Netherlands decides about ATO implementation by end of 2025

ProRail is going to investigate the potential of Automatic Train Operation (ATO) together with Dutch Railways NS, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, railway undertakings and municipalities. After the research phase, which will last until the end of 2025, a decision can be made about the implementation of ATO in the Netherlands. To this end, the parties signed an agreement on Thursday at the ATO Live Event in Utrecht.

During the research phase, various experiments and tests will be carried out. Besides automatic shunting, the parties also look at the impact on the track. One of these projects is a planned test with DB Cargo on the Betuwe route, an important freight corridor to Germany. The ATO Live Event was organised by Dutch sister publication SpoorPro and ProRail.

“We want to map out in the study whether ATO will lead to an increase in capacity on the Betuwe route”, says Nanouke van ‘t Riet, CEO of the Dutch branch of rail freight operator DB Cargo. “For freight transport, we are back at 100 per cent of capacity, which is more than in 2019. In order to grow, we need more capacity.” According to Van ‘t Riet, the Betuwe route is “a perfect testing ground”, because it is a closed freight railway line.

ATO to achieve goals

John Voppen, CEO of ProRail: “ATO is a necessary step that we want to develop as a railway sector. Our aim is to create an even better rail product. More capacity, higher punctuality, CO2 reduction: it all fits in with our goals for the coming years and ATO is going to help us achieve them.” A goods train is the most complex train type to operate due to its changing composition. The Betuwe route has been chosen to test this on.

Anne Hettinga, CEO of Arriva, Nanouke van ‘t Riet, CEO of DB Cargo NL and John Voppen, CEO of ProRail at the ATO Live Event

Research by ProRail shows that the increase in capacity that ATO potentially offers can have immediate benefits, as there is less need to spend money on building new infrastructure. An example of this is the capacity need around Schiphol Airport. With ATO over ERTMS, the step from 20 to 24 trains per hour per track seems possible.

Research phase until the end of 2025

After the research phase, which will last until 2025, the parties expect to have gathered enough knowledge to take a decision on the implementation of ATO in the Netherlands.

The main activities in the research phase are:

  • Performing simulations, experiments and commercial pilots
  • Setting up a programme for cooperation and knowledge development.
  • Elaboration of laws and regulations.
  • Elaboration of safety aspects.
  • Research into the impact of ATO on the work of colleagues in the railway sector
  • Draw up sector-wide business case.
  • Alignment with national and international policy

Read more:

Author: Marieke van Gompel

Marieke van Gompel is editor-in-chief of, and, online magazines for railway professionals.

Add your comment

characters remaining.

Log in through one of the following social media partners to comment.