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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dutch Kick Off Huge Transport Investments

AMSTERDAM -- The Netherlands is embarking on a massive investment program to boost its shipping, railway and airport infrastructure and to secure its position as "the Gateway to Europe."

Expanding Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport alone will cost 33 billion guilders ($21.29 billion), while spending on the world's biggest port at Rotterdam will top 10 billion guilders.

Dutch railways are also being upgraded, with a new high-speed train, or HST, and a rail-freight link costing 15.5 billion guilders.

The Netherlands' position on the edge of northwestern Europe, and at the mouth of the River Rhine network of waterways to the heart of the vast German market, makes transport crucial to the health and growth of the Dutch economy.

"We want very good direct intra-European links ... if we wish to remain the main gateway to Europe for imports and exports," said Ben Wouters, spokesman for the Dutch Transport Ministry.

In purely financial terms, the construction of a fifth runway and its associated terminal at Schiphol is the most ambitious project. Completion is scheduled for 2003.

The airport authority expects future European air-passenger growth to develop in a similar way to the United States, with airlines focusing on four to six large airport hubs.

Because of its relatively small domestic hinterland, it is vital that Schiphol consolidates its position as one of these hubs. Last year, close to four out of 10 passengers handled by the airport were on their way to other destinations.

Schiphol is already the fastest growing major airport in Europe. Passenger traffic has jumped 44 percent since 1992, and the government expects numbers to grow to 44 million by 2015, from 23.5 million in 1994.

The airport's expansion is seen boosting its contribution to the economy to 2.8 percent of gross national product, or 28 billion guilders, by 2015. It contributed 1.95 percent or 9.5 billion guilders last year.

Schiphol will be linked to Europe's expanding high-speed train network with new connections east via Arnhem to Frankfurt. The southern route travels via Rotterdam to Antwerp, Belgium, and Brussels before heading to Paris.

Dutch railways spokesman Kees Leering said the direct, well-developed rail line to the east made it the easiest and cheapest to upgrade.

By the year 2000, fast trains will cut the journey time from Amsterdam to Frankfurt to just 3 1/2 hours from five hours now, and this will fall further, to three hours by 2003, when the planned HST link is completed.

The upgraded southern route will halve the current six-hour train journey between Amsterdam and Paris and could be in place by 2003, Leering said.

Consultants McKinsey & Co. have calculated that the HST could capture two-thirds of airline passengers now using the Amsterdam-Paris route.

"This is in line with the radical shift in demand from planes to trains that occurred after the introduction of the TGV, or Trains Grande Vitesse, between Paris and Lyon.

"Airlines used to dominate the route, but the TGV won almost 90 percent of air passengers shortly after its launch," McKinsey's study said.

In the south, the Dutch government has approved a new 120-kilometer freight rail line, called the Betuwe line, to link Rotterdam with Germany's Ruhr industrial heartland.

Rotterdam is the engine of the trade-orientated Dutch economy and lies at the center of the expansion plans for the transport infrastructure. The port accounts for 10 percent of total Dutch GNP, or 55 billion guilders.

But increasing volumes of cargo mean rising pressure on Europe's already heavily congested roads, and the port is looking to barge and rail links as a more environmentally acceptable solution to the problem.