Fast, frequent and reliable rail service via Arnhem to Germany

8 September 2017

A high-speed rail link between Amsterdam and Germany would cost too much and would produce too few benefits, or so the consensus went in 2001. However, a new study conducted by Goudappel Coffeng and SMA Advies for the Gelderland provincial authorities shows that a high-speed link does have potential. Phased investment will benefit domestic as well as international services.

The Amsterdam-Arnhem-Frankfurt ICE corridor is the main rail link between the Netherlands and Germany, connecting key economic hubs including Amsterdam, Utrecht, Arnhem-Nijmegen, the Rhine-Ruhr and Frankfurt Rhine-Main metropolitan areas and, indirectly, Rotterdam and The Hague. About a third of total rail passenger transport to Germany uses the border crossing near the Dutch town of Zevenaar. The number of residents and jobs along the corridor and gross domestic product are projected to grow by 5%-10% up to 2030 and are therefore likely to boost the volume of travel.

The rail link between Amsterdam and Utrecht carries 84,000 passengers a day, with 49,000 passengers using the service between Utrecht and Arnhem. There are four Intercity services between Amsterdam and Arnhem every hour. This will soon be increased to six as part of the High-Frequency Rail Transport (PHS) programme. The National Market and Capacity Analysis (NMCA) recently published by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment shows that, despite the extra infrastructure and trains, the number of bottlenecks is increasing.

At half power
Since 1992 improvements have been made to several sections of the ICE corridor. The line between Amsterdam and Utrecht has been doubled from 2 to 4 tracks and made suitable for speeds of up to 160 kph. The tracks have been constructed in such a way that speeds can eventually be increased to 200 kph fairly easily. Germany is currently constructing a third track between Zevenaar and Oberhausen. Although the plan provides for speeds of up to 200 kph, the line will only be suitable for 160 kph on completion. Trains are already travelling at 200 kph between Duisburg and Cologne and reaching an impressive 300 kph between Cologne and Frankfurt.

Due to infrastructure constraints, the fast ICE trains which Dutch and German Railways have been using since 2000 are running at half power. The average speed between Amsterdam and Cologne is just under 100 kph, although the trains are built to travel at speeds of up to 330 kph.

Limits reached
Most of the plans to improve the rail link have been or are currently being implemented. It is nonetheless becoming increasingly difficult for the existing railway infrastructure to deal with the growing number of trains. That infrastructure will, in fact, reach its limits in the 2018 timetable, with trains not always being able to use the scheduled tracks at the scheduled times, putting even more pressure on ICE and domestic train speeds.

Running more trains on the same infrastructure will add to delays, while ICE services are already known for their low punctuality. In the Netherlands, about 1 in 3 trains are delayed. In Germany, that is 1 in 5. The new RE19 international service between Arnhem and Düsseldorf has to wait for minutes on end because the track east of Arnhem Central Station cannot handle the number of trains. Moreover, the section between Amsterdam Central Station and Amsterdam Bijlmer has recently been declared overburdened. On the German side of the border too, there is no room anymore to deal with fast rail services coming from the Netherlands.

Strong growth
One-and-a-half million passengers cross the Dutch-German border at Zevenaar annually. To provide a comparison: the Thalys service between Amsterdam and Paris carries 2.4 million passengers. The number of cross-border passengers is increasing every year. In December 2016, the ICE service to Germany was extended to 7 trains a day and 8 trains a day back to the Netherlands. With this growth in passenger numbers expected to continue, there is enough potential for a more frequent service.

Study approach
The “Positioning and Continued Development of the Amsterdam-Arnhem-Frankfurt Rail Link” study, to which a large number of Dutch and German partners contributed through workshops, presents four transport concepts with varying levels of ambition. The first concept provides for a fast hourly service. The three other concepts use targeted infrastructure measures and higher speeds to reduce journey times and increase robustness and punctuality. The impact on the number of passengers was calculated using a cross-border public transport model.

Transport concepts
A fast hourly service
The first concept is based on the infrastructure expected to be in place by 2030.
The High-Frequency Rail Transport programme will by then have been implemented on the Dutch side of the border. The concept provides for a fast hourly service between Amsterdam and Cologne in addition to the ICE, which will continue to run a two-hourly service.

Mostly 160 kph
The second transport concept provides for trains travelling at a maximum speed of 160 kph on sections where this will produce travel time gains. Those sections are between Amsterdam and Utrecht, between De Haar (where the line branches out to Rhenen) and Arnhem, and between the Dutch-German border and Oberhausen. There are too many other trains on the Utrecht-De Haar section to be able to achieve travel time gains there. An overpass will need to be constructed east of Arnhem, which will then also benefit domestic rail services

Mostly 200 kph
The third concept provides for trains travelling at a speed of around 200 kph between Amsterdam and De Haar and between the Dutch-German border and Oberhausen. On the De Haar-Arnhem section, speeds will drop to 160 kph. However, once a dual track has been constructed between Utrecht and De Haar, speeds of 200 kph can be achieved. The slower Sprinter trains will then run on a track separate from the fast ICE and Intercity services.

200 kph everywhere
The fourth transport concept represents the ultimate goal: a high-speed service along the entire ICE corridor with speeds of up to 200 kph between Amsterdam and Oberhausen. For this to be possible, the line between De Haar and Arnhem-East needs to be doubled and a third track constructed between the overpass at Arnhem-East station and the border town of Zevenaar. The fourth concept also provides for an hourly service between Amsterdam and Cologne.

Journey times
Faster trains will obviously also have a positive impact on journey times. In the reference situation, the journey from Amsterdam to Cologne takes 158 minutes and from Amsterdam to Arnhem 62 minutes. An increase in speed to 200 kph will cut journey times to just 130 minutes between Amsterdam and Cologne (28 minutes faster), 48 minutes between Amsterdam and Arnhem (14 minutes faster), and 25 minutes between Utrecht and Arnhem (10 minutes faster). The domestic Intercity and Sprinter services will also gain maximum benefit.

The “mostly 160 kph” concept will shave off 12 minutes on the Amsterdam-Cologne section and 6 minutes on the Amsterdam- Arnhem section. Upgrading the ICE corridor will therefore improve the accessibility of the eastern part of the Netherlands considerably.

Transport value
Higher speeds will lead to more passengers. Just how many will depend on the travel time gains achieved. The table shows the impact of each step on the number of passengers. The “200 kph everywhere" concept will add 14,000 new passengers during the busiest peak on weekdays and 920,000 extra cross-border passengers a year. Given this scenario, 2.9 million passenger will cross the Dutch-German border near Zevenaar. The step to “mostly 160 kph” is already interesting and will generate many extra passengers at limited cost.
It will be possible to shorten the journey between Amsterdam and Frankfurt to close to the magical 3-hour mark, which is faster than Amsterdam-Paris. This will make the service a serious alternative to flying or driving. Currently, an estimated 70% of cross-border travel is for social or recreational purposes. A faster, more frequent and more reliable service could increase the share of business passengers as well.

In stages
The ultimate goal is to have a situation in which trains travel at a maximum speed of 200 kph between Amsterdam and Cologne and then on to Frankfurt at a maximum of 300 kph. This cannot be achieved overnight. The best way to do so is to introduce the ERTMS, new rolling stock, and infrastructure adjustments gradually.

The study proposes a seven-step development plan for the short, medium and long term. A great deal of investment has already gone into track improvements between Amsterdam and Utrecht. Germany is currently investing in a third track between Oberhausen and the border. Once that has been completed, the frequency of international services could be increased to once an hour. These do not necessarily all have to be ICE trains. Fast Intercity trains are less expensive to operate and could terminate in Cologne, for example.

The weak link at the moment is the Utrecht-Arnhem-Arnhem East section. Investment should first be channelled into increasing train speeds between Utrecht and Arnhem to 160 kph and addressing the capacity problems east of Arnhem Central Station. That will require introducing the ERTMS and removing the remaining level crossings. Constructing an overpass near Arnhem is an added requirement so as to create more room in the timetable. The cost will be in the order of 200 million euros.

To make the step to 200 kph, larger-scale investment will be necessary, such as four tracks between Utrecht and Arnhem and a third track between Arnhem and the German border. The total cost of this will be roughly 1.8 billion euros.

There are possibilities for increasing train speeds on the ICE corridor to 200 kph between Amsterdam and Cologne and 300 kph on to Frankfurt . These cities will, as it were, form a single greater metropolitan area, which will increase their economic potential and strengthen ties between the Netherlands and Germany. Additionally, the measures taken in the Netherlands will result in a considerably faster and more reliable railway network and improve the competitive position of public transport versus driving. It will also contribute to reducing CO2 emissions and improving the accessibility of jobs.

The frequency increase will also allow new direct services to run between, for example, Schiphol Airport and the Amsterdam Zuidas business district and Frankfurt. By working towards the ultimate goal step by step, investment can be spread out, with each step contributing to improving public transport. The first few steps can be taken in the short term and are relatively low-cost, certainly given the large number of international and domestic passengers who are bound to benefit from those investments.

written by:
Cor Hartogs (Railway Stations and Infra Project Manager for the province of Gelderland), Martijn Post (Railway Project Manager for the province of Gelderland) and Henk Doeke van Waveren (Railway and Public Transport consultant with Goudappel Coffeng)

New products
A faster hourly international rail service opens up opportunities for new products. Currently, the ICE service from Amsterdam Central Station to Frankfurt runs once every two hours. If there were a fast hourly service to Germany, trains could depart alternately from Amsterdam Central Station and from Schiphol Airport, calling at Amsterdam South to connect the Zuidas business district directly to Germany.

There are also opportunities in Germany. The ICE currently calls at Cologne Central Station. To do so, the train has to cross the Rhine first and then reverse direction at the station. This adds about 15 minutes to the journey of passengers travelling on to Frankfurt. However, Cologne is a key destination on the ICE corridor. The solution lies in its second main railway station: Cologne Messe/Deutz.  The hourly service could, for example, call at Cologne Central Station one hour and at Messe/Deutz the other, and then quickly continue on to Frankfurt.

The four transport concepts cover seven steps:

Short term

  1. An hourly service
  2. 160 kph Amsterdam-Utrecht and border-Oberhausen
  3. 160 kph De Haar-Arnhem and Arnhem East (with overpass)

Medium term

  1. 200 kph Amsterdam-Utrecht and border-Oberhausen
  2. 200 kph Utrecht-De Haar (with dual track)

Long term

  1. 200 kph De Haar-Arnhem (with dual track) and doubled Arnhem-Arnhem East line
  2. 200 kph Arnhem-border