RijnGouwelijn: yay or nay?

The Province of South Holland has been talking about a light rail public transport connection between Gouda and Leiden, possibly stretching all the way to the North-Sea coast.

I already posted about the first preliminary tests back in 2003, but the project actually started way back in 2001. Now, 6 years later, a decision still hasn’t been reached, but all parties are preparing for a referendum in the city of Leiden. The outcome of this referendum will determine whether the project is viable or not. The referendum will answer the question whether the inhabitants of Leiden will accept the train running through the center of the city.

The discussion in Leiden is mainly about if the train is safe, how it will affect bus connections, how many cyclists it will kill on a daily basis and how it will help improve the mobility of Leiden inhabitants.

The town I live in, Hazerswoude-Rijndijk, is set to get a station if the track is operational. This would allegedly considerably cut travel time to Leiden.

Pros

6 trains per hour in each direction would mean a vast improvement for the towns along the route.

Hazerswoude-Rijndijk would finally regain its train station. Hazerswoude did have a train station when the railway track was opened in 1878. Unfortunately, it was closed in 1934. People have been fighting for a new station ever since.

The main street in Leiden will be cleared of buses. It will make the Breestraat a lot safer. It would be cheaper to travel to Leiden by light rail then by bus.

Cons

The RijnGouwelijn is not a system. It is a single track, and only linked to other public transport by buses and 3 regular train stations. It is not linked to a very similar project: Randstadrail.

It has been calculated that of Hazerswoude’s inhabitants, only 5% will use the Light rail connection. this doesn’t make it very viable for the town. It doesn’t help the other three towns in the municipality either.

As part of the light rail line will run on existing train tracks, the train connection between Leiden and Utrecht will suffer. Dutch rail has mentioned they won’t compete with the RijnGouwelijn, so you’ll probably have to take the RGL from Leiden to Alphen a/d Rijn to get to a train which will bring you to Utrecht. That will considerably add to your travel time.

So where do I stand?

Having witnessed the project from the start, it has been a bit surreal. In 2003, it really seemed like the RGL was just a project of provincial politician Marnix Norder (PvdA), who just liked cool trains. It was the way he presented it, and he was basically the only one who really backed the project. That kinda made me wonder about the merits of the whole project. Is it just a guy who likes trains, or a serious project to increase mobility?

After he left to become alderman in Den Haag, the project floated around a bit, as municipalities were indecisive about wanting the RGL through their backyard. And now it seems all depends on the referendum of march 7th in Leiden; a battle that’s being fought in Leiden itself. Amazingly, most politicians in Leiden are completely unaware of any points of view neighboring municipalities might have, It has become a NIMBY-discussion, completely disregarding the global problems and opportunities of the project.

Regional public transport solutions aren’t the problem anymore: it’s just whether the Leiden populace will perceive the RGL as a nuisance or not.

Besides that, I’ve seen the first tests fail. The current test light rail carriages are not suited for the track, thus have to have their wheels repaired on regular basis, costing millions. There also were a lot of problems with conflicting safety systems. And then there is Randstadrail; a similar project nearby, months overdue because of inadequate testing. After a couple of light rail trains derailed the project had to be put on hold. An alderman has already resigned because of this.

My opinion is that a coherent light rail system would be very beneficial for the Randstad region of the Netherlands. But projects like the RGL make a mockery of the transport problems in the region, and should be avoided at all cost.