The Rotterdam Metro in Past, Present and Future
The Rotterdam metro network is the oldest in the Netherlands. With more than one hundred kilometers, five lines and seventy stations, it is also the most extensive metro network in our country. How did that happen? What are the expectations for the future? And couldn’t that map of the line network be a little prettier? I’ll answer those questions in this blog post.
The Rotterdam metro was officially opened on February 9, 1968. On that day trains started running on the first section: six kilometers, seven stations, from Central Station to Zuidplein. I was there, together with my father, but I remember that I saw a lot of people’s legs that day. I was only five and a lot shorter than today.
A few years later, that first line was extended to my hometown Hoogvliet. This resulted in a spectacular reduction of the travel time to Rotterdam. Instead of a one hour bus ride, the metro took us to “the city” in half an hour.
In the eighties the transversal metro was added: the east-west lines with all their branches. And in the twenty-first century we saw the conversion of two railway lines into a metro: the Hofplein line and the Hoekse line.
Now, after more than fifty years, the Rotterdam metro network consists of five lines with a total length of more than one hundred kilometers. The network extends to remote neighbourhoods like Nesselande and Hoek van Holland and suburbs such as Spijkenisse, Capelle aan den IJssel and The Hague. That makes many metro stations ideal starting and ending points for hiking routes, but about that subject, I wrote another blogpost: The Best Metro Hikes In and Around Rotterdam.
Interesting but otherwise useless fact: of the 70 metro stations, six have the word haven (harbour) in their name. Find them all!
Of course, this extended network comes with a map. Like almost all metropolitan maps in the world, this one is clearly inspired by the famous map of the London Underground, made in 1934 by Harry Beck. He was the first to leave out all unnecessary ballast and abstract the network to angles of 45 degrees.
The map of the Rotterdam metro also uses those 45-degree angles. But unfortunately a splotchy kind of airbrushed subsurface with waterways and build-up areas was added underneath.
How would Harry Beck have mapped our metro network? Probably something like this:
In the 1960’s, Coolsingel boulevard was a building site for years to construct the first section of the metro. As a contrast, the construction of the line under the Blijdorp neighborhood happened almost unnoticed, about ten years ago. The techniques for building underground are becoming increasingly sophisticated; and that’s a good thing. Because we will need some more lines in the coming decades. What will the metro map of 2050 look like?
First, let’s see what the RET itself thinks about it. High on the wish list of the transport company is a connection between Kralingse Zoom and Zuidplein, via the new NS station Stadionpark. A logical idea, because whether that stadium will be built is not, large scale urban evelopment can be expected at Feyenoord City.
At a later stage, that line would have to be extended through the Maastunnel, to end at Central Station after stops at Euromast and Erasmus MC. Which raises the question of who should make room in the Maastunnel: cars, bicycles or pedestrians? And it will be a short line that way; is that all there is?
The RET would also like to operate metros on the Oude Lijn (the Old Line). That is the railway line from Leiden via The Hague and Rotterdam to Dordrecht. But in fact, a kind of metro is already running there: the sprinters by Dutch Railways. Except for a few extra stations and a higher frequency, that line does not add much. But admittedly: making a metro line on existing tracks is of course easier and cheaper.
The RET looks ahead to 2030. For 2050 I would like to present a more ambitious vision. I would therefore not let the F-line from Kralingse Zoom to Zuidplein run through the Maastunnel to Central Station, but instead continue via Charlois, Sluisjesdijk and Merwe/Vierhavens to Marconiplein. And why not make it a Circle Line right away: via Overschie, Schiebroek, Hillegersberg and Kralingse Berg back to Kralingse Zoom.
Through this Circle Line, the airport can finally be reached by metro. By the way, that airport will be called Zestienhoven again in 2050 and only airships and electric aircraft land and depart there. Flight shame becomes a bad dream from the past.
While I was working on these maps, Jules Deelder died: poet, musician and hero of the city. I honored him with a metro station near the Sparta stadium. That’s how they do it in Paris, where some stations are named after historical people (Jacques Bonsergent, Richard Lenoir).
And another funny detail: the Circle Line, with stations J.A.Deelder, De Esch and Feyenoord City, connects the three Rotterdam football clubs Sparta, Excelsior and Feyenoord. The ball is round. The Circle too.
Another possible development is an additional north-south line. At the moment, three lines come together in the east-west direction, between Schiedam and Capelsebrug. In the north-south direction there are only two between Central Station and Slinge. That offers room for expansion.
In the north, this extra line would bend from Rodenrijs station to connect to the new Lansingerland-Zoetermeer NS station via Bergschenhoek and Bleiswijk. The route, as a bus lane, is already there.
In the south, this line would bend to the left from Slinge to end via Carnisselande at Barendrecht NS station. Let’s call it the Glass Line, after the greenhouses in Barendrecht and Lansingerland.
A new east-west connection will become viable in a more distant future. It runs largely on the south bank of the Maas and the Waterweg and is nostalgically called Petroleum Line. The transformation of old port areas into new city districts, which started at Kop van Zuid, will continue unabated in the coming decades. The fossil industries at Pernis and in the Botlek will be hopelessly obsolete in the 1930s and 40s and make way for more mixed living and working areas.
This calls for a new metro line, which connects at Maassluis to the line to Hoek of Holland. On the east side, this line connects places such as Ridderkerk, Hendrik-Ido-Ambacht, Zwijndrecht and Dordrecht with the Rotterdam metro network.
On this Petroleum Lime, there’s also a metro station Olympic Park. Because it goes without saying that the Olympic Games will be held in Rotterdam in 2040, one hundred years after the bombing and seven hundred years after the city rights.
Krimpen and Hellevoetsluis
I also see opportunities for two smaller expansions in the coming decades. First, a branch of the C-line, from Capelsebrug to Krimpen aan den IJssel. This would improve access to the Krimpenerwaard region; Algera Bridge will become less of a “bridge of sighs”.
Secondly, the extension of the very first metro line from Spijkenisse to Hellevoetsluis. This was already discussed in the 1970s. And Hellevoetsluis, with its 40,000 inhabitants, is the largest town in the Netherlands that is neither located on a railway nor a highway.
With all these additions, the Rotterdam metro map in 2050 could look like this:
In this vision of the future I have given each line its own name. The current ABC naming convention is not only boring but also impractical. Even with five lines I can’t remember which letter belongs to which line.
The First Line and the Cross Line are obvious. Circle Line, Glass Line and Petroleum Line have already been mentioned. The Beach Line connects the beaches of Hoek van Holland and Nesselande. Erasmus Line passes the Erasmus MC and the Woudestein campus of the Erasmus University. And Hoflijn connects Rotterdam with “Hofstad” The Hague via the trajectory of the former Hofplein railway.
After I put this blog post online at the beginning of January 2020, I got 15,000 visitors in three days. And that is a lot more than the traffic that my website normally gets. The Algemeen Dagblad and the Havenloods both published an article about my metro maps. Obviously I am not the only one interested in the development of the Rotterdam metro.
I also received dozens of responses from readers, with many interesting suggestions and additions; they can all be read below. There is a clear need for connection to the metro network in a number of Rotterdam municipalities. Hundreds of kilometers of new metro tracks were requested.
But we must remain realistic. Building a metro line is expensive, complex and time-consuming. And a lot can happen in thirty years, but I fear that Rockanje, Moordrecht and Oud-Verlaat will still not have a metro station in 2050. Maybe in 2080.