23 March 2023, by Victoria Séveno   |  Updated: 24 March 2023

EDIT: The RVO has granted ProRail permission to remove the badgers from under the track in Esch. ProRail hopes trains will be up and running again by the end of next week.

Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) might have a bit of a reputation at the moment for unreliable and disrupted train schedules, but the current issue plaguing train travel in the Netherlands has nothing to do with NS and the company’s severe staff shortage. Instead, pesky badgers and their extensive network of tunnels have brought trains across several parts of the Netherlands to a standstill – and the disruption to some routes could last up to several weeks. 

Troublesome badgers bring Dutch trains to a standstill

According to rail operator ProRail, groups of badgers can be found at around 40 locations nationwide. While the badgers don’t always spell trouble for the Dutch rail network, their tendency to dig large tunnels means that can change pretty quickly. 

The wide – and occasionally vast network – of tunnels dug by badgers can, if located underneath a railway track, cause the rails to sink slightly. This means trains are unable to travel over these parts of the track, with ProRail explaining to Omroep Brabant that the track and the subsoil need to be repaired before train services can resume. 

ProRail: No trains running until at least March 28

This week, the animals made international headlines after bringing train travel between Den Bosch and Eindhoven – a key route for commuters and those travelling between the northern and southern regions of the Netherlands – to a complete standstill. 

Tunnels underneath the track near the village of Esch in North Brabant mean that, as of March 21, no trains have been able to run between Den Bosch and Boxtel. While this news is frustrating for many, who are instead forced to travel via Tilburg or make use of the rail replacement bus services operated by NS, the damage also has consequences for the freight trains that regularly make use of this route. 

Up to 50.000 people travel along the route between Den Bosch and Boxtel every day. On weekdays, NS typically runs 16 trains per hour along this route. Badgers have also caused issues further north where, in Friesland, tunnels on the route between Workum and Stavoren mean no trains are running until the end of April. 

Disruption to Den Bosch – Eindhoven route could last several weeks

Because badgers are a protected species in the Netherlands, ProRail needs special permission from the Dutch government in order to remove them from the area. The company has therefore requested an exemption from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) so that the badgers can be relocated, but so far the request is yet to be approved. 

In theory, the RVO has up to 13 weeks to make a decision – although one spokesperson has explained to NOS that additional lawyers and ecologists have been brought on board in order to settle the matter in a timely manner. 

In the meantime, ProRail has confirmed that train travel between Den Bosch and Boxtel won’t resume until at least 2am on March 28, although one spokesperson has said the disruption to public transport services could last for several weeks: “There is indeed a risk, but we are doing everything we can to solve it,” they told RTL Nieuws.

Thumb: Hindros Photography via Shutterstock.com.

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