For 2010 the RCTS party returned to Holland for a week of train watching and travelling, with an opportunity to tie up a few loose ends of track not previously travelled along - mainly cross border routes into Germany. And so it was that 10 hardy souls foregathered on Saturday 8th May at Rotterdam Centraal - greeting each other with a rousing "Ay oop" from wherever we first espied our travelling companions on the station. Our base for the week was the Best Western Crown Hotel just a few minutes walk from Rotterdam Centraal. As we met up it became clear that the new over bridge at the western end of the station would provide a good clear vantage point for seeing the new type S70 (24xx) and type S100 (26xx) sprinter units working for NS as well as spying arriving IRMs in good enough time to get down to platform level in order to identify the vehicles, not all of which were carrying their numbers externally, and odd ones of which don't carry the correct number! Station dwell time in Holland is generally a lot longer than in the UK so identifying individual vehicles of a 12 coach IRM train is not normally a problem whilst the train is stationary.
Day 1 on the Sunday was to be a visit to Hoorn Stoomtram. Some of us took the opportunity for a ride on the NS Hispeed Fyra service from Rotterdam to Amsterdam Centraal. This service attracts a small supplement payment and is presently operated by Traxx Cl.186 locomotives and a rake of refurbished ICR coaches painted in the Hispeed white, pink, red livery. The train runs along the high speed route to Amsterdam taking around 40 minutes instead of just over an hour on the conventional route. Arriving at Amsterdam Centraal we found the DD-AR set for our journey to Hoorn, where we had good time to look around the sheds and see restoration 'works in progress' before boarding the 1100hrs steam hauled service to Medemblik, our traction being a Hanomag 0-4-0 of 1922 No. 26 A.P. Elsboom. The train was formed of 10 coaches and left Hoorn very full. On train catering was provided, so a nice cup of coffee was taken as we perambulated on our way to Medemblik, passing field upon field upon field of tulips, most areas cut now as the tulips are at their best in late April, but still some areas waiting to be cut and transhipped to shops and florists. Medemblik is a rather windswept place on the North Sea coast, but as we rolled into the station we saw our next travel target moored up alongside. Those words alone will give the clue that we were to sail from Medemblik to Enkhuizen. Lunch was taken on board MV Friesland as we made our way along the coast, dipping in and out of a few ports along the way, wondering how on earth the skipper could possibly manoeuvre this large vessel through the lines of moored boats and yachts. Some judicious use of the reverse 'spin wheel' was needed but we made it to Enkhuizen in time to board another DD-AR set for Amsterdam. Once there we made our way to Utrecht and on to Geldermalsen for the last target of the day, the new Arriva Spurt EMUs working the service from there to Dordrecht. Remembering that in Holland train connections are designed to 'connect', we knew we would have time to make the connection at Geldermalsen. What also happens in Holland is that the connecting trains are not necessarily next to each other across platform faces. So to make a 5 minute connection at Geldermalsen did involve a smart sprint from one end of the long platform to the other! Arriva operate 5 x 3 car units and 2 x 2 car units on this service. By the time we arrived at Dordrecht having passed three other trains en route, and found the spare sets we had seen all bar 1 of the 2 car units (and we found this later in the week). Returning to Rotterdam in time for the evening meal, this was taken at an Italian restaurant outside the station from where observations of tram workings could be made.
Monday was planned to involve a little less train travel, but give time for some heavy duty train and tram watching at a couple of locations, so it was that we made our way to Den Haag Hollandspoor, where trains and trams can be seen from the station platform, making our way down the hill to Centraal after a couple of hours, where your scribe remained on the station whilst the trammists headed upstairs to view events on the tram system. Den Haag Centraal also has an over line bridge at one end, which allows the opportunity to observe which platforms IRM units are wandering along in order to get down there to identify the individual vehicles. The station is a terminus which makes the task a little easier. Later we made our way to Utrecht for our now customary evening rush hour observation session there. At this station the exercise involves occupation of several platforms if IRM vehicle identification is to be achieved. NS have taken delivery of a new batch of 4 car IRM units. These carry full UIC numbers which are easier to read and can be used to identify the vehicles - provided they are carrying the right UIC number! Not all do, so some alertness is needed to exercise closer examination of vehicles where the UIC number doesn't seem quite right. During the afternoon, your scribe noted that the tour leader's last DD-AR car was in a set in bay platform 19 - about 100 yards away at the opposite end and side of the station to where the said leader was currently standing. Never seen him shift so fast after a text message to tell him his wanted unit was in the station! After much exercise hiking up and down stairs and along the lengthy platforms we repaired to the Chinese restaurant above the station (a place known to us) for a well deserved meal.
Tuesday was a very special day as we had been granted permission to visit Haarlem Works, the first party apart from railway industry groups to receive such permission. Our very grateful thanks then are due to Terry Lea for making the first contact, and to Steve Ollive for securing agreement for the visit. A relatively easy start to the day and an uncomplicated journey to Haarlem rapidly unravelled when the train some of the group were on was involved in an 'incident' not far from Leiden station. Some of us had already made it to Leiden, whilst Terry and Graham had got all the way to Haarlem, and were initially unaware of the chaos developing behind them. Those of us at Leiden rumbled that something was afoot when an IRM train heading towards Rotterdam re-appeared in the station about 5 minutes after it had left. The job stopped completely for about 45 minutes, after which trains did restart heading for destinations away from the incident. Despite the chaos we were all gathered together again and visited the works about 1 hour after our originally planned time. There we met Dennis Tromp, who is Group Manager of the Vehicle Repair Facility. Haarlem is responsible for maintaining the carriage and multiple unit vehicles operated by NS. A mix of older and new buildings the various shops specialise in different facets, but a mix of vehicle types can be seen in each shop. We were shown the vehicle repair facility where carriages and MU vehicles were being restored to full health from accident or fire damage, and undergoing planned refurbishment. We were shown the DDX project, so far a trial refurbishment of one vehicle for customer comment has been completed. Our comments were welcomed as well and may form part of the final refurbishment design for production roll out. Overall the project is intended to create a number of 6 car DD-AR sets all with DD-AR power cars thus removing the requirement for Cl.17 locomotives forming part of such units. This is not to be confused with standard loco hauled trains of DDM1 (DD-AR style) coaches! Wandering into one large building we were struck by a lack of rails, yet there were carriages in residence. Cue a demonstration of the hover movers. Placing hover cushions under the axles either end of a DD-AR driving trailer car, the controller using a remote control to raise the vehicle so the wheels were off the ground, moved the carriage out of the repair shop into the rail-less building, turned it through 180 degrees and put it back in the repair shop on a different road from where it had started! All too soon our time was up and we bade farewell to our hosts. But not before two things happened. Firstly we saw a newly refurbished ICR coach in Hispeed livery. Writing the number down a few of us thought it didn't seem quite right, so we wandered round to the other side where, we discovered, it was carrying a different but much more logical number! It was beholden on us to draw Dennis' attention to this. I don't recall his exact response, but it was something along the lines of "silly buggers!". Secondly we were briefed on a charity project to provide refurbished riksjas (rickshaws) for poorer families in Bangladesh. Haarlem teams are providing funding for this project, and completed rickshaws delivered to families carry NS livery and logos. Watch out for rickshaw No.4 which will additionally carry the RCTS name painted on it. Agreement for our visit was on the understanding that the cost of the visit would be put to the charity project. We were only too delighted to agree.
Later in the afternoon we made our way to Amsterdam Centraal for a rush hour observation session. Your scribe coped rather better with the chill wind blowing across the station than some of the others, by the simple expedient of chasing across 6 platforms worth of arriving IRM units to identify the vehicles. All that running up and down the stairs and keeping moving, I was quite warm when Steve called 'time' at 1800hrs and we headed for the warmth of the station restaurant for a meal!
Wednesday was another interesting day, again through the good offices of Terry, we secured agreement to visit Kijfhoek yard. The day involved visiting locations which are difficult to get to by train - okay, nigh on impossible to get to by train in reality! Hiring a 9 seat minibus and a car, we set off to Rotterdam Noord to the preservation facility there, where we saw maintenance work on steam locos including one being prepped for a special train later in the week for retired NS staff. Making our way back across the city, we stopped by the Railion facility at Feijenoord, unaware until we got there that we would very likely be the last party to visit this facility as it was due to close at the end of May. Off to Waalhaven where we viewed the Shunters BV facility from without and the NS stabling facility on the other side of the road. Those of the group interested in industrial locos were catered for as we dodged in and out of odd bits of the docks complex. Having reached the outer limits of the docks at Maasvlakte we turned around and made our way onto the Rotterdam outer circle motorway and headed over to Kijfhoek. The vast yard had locos spread out all across the complex, so the only way to see everything was to drive round in the road vehicles.
Thursday 13th May was a public holiday throughout most of continental Europe, so this seemed a good opportunity to travel over a couple of the cross border routes into Germany. Making our way first from Rotterdam to Almelo, we boarded the Schipol Airport to Berlin Ostbahnhof train formed of DB IC stock with an NS Cl.17 at the helm. It was planned that we would have long enough at Almelo to see the Syntus units working the Marienburg service. Two units are dedicated for this, but we didn’t see either of them! Anyway off from Almelo we arrived at Osnabrück HBf, a station with 4 platforms on an upper level and 4 at right angles below, but with no prospect of seeing either level from the other, so that involved a fair bit of running up and down stairs. Your reporter felt he knew the place somehow, despite having never visited before. The castle towered imposingly above the station, and yet at the lower level an air of countryside tranquillity pervaded, pine trees closing in on the line at either end. I guess the recognition comes from having seen a number of railway scenes in war films shot on location in Germany. I don't know, but it is entirely possible some of these location shots were taken in or around Osnabruck, which was an important place for the German military during World War 2. Moving from Osnabrück to Münster (Westfalen) we then had a run on some DB Cl.642 units as we made our way back to Enschede. From there we returned to Utrecht where a quick visit to Burger King above the station took care of the hunger before we found a train back to Rotterdam.
On an earlier pass through Amersfoort we had noticed some strange blue electric units and quite reasonably wondered what they were. Friday 14th May we were to discover that they worked for Connexxion on the service to Ede Wageningen. Installing ourselves in the 'RCTS committee lounge' at the front of one such, we took the ride to Ede. Making our way to Nijmegen another shortish connection had us running from one train to the next at the diagonally opposite side/end of the station. This gave us a ride on the Veolia operated Spurt units working to Roermond. We travelled as far as Venlo where time was spent watching operations in the international yard there, with DB, ACTS, ERS, Captrain, MRCE, SBB and Crossrail swapping trains with each other. Making our way then to Tilburg, we found some 30 new Cl.77 locomotives for ECR, Crossrail and Veolia in secure storage within the soon to close works complex, awaiting commissioning.
Saturday, the last full day saw us head up north to Leeuwarden and Groningen with the aim of clearing the Arriva Noordned diesel Spurt units working in that part of the country. A planned cross border venture from Groningen to Leer in Germany was firmly curtailed by planned engineering work which would have necessitated a lengthy ride by road coach on a rail replacement service. Not a problem, this gives us the perfect excuse to return to Holland in a couple of years time! If I read my wants list correctly we did indeed catch up with all the units missing from our last visit to this part of Holland, and so we made our way back to Rotterdam and to a pub/restaurant visited earlier for a last night meal.
Thus ended another superb week of rail roving in Europe. All that remains is to express the huge thanks of all the tour party to Steve for his meticulous organisation of the week and especial thanks to Terry for arranging the visits to Haarlem and Kijfhoek and, of course our very grateful thanks to the authorities at Haarlem and Kijfhoek for their kind hospitality in granting the visits, particularly Dennis for looking after us so well at Haarlem.
Until we meet again in Ireland in 2011.
last updated: 19/09/10