EUROPE TRIP/SUMMER 1978

Netherlands Railways
July 15-20, 1978


July 15, 1978

After a week in England and 2 weeks mainly in Scandinavia and German speaking countries, it was nice to return to the Netherlands. I rode from Frankfurt Germany on the Vienna-Holland Express train. Emmerich Germany was the border station where we changed from a German locomotive to a Dutch locomotive due to the voltage difference. The Emmerich station had tracks with switchable voltages, enabling the locomotive change. Shortly after leaving Emmerich, the Dutch customs officials started proceeding through the train. Which is more efficient than between the U.S. and Canada, where the train is completely stopped the entire time customs inspections are performed. Many European border crossings have eliminated customs inspections altogether. My passport was stamped "Arnhem Station" as the point of entry, the first stop in the Netherlands.

When we had lived in Leiden 10 years earlier, we became friends with a couple across the street. My parents continued to exchange Christmas cards with them, they retired and moved to Arnhem. As with the other two families we had stayed with earlier, my parents told them we were traveling to Europe, and they invited us to stay with them. But unlike with the other families, my parents made no plans to visit them. I nevertheless was provided with their phone number, which had 6 digits. And at the Arnhem station was the first time I ever used a Dutch pay phone. They were pleasantly surprised to hear from me, and picked me up in their Passat station wagon. A VW model name which did not appear in the U.S. until many years later. Earlier, the family we had stayed with in Hilversum had a VW Golf, long before that model name appeared in the US.

July 16, 1978

Arnhem would be my base for the next few days. This day I would travel to Brussels, Belgium. At Arnhem I boarded a train which had come south from Zwolle, continuing south to Nijmegen and southwest through S-Hertogenbosch, Tilburg, Breda, and Roosendaal where I got off. Trains on this route typically used the Netherlands Railways oldest 4 car electric train sets. These trains were articulated between the first and second cars, and between the third and fourth cars. The shared articulated trucks were not powered. The line from Nijmegen to S-Hertogenbosch was mostly double track, with some single track segments. Even the double track segments had mechanical manual block signals, which was unusual in the Netherlands. Now the entire segment is double track.

Roosendaal is the border station with Belgium, on the route between Amsterdam and Brussels. A short distance south of Roosendaal is a gap in the electrification, between the Dutch 1,500 volt system and the Belgian 3,000 volt system. Apparently when the southbound train to Belgium was stopped at Roosendaal, the train was switched to operate at 3,000 volts. But the train departed Roosendaal at an abnormally slow speed, under the 1,500 volts. But after passing the gap and entering the 3,000 volt electrification, the train accelerated. This segment was set up for left hand operation to conform with Belgian norms. But while still in the Netherlands, the line had Dutch type signals, signs, and catenary supports. All that looked obviously different once we crossed the actual border, immediately north of Essen Belgium and about 8 km south of Roosendaal. Even by then, customs formalities had been eliminated between the Netherlands and Belgium.

I continued south and made a quick visit to the Belgian capital of Brussels, before returning north. Brussels historically had two main stations, one north and one south. But in 1952, a new tunnel was completed between the two stations, forming a new through route with a new central station. A kind of project which would have been ideal for Boston, where the "Big Dig" became a major underground highway project. Proposals existed to include a rail tunnel with the Big Dig, but unfortunately that was never done.

I fully retraced my steps from Brussels to Arnhem. From Arnhem I rode northeast to Winterswijk. This was my first experience with older diesel train sets in the Netherlands. These were 2 car articulated train sets with noisy underfloor engines. From Winterswijk I rode west to Zutphen, on a similar 1 car diesel car. From Zutphen it was a short main line ride south to Arnhem. From the Arnhem station I somehow figured out how to ride the bus back to my hosts' home. Arnhem was the only city in the Netherlands with trolleybuses, but this was a diesel bus.

July 17, 1978

This day I rode from Arnhem to Zutphen and on to Zwolle, and then to Groningen which is a major city in the northeast part of the Netherlands. All these over electrified mostly double track main lines. Manual block semaphore signals between Zwolle and Groningen were in the process of being replaced with more modern signals. From Groningen I rode an older diesel train to Roodeschool, which is the northern extreme of the Netherlands Railways. This line used a simplified single track centralized traffic control system, apparently with spring switches at the ends of two track segments at the stations. It was a straight route entering the two track segments, but a diverging route reentering the single track.

My Eurailpass had been validated at the Bergen Norway train station on June 30 and would expire on July 20, one day before the flight back to Chicago. But the agent in Bergen first wrote in an expiration date of July 30, then wrote over it with the correct date for a 21 day pass. This had not been a problem until I was ready to return from Roodeschool to Groningen. A conductor on that train decided that this was improper, so he confiscated the pass and instructed me to go directly to the railway headquarters in Utrecht. The conductor gave my pass to the conductor of a connecting train at Groningen, and he gave it to the conductor of a connecting train at the town of Amersfoort, and that conductor gave it to a railway official in Utrecht. And there I was issued a proper Eurailpass for the remaining few days.

Once at Utrecht with a proper Eurailpass, I rode a train south to Tiel. This train started south on the main line towards S-Hertogenbosch and Eindhoven. Between Utrecht and S-Hertogenbosch is Geldermalsen, which had been a junction with diesel lines west to Dordrecht and east to Arnhem and Nijmegen. But over the short distance east of Geldermalsen to Tiel, the line had recently been electrified. But at Tiel, a transfer was necessary to a diesel train operating further east. For some reason this practice continues at Tiel. While the line west of Geldermalsen to Dordrecht was electrified in more recent years. I concluded this day of train riding from Tiel to Arnhem.

July 18, 1978

I left Arnhem for the last time. Proceeding north through Zutphen to Deventer, which is the junction with the main east west line between Amersfoort and Enschede. I rode east from Deventer to Enschede, and returned stopping at Hengelo and then Almelo. The stations at Deventer and Almelo and Hengelo each consisted of just one platform, despite the existence of terminating trains and connecting services at those stations. The main station track had "a" and "b" sections, with outside tracks and crossovers available to run around stopped trains in one platform section. At some of these stations, an end of a platform might either fork into two platforms or become narrower, to allow for additional stub tracks for terminating trains.

From Almelo, I rode a short distance north on an older diesel train to Marienberg. There I connected with a newer 3 car diesel train on the route between Zwolle and Emmen. I proceeded north to Emmen, and then back south and southwest to Zwolle.

The rest of my travels in the Netherlands focused on all remaining lines in the more heavily populated "Holland" part of the Netherlands. From Zwolle I rode south to Arnhem, where I boarded a westbound train. This train proceeded to Ede, on the main line west towards Utrecht. But at Ede, this train turned north on a single track line to Amersfoort. From Amersfoort I continued to Amsterdam, then southeast on a train towards Utrecht. But at Breukelen, that line diverged on a line south to Woerden, where it joined the line west of Utrecht to Gouda, Den Haag and Rotterdam. From Woerden I rode to Den Haag, and then north to Leiden and Amsterdam, where I checked into a hotel for the next 3 nights.

July 19, 1978

This day I covered the lines north of Amsterdam and Haarlem, on the north peninsula of North Holland province. Lines northeast to Hoorn and Enkhuizen, north of Alkmaar to Den Helder. And west of Haarlem to the seaside resort of Zandvoort. And northwest of Haarlem to Ijmuiden, a steel producing town which was the most dreary place I ever rode a train to in the Netherlands. The line to Ijmuiden was discontinued in 1983 and abandoned. Back at Amsterdam, I rode a bus to Schiphol Airport, where I met my parents returning from the British Isles. At the time, the rail line serving Schiphol Airport was under construction.

July 20, 1978

My final day, of 5 weeks of train riding in Europe. From Amsterdam I traveled through Leiden to Den Haag, for one more visit to the new commuter line to Zoetermeer. Portions of the line were still under construction, one branch had recently been extended to the Seghwaert stop. I was possibly the only passenger getting off there, and getting back on the return train. Which was puzzling at first. But then I noticed, that all of the surrounding apartment buildings were still under construction. Zoetermeer had grown significantly over the past ten years, from a small town surrounded by farm lands, to a significant sized suburb. The development of this suburb involved the construction of housing, and the construction of a commuter rail line. Except the opening of the Seghwaert station was ahead of the completion of the apartment buildings. I was impressed with this integrated development of a suburb including public transportation. Contrasting with the U.S., where too many suburbs are built with winding streets and cul de sacs, impossible to serve efficiently with public transportation.

So I was left with just a couple more loose ends. First was the alternate line from Den Haag to Rotterdam via Pijnacker. The new commuter route to Zoetermeer actually branches from this route. The line through Pijnacker actually terminates at the small Hofplein station in Rotterdam, which is several blocks east of the Centraal Station. I walked to Centraal Station, from there I rode south to Dordrecht. Previously I had ridden the diesel route east of there only to Gorinchem. This time I rode the entire route to Geldermalsen. From there I worked my way back to Amsterdam. Wrapping up 5 weeks and 8294 miles of train riding in Europe.