Dutch Railways: Moving architecture
From the classical brick and stained-glass-windowed, to the ultra-modern new builds, Dutch stations offer something for travellers using the country’s extensive rail network.
The first railway company in the Netherlands was founded in 1837 with a track running between Amsterdam and Haarlem, and train travel has grown to become a constant in the lives of many of the Dutch population. The Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Netherlands Railway) or NS makes around 4,500 trips a day across its 3,220 km. network, ensuring passengers get to their desired destinations, to be welcomed by captivating, or at least interesting, buildings.
In 600 BC Greece, a wooden rail was built to transport boats from the builder’s yard to the water. It took another few thousand years until 1830 the world’s first iron tracks were laid to carry rail passengers between Manchester and Liverpool in the UK. Since then railways have been instrumental in shaping lives–trains cross continents, have transported royalty, and even changed the course of wars. Today, train travel is a daily essential for many commuters, but for others it is an overland adventure, full of romantic connotations harkening back to days when life was lived at a slower pace.
The Dutch are known for their adventurous spirit when it comes to architecture, and many new station buildings are truly remarkable in their design and sustainability. This is not to say that the old buildings fall short; in fact, some of the most beautiful old buildings in the country belong to the railway network. With around 400 stations nationwide the variety is staggering. Let’s take a look at some of the more noteworthy.
As the biggest and second busiest station in the country, Amsterdam Centraal is an international destination and a departure point for the rest of the Netherlands. Thousands of passengers traverse the platforms each day, to travel on one of the thousands of trains servicing this station. The iconic station building, which is for many travellers and tourists their first Dutch landmark, took eight years to complete and was constructed on 8,687 pylons driven into the wet Amsterdam soil.
Amsterdam CS (Centraal Station) was officially opened in 1889 to great fanfare and much public interest. Since then there have been numerous changes made to accommodate the growing traffic, including modernising the terminal, adding pedestrian and bicycle tunnels and blocking car traffic from the front of the station. In 2018, after a huge construction project, an ultra-modern addition to the underground station was opened, linking to the new Amsterdam north-south metro line. Renovations to the main station continued throughout 2020, with platforms being made wider and rail bridges to the east of the station replaced.
Amsterdam CS is one of the few stations to have a Koninklijke Wachtkamer (Royal Waiting Room), originally with parking for a royal carriage, or these days of course, the royal car. The Koninklijke Wachtkamer is located in the east wing of the railway station, and a new glass front means the venue is partially visible to passers-by outside. The Koninklijke Wachtkamer is actually owned by the NS, not by the royal family, so the venue can be used for other purposes such meetings and receptions. It is not usually open to the public, but look out for free guided tours during Open Monumentendag (Heritage Day), usually the second weekend of September. One of the waiting room’s entrances is located on platform 2b, and the elaborate gilded iron gate is unmissable. Behind the gate is the main waiting chamber and inside a stained glass window comprised of the government coat of arms, the provincial coat of arms and the municipal coat of arms. Everything in the main room was carefully coordinated by station architect P.J.H. Cuypers from the mosaic floors, carpets, wall panelling, stone fireplace, furniture, chandeliers, murals and even coat racks.
Den Haag Hollands Spoor
Waiting on the platform at Den Haag Hollands Spoor (Holland’s Rail), the city’s oldest station, can be quite mesmerising, like being transported back in time. The high steel arches and stained-glass windows create a feeling of old-world opulence and nostalgia. Originally opened in 1843, another of the few stations with a royal waiting room, HS remains a special place and full of history. The original building, which was designed by Frederik Willem Conrad, was demolished in 1891 to make way for the Neo-Renaissance building designed by Dirk Margadant, which still stands today.
Den Haag HS is a hub of daily activity with local, regional and international connections, and links to the city by bus and tram. Hollands Spoor station is built on grassland that originally belonged to the municipality of Rijswijk, but since there was initially little need to travel there, they passed the land to The Hague.
Voted in 2019 as the prettiest station in the country, Groningen train station is one of the most northern. The current station building was designed by Izaak Gosschalk and completed in 1896. The lofty ceilings and decorative brickwork of the entrance hall combine Neo-Gothic and Neo-Renaissance elements of the 19th century architectural revival. Located around 200 km. north of Amsterdam, the city is experiencing recent growth, so there is an ambitious expansion plan in and around the station until 2023.
The reconstruction of Delft Station–completed in 2015–was an immense project spanning eight years and including relocating the track underground and erecting a huge station above and below ground to accommodate the growing tourist and student traffic to the busy city. The new station reflects the history of the city, with Delft blue accents and an immense historic 1877 map of Delft and surroundings on the ceiling. The modern station building is also connected to the new Gemeente (municipality) building, adjacent and above the station hall.
Alongside the new architecture, the beautiful old station building was preserved, and stands in gardens behind the new additions serving as offices and restaurants. The newer station building includes bicycle parking for a whopping 8,700 bikes, of which 5,000 are underground. From Delft there are connections to all major cities to the north and south of the country and bus services run from the station throughout the South Holland region.
The fascinating structural design of Arnhem Centraal Station makes this an eventful stop on your journey. Completed in 2015 as the culmination of a 20-year project, it has transformed the face of Arnhem to one of sleek modernity. The station terminal features a central structure with a twist, quite literally, supporting the roof. The design enables openness with no beams or columns obstructing the flow of this busy transport hub, making it feel open and light. As with the other major stations, there are multiple modes of transport converging with bikes, trains, trams, cars, buses and pedestrians all coming and going. From Arnhem you can connect throughout the Netherlands, or even internationally east to Germany or south to Belgium.
Situated in the southern province of Limburg, this station is considered the oldest existing station in the country. Opened in 1853, it now has monument status and is part of the 50 stations in the Netherlands, known as ‘the Collection’ that is a representation of the buildings owned by the NS and ProRail. The station’s architectural details are reminiscent of medieval castles’ balustrades, turrets and arched window frames. Valkenburg Station, voted ‘most hospitable’ in 2016, has connections to surrounding stations such as Maastricht, and across the border to Germany’s Aachen and Heerlen.
A new addition to the network–opened in 2018–this futuristic station boasts a huge, green viaduct that spans the road beneath and houses a light-rail stop and serves as a road crossing for pedestrians and cyclists. The fencing around this deck, executed in high-strength concrete especially developed for this project, is shaped like tree branches to represent the leafy route leading to the station. Spacious flights of steps, a ramp, and glass elevators link the raised avenue with the station below and highlight the countryside surroundings. Waiting areas have plenty of daylight, and a timber ceiling, with a staggered pattern of LED lights, brings a warm atmosphere to the main station building. The building is flexible and forward-looking, with further expansion taken into account by leaving space for additional tracks and catering facilities.
Today and tomorrow
Whether old or new, Dutch station buildings have a charm and style that echoes the national identity and unique landscape. During these strange times of restrictions and disconnection, the rail network continues to maintain a sense of predictability and connection, and has helped keep the nation going. No doubt there will be many more inspiring and futureproof station designs to fascinate and facilitate commuters and travellers as time goes by.
Learn more about Transportation in The Netherlands here.
About the author
Lynette Croxford is a British freelance copywriter and translator living in Delft with her husband and daughters.