Iron Rhine

Belgium wants to reactivate the Iron Rhine (railway line for freight transport between Antwerp - Weert - Roermond -Duisburg) that has been out of service for a while.

The Iron Rhine is a railway line that connects the port of Antwerp with the German Ruhrgebiet. In 1998, Belgium asked the Netherlands to reopen the Iron Rhine. The argumentation for this was the expansion of freight transport from the Antwerp port to the German Ruhrgebiet. Since Belgium and the Netherlands did not come to an agreement about e.g. the height of the costs, the division of the costs and the risks, they finally decided to bring this conflict in 2002 to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Den Haag. The decision was taken that both countries should erect a commission  of independent experts (COD) who will agree on the height of the different cost posts, before is decided what each country has to pay.

The decision of the court of International Arbitration implicates some preliminary research. On request of Infrabel and ProRail (Belgian and Dutch Infrastructure Administrators), TML performed, together with TNO, the following studies for them:

  • the transport forecasts

The goal of the transport forecasts for the Iron Rhine is to get a comprehending of how many trains will be using the Iron Rhine. For this, we used the European Trans-Tools model, for 4 background scenarios concerning the economic growth and general transport policy.

The Netherlands and Belgium agreed, based on these calculations, to reactivate the Iron Rhine with a capacity of 72 freight trains (both directions) a day.

This study is finished in 2007. There was a press release  by both governments and the study was sent to the Dutch Parliament as well.

  • The Social Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA)

In this CBA all possible costs and benefits are taken into account, with special attention to the distribution of the effects over Belgium and the Netherlands, and the effects on other modes (road traffic and inland waterways). The analysis was done for 4 project alternatives and for 2 of the background scenarios from the transport forecasts. The project alternatives differ with respect to route (historical line versus A52) and traction (diesel versus electric).

To reopen the Iron Rhine, an investment of about 590 to 750 million euro is needed.

Reopening the Iron Rhine will lead to a negative benefit from 335 to 530 million euro for society as a whole (including the investment costs). The negative benefit has been obtained after accounting for modal shifts from road to rail and taking into account all important externalities (mostly environmental) of all modes.

The major reason why the project performs so poorly is that it mainly substitutes rail traffic on the existing Montzen route that has not yet reached its capacity limits. The user cost advantage of switching between the two lines is limited and there is only a small reduction of congestion on the road. These small benefits can never compensate the large investment cost. Even if the growth of rail traffic from Antwerp to Germany is much stronger than expected by the models, the benefits are too small to compensate the large investment cost.  On top of that, the substitute from the electrified Montzen route to the diesel Iron Rhine route causes extra emission costs.


Final report SCBA (in English, with Dutch, French and German summary) (2009)

Final report transport forecasts (in Dutch) (2007)



funded by

Infrabel (BE), FOD Mobiliteit en Vervoer (BE), ProRail (NL), Ministerie van Verkeer en Waterstaat (NL)


Griet De Ceuster, Eef Delhaye


Griet De Ceuster

+32 16 31.77.30
references: 06.32-07.22-08.02