Elections are coming again. On 20 March we can go to the polls for the Provincial Council elections. Apparently this is the time for various local and national politicians to speak out against the transport of dangerous goods by rail. We find it rather worrying that the most sustainable and safe way to transport such substances is so often negatively framed. These negative thoughts are partly determined by the fact that people living around the railways worry and experience a feeling of insecurity when transporting goods by rail. These concerns and feelings must certainly be taken seriously. The provision of correct information and the provision of good information will then certainly help to remove a large part of the concerns of local residents. There is also a task for trade and production companies and the rail sector to further reduce the environmental impact of rail.
The safest alternative
Rail is by far the safest way to transport goods and travelers. It is therefore no coincidence that companies that transport dangerous goods have a strong preference for transport by rail. The safety of rail transport is particularly high because the rail system is largely automated and human actions are kept to a minimum. Whereas semi-automatic driving is still in its infancy when it comes to road transport, rail transport traditionally already has countless safety systems. An important advantage of rail is that it runs on its own route and that both the rail itself and the locomotives are equipped with safety systems. These make it impossible, for example, to drive through a red signal or to exceed the maximum speed. The locomotive intervenes if the driver becomes unwell and, in addition, every train is closely monitored by ProRail train control. All matters that are not present or are present to a significantly lesser extent in road transport or inland shipping. Safe environment Over the past twenty years, a Basic Network for the transport of dangerous goods has been worked out, seeking a balance between transport, spatial planning and safety. A few years after the entry into force, it is clear that Basisnet must be revised.
Much confusion regarding the safety of rail freight transport is caused by a so-called exceeding of the basic network. This makes it seem as if safety is at stake when more trains with dangerous goods travel on a certain route than anticipated. That is not the case; Rail transport always remains well within national safety standards. The basic network only exists in the Netherlands and is a further refinement on top of the European policy of rail transport. Last week, State Secretary Van Veldhoven (Infrastructure and Water Management), in answering parliamentary questions, elaborated on the necessity of a new basic network that, in her view, did not cause unsafe situations. Covenant for quieter rail transport But more is happening. The business community is currently working with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and the rail goods sector on a rail freight transport covenant. Agreements are made in this covenant that should make rail freight transport quieter in the coming two years. Fifty percent of the trains already consist of quiet equipment. The ambition is to have this increased to one hundred percent in 2021. Agreements are also made to make even more use of the Betuwe Route. All these efforts ensure that the nuisance caused by rail freight transport will be further reduced in the coming years. It would be good for politicians to take all these aspects into consideration before making a politically motivated statement to curb freight transport by rail. The alternatives are always less safe. Important for the Dutch economy In the Netherlands we earn a substantial part of our national income from the production and transport of (petro) chemical products. Forty percent of chemical production in Europe takes place in an area that is bordered by Antwerp, Rotterdam, Duisburg and Cologne. 62,000 people earn their income in this industry, which really depends on high-quality rail freight transport. If, for whatever reason, this is compromised, production will move abroad in the short term, where the rail facilities are in order. Moreover, there is a risk that in the long term investments will be made elsewhere than in the Netherlands.