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Rail travel in the Netherlands

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Jan 16, 2022

Prioritising the traveller, the Dutch railway network is a great way to cross the country. Practically everywhere is reachable by train, having a network of 3,223 kilometres (2,003 miles) of track. The Dutch network is a well-maintained and well-travelled network. A free travel pass is available to students in the country. Beyond that, the Dutch have eradicated paper tickets fully, using the OV-Chipkaart, often shortened to OV-Chip or Chipkaart, instead. The card either holds data of the route you’re travelling (disposable card) or it holds credit or a travel product (personal and anonymous card). The OV-Chipkaart (which also works in buses, trolleybuses, trams and metros) is what sets Dutch public transit apart from that of other countries.

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Amsterdam Centraal Station, one of, if not the most recognisable railway stations of the Netherlands.
Every Dutch railway station is clearly labelled with one, if not multiple station name signs.

This distinction is a recent development, with network maintainer ProRail improving the network, adding and revamping stations during the first quarter of the 21st century. Historically though, the Dutch were late in starting a rail network, having horse-drawn barges as a perfectly fine alternative for both cargo and people. After the first line proved successful, the 19th century saw a jump to the ‘new’ mode of transport, only to be too enthusiastic about railways and see many lines fall into disuse or be completely demolished in the 19th century.

Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS, Dutch Railways) have not had a monopoly on rail travel since the 1990s, allowing more domestic and foreign railway operators to join the fun. In modern times, the network can be crowded, but trains are still a great way to see the country.

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The Dutch rail network connects virtually all notable destinations from Amsterdam to Zoetermeer and Zevenaar to Assen. There are roughly as many stations as there are municipalities in the country (about 400). The entire network consists of 6,830 kilometres (4,240 miles) of track, three quarters of which is electrified. The largest city without any means of rail-bound public transport is Oosterhout (North-Brabant), with some 44,000 citizens. The biggest region that cannot be reached by rail is Zeeuws-Vlaanderen (Zeeland), which borders Belgium, but would be fully detached from the rest of the Netherlands were it not for a single road tunnel crossing underneath the Western Scheldt estuary.

  • Breng most notably focused on bus and trolleybus connections in Arnhem and Nijmegen, Breng only runs a single train service in the Achterhoek: ArnhemDoetinchem, creating a quarter-hourly service to Doetinchem in cooperation with Arriva, which has its trains turn around at Winterswijk instead of Doetinchem.
  • R-Net operated by NS runs the concession for the GoudaAlphen aan den Rijn line. R-Net is a sort of quality label for frequent public transport within the Randstad area.
  • R-Net operated by Qbuzz started running trains on the MerwedeLingeLijn (DordrechtGeldermalsen) in early December 2018. This is the first rail service operated by Qbuzz, which, as the name implies, has thus far only serviced buses and trams, the latter in a joint venture with bus operator HTM.
  • Blauwnet is not so much an operator as it is a joint venture. Arriva and Keolis share lines in Overijssel and have agreed to run these trains in a somewhat more neutral livery, namely the blue livery of Blauwnet (Blue-net). The lines included are four services from Zwolle to Emmen (Arriva), Enschede, Kampen and Oldenzaal (Keolis), AlmeloHardenberg (Arriva), as well as two international lines: HengeloBielefeld (Eurobahn, a sister company of Keolis), and EnschedeGronau (DB Regio, a sister company of Deutsche Bahn, as is Arriva).

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. . . Rail travel in the Netherlands . . .