Netherlands Railways
June 18, 1978

I had hoped to ride some trains the day before. But the flight from Chicago was delayed, and the family friends who hosted us at their home in Hilversum did not get us to their home until dinner time. My parents and I stayed with them for two nights. Hilversum is at the center of the country, and is the main radio and TV headquarters in the Netherlands. So June 18 would be my first day of riding the Netherlands Railways.

This is the only photo I took of a train, when we lived there in 1968 during my childhood. I often liked to ride my bicycle from Leiden to the town of Zoeterwoude. And at this country location, the road crossed the rail line between Leiden and Utrecht. That line was the first to receive these new yellow cars, earlier electric cars were usually painted green. Although over the next ten years would be either repainted or replaced with newer yellow cars. In 1978, I decided I wanted to make this the second line I would ride. The first line I rode was from south Hilversum to Utrecht, a short distance. Utrecht is at the center of the Netherlands, and is the headquarters and hub of the railway system.

From Utrecht west to Leiden, I observed that the single track line had mechanical semaphore manual block signals. Approaching Leiden, we reached that old country crossing. And I was shocked to see a newly constructed Heineken brewery.

The Leiden station had somewhat been expanded since I was last there. With new additional platforms near the edge of the station for terminating trains to and from Utrecht. From Leiden I rode back through Utrecht to Hilversum. Then from Hilversum east through Amersfoort, and northeast to Zwolle which is the capital of Overijssel province. I bought lunch there, croquettes from a vending machine at the station. They were better than nothing, but not a food I wished to make a habit of.

Posted at train stations throughout the Netherlands, were these nice station timetables on yellow poster cards. Zwolle was the only station where I saw such timetables distributed in sheet form. Which I have now scanned.

Zwolle 1978 Station Timetable
(Click to view)

From Zwolle I retraced my steps through Amersfoort and Hilversum, and further northwest to Amsterdam. And I returned to Hilversum, where our hosts had cooked an Indonesian dinner. Indonesia was once a colony of the Netherlands, and Indonesian food is popular in the Netherlands.

Our hosts and my parents were opera fans. And they had tickets to see an opera in Scheveningen, which is a seaside town next to Den Haag. Although Amsterdam is the official capital of the Netherlands, Den Haag or the Hague is where the government is actually located. Our hosts drove us to Scheveningen, which also of the birthplace of my grandfather Vandervoort. The Netherlands is a small enough country, where one can actually drive halfway across the country to see an opera, and drive home that night. So I was dropped off in Scheveningen, with no real plans. But I had been given a key to the house.

But then a bus showed up, with a destination sign "Den Haag CS". "CS" meant "Centraal Station", which means exactly what it looks like. Except many Dutch words had double vowels. For many years, Den Haag was the only major city in the Netherlands with multiple main stations. The "HS" station was a through station on the old "Holland Spoor" (Holland Rail) line between Amsterdam and Rotterdam. While the "SS" station was a stub on the "Staatsspoor" (State Rail) line east to Utrecht. In 1973, the SS station was replaced with a new larger stub station, Centraal Station, in the same area. And new connecting tracks were added, enabling certain local trains between Amsterdam and Rotterdam to serve both Centraal Station and the HS station. Those trains would change directions at Centraal Station. Changing directions as such is a common practice in Europe, seats on trains throughout Europe are usually not reversible.

Once at Den Haag Centraal Station, I boarded a train on a completely new commuter line to the suburb of Zoetermeer. The line was still under construction, with new extensions gradually opening. The end of the line at the time was the Meerzicht station. I rode to there, and then back one stop to the Driemanspolder station. There, a passenger bridge crossed over an expressway, to the Zoetermeer station on the main line from Den Haag to Utrecht.

I was at Zoetermeer at around 8:45 pm. European station platforms generally had an abundance of clocks, which apparently were kept synchronized from a central source. June 18 is close to the longest day of the year. And when that far north, and with the adoption of daylight saving time in the Netherlands, it was still quite light outside.

Gouda was my next stop, east of Zoetermeer. This town is known for its cheese, which most Americans do not know how to pronounce. First, the Dutch "G" is a guttural sound. And second, the "ou" is like in the word out. From Gouda I rode a branch train north to Alphen.

Alphen is between Leiden and Utrecht, the line I previously mentioned, and with semaphore manual block signals. And from there I rode to Utrecht.

At Utrecht I spent a little while watching trains. But then the jet lag started catching up with me. And I really felt a need to ride the next train to Hilversum, then ride a bus to our friends' home. And once in the bed, I was out.