High-speed rail corridors through the Netherlands

At present, there is only one high-speed rail line (HSL) out of the Netherlands. Several lines proposed here earlier, form part of European-level routes or corridors. Proposals for lines within the Netherlands were described in Dutch. Here they listed as corridors, in English, along with the existing HSL to Paris.

The high-speed corridors are listed clockwise, approximately centred on Amsterdam. Although the western Netherlands is a multi-centric conurbation (Randstad), the Amsterdam urban region is the largest in the country.

HSL-Zuid near Dordrecht: image under CC3.0 licence, by user Hullie.

Amsterdam – Groningen – Bremen – Hamburg

This corridor begins with the long-planned Zuiderzeelijn to Groningen, which was formally abandoned in 2007. The variant proposed here earlier, includes a new line through the Flevopolder, and a modified alignment in the Noordoostpolder. From Groningen, trains would continue over the proposed HSL Groningen – Bremen, and the already upgraded line Bremen – Hamburg.

Zwolle – Twente – Münster

This corridor also starts with the new line through the Flevopolder, and its link to Zwolle. It continues as the HSL Zwolle – Enschede, and the connecting HSL to Münster.

Amsterdam – Berlin

The proposed Mittelland HSL would diverge from the Enschede – Münster HSL, and join the existing main line into Hannover. From Amsterdam to Hannover, there would be an entirely new HSL corridor, connecting to the existing HSL Hannover – Berlin.

Right-bank Rhine line

The old main line to the Ruhr follows the right bank of the Rhine, from Arnhem. The high-speed corridor would start with the already upgraded line Amsterdam – Utrecht, and the planned HSL-Oost from Utrecht to Arnhem. A connecting upgrade of the line to Oberhausen has been planned for decades, but never reached the project stage. The alignment is generally suitable for upgrading with a parallel HSL, but the section through Arnhem is a bottleneck.

Amsterdam – Nijmegen – Köln

This high-speed corridor is intended as an alternative for the right-bank Rhine line, which follows a bend in the Rhine (as the river enters the Netherlands). It would start with an upgraded Amsterdam – Amersfoort line. Directly outside Amersfoort station, a new HSL Amersfoort – Nijmegen would begin, using a new alignment through Wageningen. South of Nijmegen, a HSL to Neuss would use a completely new alignment east of the Maas. From Neuss, trains would continue over an upgraded main line to Köln.

Den Haag – Eindhoven – Venlo – Ruhr

This corridor would start with more capacity on the relatively short line Den Haag – Rotterdam. South of Rotterdam, it would use the HSL to Brussels, as far as Breda. An upgraded line to Tilburg would connect to a new HSL Tilburg – Eindhoven. From Eindhoven, the existing line to Venlo would be upgraded, or a new HSL Eindhoven – Venlo built. East of Venlo, a new HSL Venlo – Neuss would connect to the HSL Nijmegen – Köln. There would be a link line toward Krefeld and Duisburg.

Amsterdam – Eindhoven – Aachen

This high-speed corridor would start with the already upgraded Amsterdam – Utrecht line. South of Utrecht, the line is already being 4-tracked to Houten: that section would be incorporated into a new HSL Utrecht – Eindhoven, partly on new alignment. From Eindhoven, the proposed HSL Eindhoven – Sittard would use a new alignment from Weert to Sittard. The corridor continues with the HSL Sittard – Aachen, joining the existing line about 4 km from Aachen Hauptbahnhof.

Nijmegen – Maastricht – Liège

This corridor consists of an upgraded line along the Maas from Nijmegen to Venlo, and from Venlo to Sittard. The shorter line Sittard – Maastricht would be upgraded with a new alignment through Maastricht Airport. South of Maastricht there would be a new HSL Maastricht – Liège, over the plateau above the Maas/Meuse.

Antwerpen – Maastricht – Aachen

This forms a tangent to the radial corridors: it passes through Netherlands territory, with one stop. It consists of the proposed HSL Hasselt – Maastricht, which extends HSL Antwerpen – Hasselt to Maastricht. There it would connect with the HSL Maastricht – Aachen. Together, they would create a new east-west high-speed route: from Antwerpen, via Maastricht, to Aachen and Köln.

HSL-Zuid Amsterdam – Rotterdam – Paris

The only existing high-speed line, the HSL-Zuid, is complete, but not fully in service. It starts near Schiphol Airport Amsterdam, and uses the existing line through Rotterdam. Its second section begins south of Rotterdam, and continues to Antwerpen: in Belgium it is named HSL 4.

Utrecht – Antwerpen

This corridor requires construction of a Utrecht – Breda railway – planned since the 19th century. It should be built as a high-speed line: the existing link from Breda to the HSL-Zuid, would then allow trains to continue to Antwerpen. That would create not only an alternative route from Amsterdam to Antwerpen, but also a ‘diagonal’ high-speed corridor Antwerpen – Zwolle, via an upgraded line Utrecht – Zwolle.

Some other high-speed lines in the Netherlands have been proposed here earlier, but they are not part of cross-border routes, and not listed here.

High-speed rail corridors through the Netherlands

The complexity of high-speed rail

The preferred route for the London – Birmingham high-speed rail line (HSL) has now been published. It is a very detailed analysis, and unlike other similar studies it is well written. It sets out clearly which options were considered, and also why others were rejected. The report, with detailed graphics, is availabe for download at the transport ministry website:

It is recommended reading for anyone interested in high-speed rail. One thing is certainly clear: in high-speed rail, there is no such thing as a low-cost option. It is extremely difficult to find routes in densely-populated countries…

HSR London-Birmingham alternatives

…and the selected route will be difficult to build. Even if an existing rail alignment is available, it can not generally be re-used. A complete new railway must be built alongside it. The planned line speed for this line is 400 km/h, which generally rules out even the best existing alignments.

The HSL proposals at this blog include, for instance, long exit tunnels in urban areas. There is often no alternative for this kind of complex and difficult construction. You either do that, or you don’t build a HSL at all.

The complexity of high-speed rail

High-speed rail in the Ukraine

The urban geography of the Ukraine makes it very suitable for high-speed rail, with large cities about 150-400 km apart. The present rail network is very deficient. Lines such as Kiev – Poltava and L’viv – Odessa are at least direct, but some large cities are served by indirect branch lines, and some city-city pairs lack a rail link. Rail journeys via several cities, are often much longer than by road. Improving line speed will not correct this, and with the present low speeds rail travel is rarely a practical option. Two Soviet-era high-speed projects, Kiev – Odessa and Moscow – Crimea, never approached the construction phase. There are plans for upgrading existing lines, but the Ukrainian economy can not support them.

It is sometimes said that the Ukraine inherited north-south lines from the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, whereas it needs east-west lines. The real problem is that the network does not correspond to the urban population distribution. The topography is sometimes a problem: the Carpathian and Crimean mountains, wide rivers with cliff banks, and river lagoons (limans) along the coast.

Click to enlarge: map by Captain Blood, Creative Commons 3.0 Licence.

In size, the Ukraine (604 000 km2) is roughly comparable to France (552 000 km2). Its declining population is smaller: 46 million as against 63 million. The two rail networks are proportional to the populations: 32 000 km in France and 22 000 km in the Ukraine. However, France has 1800 km of high-speed line, with more under construction. The Ukraine has none.

The proposals here are not detailed alignments for high-speed lines (HSL), but a pattern of high-speed routes, and some additional lines. They are intended to connect the main cities. With good urban-regional networks, that would benefit most of the population. Rural rail lines are also needed, but the rural population density is low, after a long period of accelerated urbanisation. In the east, which is partly steppe, it was always low anyway. A high-speed network would also include links into the western Ukraine, across Moldavia, toward southern and central Russia, and south toward the Caucasus.

The lines are described separately:

High-speed rail in the Ukraine

Funding for US high-speed rail?

As part of the federal stimulus package in response to the economic crisis, President Obama announced possible funding for several high-speed corridors. It is not a full network but rather several clusters of high-speed lines (PDF, 3 MB). The funding of $8 billion is not definitively allocated to any projects yet, and it certainly is not enough to build all of them. Reading the small print on US HSR policy shows the intention is to upgrade existing lines, above all by elimination of level crossings (“grade crossings”). Even with those limited goals, some projects have been waiting years for funding.

Funding for US high-speed rail?

US interstate rail network

US blog the transport politic also has a detailed proposal for a future interstate rail network in the United States. Notable from a European perspective is the absence of a national high-speed rail strategy, and that a national rail network is itself considered an innovation. All the projects originate at state level, which is why the word “interstate” is used to describe the national level. However, it might be just as notable to a US observer, that the European Union still has no binding European strategy for high-speed rail lines, and that they all began as national projects.


US interstate rail network