Swiss Railways train in Zurich Station
On the way to a meeting in Dusseldorf after crossing from Harwich to Hoek van Holland on the night ferry, I took the opportunity to explore two sections of the RET network.
This interesting part of the Netherlands is also accessible, of course, by catching a Eurostar from London and alighting at Rotterdam Centraal.
First, a word of explanation. “Hoek” is the Dutch word for “corner”; “Haken” is the Dutch word for “hook”. One can speculate why rail and ferry operators have always mis-translated the name of the port at the mouth of the New Waterway. RET is the public transport operator for Rotterdam and much if the city’s surrounding area.
Hoek van Holland Haven at last has its new through station, literally just across the road from the ferry terminal, and I used the ticket vending machine to buy an RET day ticket. I was the only person to board the train continuing behind the houses and flats on the trackbed of the old line to Hoek van Holland Strand which was actually quite a walk from the beach. The trains now continue through a short tunnel and beyond the built-up area to a new terminus, separated from the sandy beach by a small square.
I saw no houses here (but perhaps some will be built), but two rows of cafes and shops, on either sides of the square, continuing parallel to the beach. On a cool, grey April morning, with hardly anyone about, it had the feeling of a wild west frontier settlement; but in the bathing season (May 1 – September 30) and at weekends it no doubt comes alive.
Although it was now 09.30, my train back from the beach filled quite substantially at intermediate stations with people travelling into the city centre. Metro trains run every 20 minutes on weekdays and slightly less frequently on Sundays. What was once the start of a main line with long-distance trains from Hoek van Holland, is now an urban railway, going underground east of Schiedam Centrum.
I alighted at Beurs, the hub of the Rotterdam network and changed to a very different railway. The Zuid-Hollandsche Elektrische Spoorweg opened in two stages in 1906 as an alternative route from Rotterdam Hofplein to The Hague and terminating on the seafront at Scheveningen. It was in fact the first electrified railway in the Netherlands. Like the line to Hoek van Holland, it was transferred from the national network, with extra stops added (think Manchester – Bury becoming part of Manchester Metrolink) and named the Erasmus Line.
This line now has trains at least every 10 minutes in tunnel under Rotterdam city centre (with interchange at Rotterdam Centraal) and ine of the underground station (at Bleidorp) had an interesting historical display.
We emerged into daylight at Melancthonweg (one of the new stations) and the rest of the journey to The Hague Central was almost all through built-up areas, interspersed sometimes with woodland or meadows, waterways or reservoirs, with trees and bushes now bursting into leaf in what was now bright spring sunshine.
On the last section, from Laan van Nieuw Ost Indien, the train wound its way through a futuristic cityscape of skyscrapers and glass-plated office blocks to end its 40-minute journey at a high-level platform at Den Haag Centraal, a modern multimodal hub on three levels, for trains, trams, metro and buses.
The Hague does not attract quite as many tourists as Amsterdam, but the Mauritshuis is well worth a visit (even for non-connoisseurs of painting, like myself!) with its collection of old masters.
On the Sunday morning, after breaking my journey overnight at Arnhem, I sampled the breakfast-time view across the city from the 6th floor of the new Ibis Styles Hotel adjacent to the station. Later that bright and breezy morning I arrived back at Hoek van Holland Haven on a RET train well-filled with local people heading to the beach – quite a contrast to two days previously.