impossible to give design details here, but with four tracks from Utrecht, a 5th and 6th track over the Dieze are essential. The four tracks between the Maas and the main station are also a precondition, for new stations in Den Bosch.
Two new stations in Den Bosch: Base map by Jan-Willem van Aalst, with CC3.0 licence…
The main station (Station Den Bosch) has also been reconstructed over the past few years. The two long island platforms and a side platform should be sufficient, but there is enough space for another side platform on the west side.
Capacity on the line is restricted south of Den Bosch station. There are three curves on the 3-km section to Vught, a suburbanised village. The railway avoids a fort (Fort Isabella), which was still in use when it was built. In Vught, there are several level crossings, and a flat junction with the line to Tilburg. A third track has been added, and when new roads were built recently, space was left for a fourth. However, it has not been laid yet, and there are no plans for a grade-separated junction. This section is already a source of delays, and no high-speed service is possible without major reconstruction.
Demolition is unavoidable here. One option is to shift the Tilburg line to a new alignment, in tunnel under the N65 road. That could be combined with construction of a proposed HSL to Tilburg, but the N65 tunnel could simply connect to the existing line outside Vught. Either way, a tunnel under the N65 is easier to connect to the Eindhoven line, with a grade-separated junction. The N65 itself would be lowered, or possibly replaced entirely by a bypass around Vught.
New junction in Vught: N65 tunnel connects to new HSL, or alternatively to existing line, in yellow...
Just south of the junction, the line through Vught station could be rebuilt as a four-track cut-and-cover tunnel, similar to that in Best (further south). The complete reconstruction of the lines through Vught would allow for two extra stations there. No very high speeds will be possible here, but since all trains would stop at Den Bosch, that is not a problem.
Vught to Eindhoven
South of Vught, the old line to Boxtel is almost straight. It climbs slightly, and it is now on sandy soil with only minor streams to cross. Here it would be possible to convert the line for high speeds, with four tracks, although a parallel HSL is also an option.
Cab video: Den Bosch – Eindhoven June 2013
The main problem is the junction at Boxtel itself, where the line from Tilburg joins the line from Den Bosch. The junction and the station are located on an S-curve, which is now within the built-up area of Boxtel. The station was rebuilt in the 1990’s, with parallel island platforms: one for the Tilburg line, and one for the Den Bosch line. Each platform has two outside tracks for fast trains, making eight tracks in total. South of the station is a grade-separated junction, where the lines converge onto four tracks, but it does not fully separate fast and slow trains.
A radical option for the Tilburg line is a new HSL Tilburg – Eindhoven, which would bypass Boxtel entirely. That would allow two tracks south of Boxtel to be reserved for fast trains – the alignment is in principle suitable for 200 km/h.
However, that does not solve the main problem at Boxtel: the S-curve, and especially the curve north of the station. Demolition of housing is unavoidable, to allow high speeds through Boxtel. That would require a new north curve, and a tunnel through the station zone for high-speed trains, probably between the existing platforms. The tunnel would cross all existing tracks and surface on their eastern side. An alternative is that the regional trains from Den Bosch use a tunnel to acres the ‘Tilburg platform’, allowing demolition of the eastern platform. That option would also require extra tracks on the eastern side.
Click to enlarge…
In any case, the junction south of Boxtel (at Liempde) must be redesigned to separate high-speed trains from all other traffic. The Boxtel – Eindhoven section was quadrupled and rebuilt for ‘high speeds’ in the 1990’s, but the current line speed is only 140 km/h, so it needs further reconstruction. Additional tracks for freight trains are also desirable on this section.
South of Boxtel, the line runs for 8 km through forest and fields. At the suburbanised village of Best, it enters the Eindhoven agglomeration. During the reconstruction in the 1990’s, the line through the village was lowered into a cut-and-cover tunnel. The station is at its north end, with platforms partly in the tunnel. It has four platforms, because regional trains can use any track. For high-speed trains, two of them must be closed, probably the outer platforms. The chosen option must also be compatible with a planned station in Acht, south of Best. The tunnel at Best was not designed for expansion, but there is room alongside it for an additional freight tunnel.
If the proposed direct HSL from Tilburg is built, it would join the line between Best and Eindhoven – at km 53 if it follows the A58 motorway, otherwise in tunnel near km 55. From there, six tracks are probably needed into central Eindhoven. The only other station, Beukenlaan, would be rebuilt – keeping two platform tracks for regional trains.
1500 m after this suburban station, the line turns 45 degrees, into the main station at Eindhoven. There is no room for new junctions here: all trains must be sorted by destination platform, as they pass Beukenlaan. Close to the station, six tracks will also be difficult, with office buildings almost adjoining the line.
The main Eindhoven Station would retain its existing layout, with three island platforms and two outer tracks. For high-speed trains going further south, and for a possible HSL to Venlo, new grade-separated junctions on its eastern side are also essential.
The new HSL will will barely shorten the route from Utrecht to Eindhoven. All gains come from higher speeds on new track, and from avoiding conflicts with all other traffic. Approximate journey times on a southeastern HSL corridor are:
- existing line Amsterdam – Utrecht 35 km, from Arena Station at 200 km/h line speed, about 20-25 minutes
- HSL Utrecht – Eindhoven, marginally shorter than the existing 80-km line, built for at least 250 km/h between the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal and the Maas, and upgraded for at least 200 km/h between Vught and Eindhoven, 35 minutes including a stop at Den Bosch
- HSL Eindhoven – Sittard, about 60 km long, built for 250 km/h, about 20-25 minutes
- alternatively, a shorter HSL alongside the A2 motorway past Maasbracht, shortening the route by 12 km and built for 250 km/h, about 25-30 minutes
- HSL Sittard – Aachen of about 35 km length, 15 minutes
The total journey time from Amsterdam to Aachen would be between 90 and 105 minutes. That is not utopian: a journey time of 90 minutes implies an average speed of 140 km/h – not unrealistic even with four stops.