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This page discusses the current situation of the railway network in the Netherlands and the companies which use it. The discussion is finalized with an article on the first high speed line in the Netherlands, the HSL Zuid between the Belgian border near Breda and Schiphol Amsterdam.

The rail network
The Dutch railway network is - compared to other national railway networks - extremely dense. If you look at it, you would think it resembles more to an R.E.R. (Réseau Expres Régional, a regional express network) than to a national railway network.
Almost every place in the country where almost 16 million people live, is well served by this railway network, especially the Randstad area (the virtual triangle Amsterdam - The Hague - Rotterdam).

Roughly speaking, there are two kinds of stations: those served by the "stoptrein", which is a slow regional train which stops at all stations, this is meant for travellers of short distance (mostly < 30 km). The second are stations which are served by intercity trains, which run at a top speed of 140 km/hour. These trains are meant for travellers of larger distances (mostly > 30 km).

To give you an idea of the Netherlands, you find on the right of this article first an abstract map of the Netherlands with its administrative division and below one with the principal railwaylines in the Netherlands. The newly built high speed line "HSL Zuid" (High Speed Line South) is also plotted on the map, to visualize the trajectory between Schiphol (Amsterdam Airport) and Antwerp, in Belgium.

Also an international lobby has started in 2005 to connect the south-east of the Netherlands to the High Speed Network of Belgium, with Maastricht in particular. More information on this subject can be found (in Dutch) on this special page.
Map of the Netherlands with administrative subdivision

The Netherlands with the principal railway lines

In 1839 the first Dutch train was put into service. Like in all other European countries at that time, this was a steam train ("De Arend"). Shortly before the Second World War, the Dutch started to electrify their railway network. During the Second World War, large parts of the railway network were destroyed and therefore the steam trains were put into service again shortly after the war.

Once the reparations were completed, the Dutch continued to electrify the rest of the network. The result can be seen today: most of the network is electrified with 1500 volts, some small lines in rural parts of the country excepted.
The NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen), the Dutch National Railway Company, was founded in 1907. The national railway company still bares this name, although it's function has changed since 1995. Since 1995 the Dutch Government decided to stop the large scale subsidies and to privatise the Dutch Railways. The result is that the company was split in several sections. The now existing NS does only transport travellers by train. It owns the rolling stock, but the infrastructure is maintained by the new ProRail company.
In the beginning of the privatisation, the situation on the Dutch railways tended to end in a big chaos. Where before all activities were handled by one company, now several companies had to work together. Like all starts, this was not easy. The NS also decided to split off some parts of the Dutch railway network and to leave the exploitation to other companies, like Syntus for the mid-east of the country and Noordnet for the north-eastern part of the country.

Nowadays the Dutch railway network is a dense network throughout the whole country with the city of Utrecht as the station which handles most traffic.
The 'Arend', the first train in the Netherlands in 1839 (Railwaymuseum Utrecht)

The departure board at Utrecht CS. Notice the number of trains handled within a short period of time.

Online information system at Maastricht central station

(this article is being prepared) Railion Freight Locomotive

Locomotive used by the NS for passenger trains, from the 1700 series.

Regional connections
"Stoptrein" is Dutch for stop train. This is a slow train that stops at all intermediate stations on a particular line. Its maximum however, is equivalent to that of the Intercity (long distance) trains on the NS network. Almost all of these slow trains have the same model: the "hondekop" (doghead). If you take a look at a picture of this rolling stock, you can imagine why. These slow trains are completely yellow and have more doors relatively to the length of the train than Intercity trains. For both first and second class, there is only heating available (no air conditioning). This material is dating from the sixties and only the furniture has been renovated several times. All these hondekop trains run uniquely on electrified lines.

For the non electrified lines, special diesel trains are put into service. This material is relatavily new and sometimes bares the misleading name "sneltrein" (fast train). Of course this "fast" is of no meaning, since the maximum speeds for all trains are equal. As stated above, the number of non electrified lines is very limited, especially on the NS network. Most non electrified lines are currently exploited by other companies after the privatisation of the Dutch railway network.
Two Dutch slow trains at Eindhoven central station

The NS material family (IRM, Stoptrein, Intercity) at Maastricht central station

Long distances: Intercity trains
For the larger distances, that is around 30 km between two succeeding stations, the NS use uniquely electrified trains of several types, but all are called "Intercity". Intercity trains run on a top speed of 140 km/h, but there are several sections in the network where the top speed is limited to 100 km/h. In most cases an Intercity train consists out of a locomotive with 10 or 12 carriages. Lateron, in the seventies, newer material was constructed. The famous Koploper ("headwalker") is standard 4 carriages long with no seperatate locomotive, but several of these can be coupled. The particularity of this material is that the driver is sitting in a special lodge which is placed half-way above the train, which makes the train look like it has a head (which explains the name). At the same time, also doubledecker versions of this new material were put into service, but most of these are nowadays only in use as a "stoptrein" (slower train which stops at every station).

The newest material includes a double decker IRM (InterRegionaal Materieel, or interregional material), exists mainly in 4, 8, 10 and 12 carriage configurations. All these carriages have full climat control for first and second class.

Since the year 2003, the NS started also to renovate the "normal" carriages which are coupled behind or in front of a locomotive. Here as well full climatisation has been applied for both first and second class. The option to connect electric equipement as a traveller to the powersystem is uniquely reserved for first class passengers. Also since the year 2003 the NS ceased serving drinks and snacks in the trains. Since 2004 a full scale smoking prohibition is applied to all trains and all stations (also on open air platforms) on the NS network.
An IRM at Eindhoven central station

An IRM at Maastricht central station

The old intercity interior, here seen inside a Koploper

The new intercity interior, second class

HSL Zuid
(this article is being prepared) Detail of the High Speed Line, with the rails embedded in concrete

The High Speed Line bridge over the "Hollandsch Diep" waterway

Further reading & links
Suggested for further reading:
Detailed map of the Dutch railways, Rail 1435.
Official map of the Dutch railways, in PDF format, original from the NS.
Visual documentary on the construction of the HSL Zuid, with almost each month an update on many sites.

Syntus, railway company for the eastern part of the Netherlands.
Noordnet, railway company for the nothern part of the Netherlands.
Dutch Railway museum Utrecht (in Dutch and English).
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