Cover of Railways in the Netherlands by Augustus J. Veenendaal, Jr.
Railways in the Netherlands
A Brief History, 1834-1994
Augustus J. Veenendaal, Jr.


248 pages.

Cloth ISBN: 9780804739474



This book traces the origin, growth, decline, and resurrection of the railway system of the Netherlands from its beginnings to privatization in the 1990s, and places its history in the context of the political and socioeconomic development of the country.

At first, the largely agrarian and mercantile Dutch society saw little use for such a novel system of transportation, thanks to a highly developed system of roads and waterways. However, the success of early English railways did not go unnoticed, and in 1834 a plan was developed for a railway from Amsterdam to the Prussian Ruhr area to replace the transportation system along the Rhine River. Although this initial plan was finally abandoned, other lines were opened in 1839. The technology was largely borrowed from England and Belgium, but from the outset Dutch engineers played an important role in the development of the network.

Apart from a short-lived state system, the first railways were built and operated by private companies, but when this did not result in an efficient network, the state stepped in again in 1860 to bring coherence. By 1900, the national network was complete, but labor unrest escalated, leading to the national strike of 1903, which reverberated for many years in the Dutch Parliament, railroad board rooms, and socialist political parties. The exigencies of World War I increased the grip of the state on the railways, which ultimately resulted in 1938 in the complete unification of the railways, albeit under public ownership.

In the 1920s and 1930s, competition from other forms of transportation resulted in a curtailing of services and the closing of unprofitable lines. World War II devastated the Dutch railway system and necessitated an almost complete rebuilding. In the postwar era, population growth, greater mobility, pollution problems, and lack of space for new highways led to an intensive use of existing railways and the construction of new lines to link new suburbs and airports with the existing network. The privatization craze of the 1990s separated the ownership of the network from its operations, but the final relationship has yet to be established.

About the author

Augustus J. Veenendaal, Jr. is Senior Research Historian at the Institute of Netherlands History, The Hague, and Corporate Historian of Netherlands Railways. He is the author of Slow Train to Paradise: How Dutch Investment Helped Build American Railroads (Stanford, 1996)

"The book itself is well done. It is illustrated with black-and-white photos and excellent maps. It is likely to stimulate an interest in a small, easily-comprehended portion of Europe's railways, and it would be good reading before taking a firsthand look at NS."

The Lexington Quarterly

"This excellent book is very easy to read with many photographs and maps. The author has written a fascinating history that seems to come alive with his stories, incorporating historical background on the Netherlands to help readers understand the development of the railway system. . . . General readers."


"The early history of the Dutch railways is every bit as complex as that of our own, and the author guides us expertly though [it]. . . . This is a well organized and very readable history of the Dutch national railway system."

Continental Modeller

"When one takes into account the comprehensiveness of [Veenendaal's] discussion, its solid foundation in the sources, and the excellent illustrations that accompany the clearly written text, one can only conclude that this book will remain the standard English-language history of the Dutch railways well into the future . . . .Railways in the Netherlands is a solid account of an important railway system. It provides reliable information on all aspects of Dutch railways."

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