Official policy on the future of rail transport in the Netherlands is set out in two recent reports. The report on Long-Term Network Development (Netwerkuitwerking Lange Termijn Toekomstbeeld OV) has details on future service patterns, although you must read ‘between the lines’ to understand it. One thing is clear: there will be no investment in new rail lines. Some existing services will be downgraded or abandoned.
One of these is the Amsterdam – Berlin intercity service. The route has had some negative publicity recently: the long journey time cannot compete with air travel, which has also become much cheaper. EasyJet offers a 90-minute flight to Berlin Schönefeld for €60, the train takes 6 hours 22 minutes, for €70. (Peak prices are higher for both train and flights.) Politicians had promised improvements to journey times, but the recent report says that this historic train route will disappear entirely.
The Dutch government wants to concentrate trains to Germany, on one corridor: Arnhem – Oberhausen. This is the historic Hollandstrecke, along the right bank of the Rhine, which is currently being upgraded. This strategy avoids all investment in the existing Amsterdam – Berlin route via Hengelo. Instead trains will use already upgraded lines inside Germany, from the Ruhr region to Hannover and Berlin.
The map in the Network Development Report shows that trains will run via Oberhausen to Dortmund. Theoretically they could bypass Oberhausen station on a freight line (line 2206), but that would give no connections to Duisburg and Düsseldorf. They might reverse in Oberhausen, but that would be an illogical route from the German point of view.
So the probable outcome is that Amsterdam – Berlin passengers passenger will change trains. That would simplify operations in both countries. From Amsterdam there would be one ICE service, the existing route to Köln and Frankfurt. From the Ruhr, there would be one ICE route to Hannover and Berlin. However, that ICE does not serve Oberhausen, so the transfer station would be Duisburg, 8 km further south. So, future Amsterdam – Berlin passengers will probably take the ICE toward Köln, leave it in Duisburg, and change to the Köln – Berlin ICE.
Rerouting would also simplify operations inside the Netherlands. At present the Amsterdam – Berlin train also functions as a domestic Intercity train to Hengelo, every two hours. It could easily be replaced by a domestic Intercity terminating at Enschede – the normal service pattern on this route. At Hengelo or Enschede, it would connect with a regional service to Osnabrück and Hannover, as shown in the Network Development Report map.
There are, however, many disadvantages. For a start, the Dutch cities on the existing route lose their international train to Germany: Hilversum, Amersfoort, Apeldoorn, Deventer, and Hengelo. In general, the northern and eastern Netherlands would lose out. In Germany, Osnabrück and Rheine will also lose their international trains. There is also no guarantee of faster travel: the trains will travel over better lines, but the route requires a long detour.
At present the Duisburg – Berlin ICE takes 4 hours 15 minutes. The Amsterdam – Duisburg journey time is 2 hours. With a 10-minute transfer, the route would be no faster than the existing route via Hengelo and Osnabrück. Most of the new route inside Germany has already been upgraded, so there will be no substantial reduction of journey time there. Some time can be saved when the Hollandstrecke upgrade is complete, but not much, because it is not being rebuilt for high speeds. Inside the Netherlands, the Network Development Report rules out substantial upgrading of the Utrecht – Arnhem route, which has capacity problems. Plans for a parallel high-speed line to Germany (‘HSL-Oost’) were abandoned in 2001. So although future rail journeys from Amsterdam to Berlin might take ‘under 6 hours’, it will not be much under 6 hours.
This blog earlier considered a high-speed rail line Arnhem – Oberhausen, with suggested bypass lines for Emmerich and Wesel. It also looked at how to combine the HSL-Oost with the existing Utrecht – Arnhem line (in Dutch).
More substantial is the proposed high-speed corridor from Amsterdam to Hannover, connecting with the existing high-speed line to Berlin. The corridor would start with a new HSL Amsterdam – Zwolle, thought the flat farmland of Flevoland.
From Zwolle, a new HSL would follow the existing line to the south-east, which was the original route of the Amsterdam – Berlin service. It would then bypass Almelo, alongside the A35 motorway, to rejoin the existing line at Hengelo. From there, or preferably from Enschede, a new high-speed route would extend to Hannover. This line could be called the Mittelland HSL because it would parallel the east-west Mittelland Canal. The route is determined by topography: it runs through the plains, north of the central hills (Mittelgebirge).
This line would have no intermediate stations, but it is not intended solely for Amsterdam – Berlin trains. It would be connected to existing main lines through Rheine, Osnabrück and Minden. East of Hannover, trains would use the existing HSL to Berlin.
The high-speed route, from Amsterdam to Hannover via Zwolle, would be about 350-370 km long. The existing Hannover – Berlin line, including the HSL, is 258 km long. A four-hour journey time should be feasible. The proposals are not inspired by nostalgia for the historic Amsterdam – Berlin route, but by the recognition that this is a major European corridor, where high-speed trains can compete with air travel.