After several years of false starts and re-allocated funds, the Lelylijn project might bring high-speed rail links to Groningen and Friesland
By Pierre John Felcenloben
The prospect of a new high speed rail line linking key cities in the Northern provinces of Friesland and Groningen with the ‘Randstad’ is receiving support from regional government and locals alike, despite seemingly being sidelined by central government.
Under current proposed plans, the Lelylijn would create a vital new connection from Amsterdam up to Groningen, which has the potential to create new jobs and homes for people living in the Netherlands’ Northernmost provinces. While the new line would add to connections going through Heerenveen, the project would introduce a first rail link for Drachten and Emmeloord.
Despite the previous incarnation of a Northern high speed link – the Zuider Zee line – getting cancelled after having been deemed unprofitable by government in 2003 and the current outgoing administration having left the Lelylijn out of its growth fund, the project has enthusiastic backing from those from areas where the link will be seen as more essential than supplemental.
Aside from creating more economic opportunities in the North, and improving the quality of life for those living in Groningen and Friesland, Avine Fokkens-Kelder (VVD), a Deputy at the Province of Friesland, says that the line would be a considerable improvement on the current situation. “It’s been very bad [transport options down to the Randstad]. For 100 years we have been travelling for at least two hours between the northern Netherlands and the Randstad with only one gateway, namely via Zwolle.”
Fokkens-Kelder isn’t shy explaining the challenges faced in Friesland, proposing that the arrival of the Lelylijn could prove a win-win up and down a country in the grip of a housing crisis.
“In Friesland, we are faced with many challenges. For example, a shrinking population and a future shortage of potential labour forces us to take action to maintain the quality of life in Friesland as well. At the same time, other parts of the country are also facing challenges, such as shortages on the housing market and congestion.” The Lelylijn is seen by Fokkens-Kelder as a solution to both problems.
One of Friesland’s largest cities, Heerenveen, has seen a continued exodus of people towards larger cities in the Randstad and the new line could even end up profiting from the current pandemic in attracting people to the area, according to Heerenveen municipality spokesperson Richtsje Stornebrink.
“The fact that more people have to work at home and the fast way of making that possible makes people realise that you don’t actually have to live close to your office,” he says alluding to the city’s potential Lelylijn-induced appeal for professionals.
Preparing to reap the benefits of such a project does incur some risk. Stornebrink mentions that despite the new line still awaiting the go-ahead to be given by any incoming new government, municipalities will need to start enacting some degree of planning work in advance.
One of the key promises of the Lelylijn is that it will shave off 40 minutes from a journey down to the Randstad from Groningen and its promised 22,500 daily passengers will be a relief to the strained motorways snaking north. Naomi van den Dorpel, originally from Emmeloord in Flevoland and having spent five years commuting up to Groningen to follow her biomedical research course, welcomes these touted efficiencies.
“There are only buses right now and it takes a long time to get to the Randstad or Groningen”, she says of current options to the town of 26,000. “I hated journeying to Groningen from Emmeloord. From door-to-door it was more than two hours and it was very expensive.” Van den Dorpel explains that it was usual to pay €30 one way.
Van den Dorpel adds that although her family still mostly live and work in Emmeloord, it’s the opposite case for most friends her own age who have moved to other cities around the country. Both groups are united in relying on car journeys to get in and out of the town.
Another potential use being touted in some political corners is that the line could even be extended to Hamburg in Germany, establishing an impressive link across several European countries all the way up to Finland. While this advantage might sway business voices down in the Randstad looking for an environmentally-friendly alternative to air travel in Europe, Van den Dorpel doesn’t believe that would necessarily be an attractive option for people in Emmeloord.
“A lot of residents have their own car so I think they will go by themselves,” she says, revealing there might still need to be some convincing around ditching the motorway entirely.
Pierre John Felcenloben is a Canadian-French graduate student of journalism at the University of Groningen. His graduate thesis focuses on emotion as a mechanism for political action through news media.