Eindhoven was the lead partner for the RoCK project. How did this come about?
Eindhoven is the biggest city within the Brainport region, which is the most important R&D centre in the Netherlands and under the top ten in Europe. We have recognised the necessity for excellent international accessibility as a precondition for our continued success. Eindhoven took the initiative for this project basically because no other party did.
So for Eindhoven this was something totally new – to be involved in the planning and realisation of an international rail connection. It’s important to stress that Eindhoven is not a transport authority. Officially, we have no legal mandate to get engaged in international train infrastructure, which in fact is something that applies to most of the RoCK partners. But as an R&D centre, what Eindhoven does have is the ability to think outside the box.
The project achieved some important milestones, not least of all getting Düsseldorf and Aachen on the Dutch concessions. What’s behind this success?
The key to RoCK’s overall success was that the distributed parcels of know-how within the partnership and stakeholders could be combined to a coherent whole. No one partner new everything, but together the group had a great wealth of knowledge.
This was a team effort. Project partners had to form a strong common understanding of the goals and the important steps towards those goals. Project partners also had to accept and share responsibilities. That also extends to decisions: decisions on project products and outcomes were taken by the project partners only. Relevant external partners were consulted and asked for feedback during revisions of the products and studies. Events were organised to present the outcomes to the public, and external stakeholders had an active role during these events.
What we did notice is that some of the wider stakeholders were waiting on the sidelines. These organisations in particular have very little experience estimating the future success of international rail services, so they were very conservative when estimating risks. A task was to convince these stakeholders of the benefit and to also get them on board and win their active support.
What were some major highlights in the project – some make-or-break points?
Two come to mind right away: submission of the project for consideration in the German Federal Transport Infrastructure Plan (Bundesverkehrswegeplan), and the extremely positive outcome of the cost-benefit analysis for adding a second track between Kaldenkirchen and Dülken. Especially in regard to the latter, the project never had a better chance for realisation. We are close to unlocking the necessary funding to relieve the infrastructure bottleneck between Kaldenkirchen and Dülken, and we have an operator that is contractually obliged and interested in operating the connection quickly fast as possible.
Our achievements would not have been possible without RoCK. Political support needs to be matched with concrete steps to convince all partners of the feasibility of such an endeavour.
Is there anything you learned specifically from the project?
For me it is very clear that in the rail industry lead times are measured in years and decades. For example, when Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) buys a new generation of IC trains, the interval in which this happens is measured in decades. Through the new concession, NS now also has to consider that some of their IC trains are able to run on German rails. That means to really change things structurally you have to change contractual and concessionary arrangements because these contracts define what will happen in the next ten to fifteen years. If you want more international train services, then this has to be put it in the contract. The contract, in turn, gives rise to a lot of necessary regulatory, technical and organisational changes.
For me personally, before working for RoCK I had experience with leading European projects and railway projects. However, planning international rail services to such a high level of detail was something new for me. I gained extensive knowledge with the Interreg IIIB projects HSTintegration and HSTconnect, and on how the High Speed Train system in Europe works.