A Ride on the Dark Track – part 3

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Hollandsch Diep Bridge, HSL Zuid High-Speed Rail Line

Dyspozytor is riding on a lorry from Poland to London to discover why so much Polish freight goes to the UK by road. The first part of his report was published on Sunday.

We pulled into a parking area about 10 am. “Half an hour”, said Wojtek. We slept for two. It was going to be our longest period of uninterrupted sleep before we reached our unloading point in East London. Wojtek had chosen the time for his passage through Germany well. We cruised past Berlin, Braunschweig, and Hanover. We drove through the centre of Bad Oberhausen. This strange 6 km gap in the German motorway network is the result of some nifty lobbying by local residents. They want a tunnel, not a Twyford Down style by-pass.

At 4 pm. we stop at another parking area for our statutory rest period. Several hours ago, Wojtek should have taken a compulsory 7 hour rest period, but by juggling the discs in his tachograph, he had created a second virtual driver that would pass any later inspection. We would be OK, provided we weren’t pulled up by the traffic police. During our 20 minute break we were entertained by the comings and goings of 20 policemen in bright fluorescent jackets looking at vehicles in the parking area on the other side of the motorway. They seemed to be concentrating all their efforts on inspecting the contents of small vans, rather than lorries or cars.

Half an hour later we were overtaken by a white van. The driver seemed to know Wojtek and signalled him to pull in at the next parking area. We stopped, handshakes were exchanged, and the van driver beckoned us round to the back of his van. Inside was an Aladdin’s cave packed with the latest consumer electronics. Perhaps Wojtek would like a plasma TV for his wife? The price was really competitive. Wojtek reluctantly shook his head. Was it something to do with my presence, or the prospect of taking the hot TV through the closely controlled UK border? I never did find out.

By 6 pm. we were cruising through Holland. The interesting feature of this part of the trip was the Hogesnelheidslijn Zuid (High-Speed Line South) – a brand new 300 km/hr high speed railway constructed through Holland and Belgium to connect a new route Antwerp and Amsterdam. The line was completed in 2007, but apart from construction and gauging trains, no services have yet run on the new railway. The villain in the story is the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS). But this is neither the place nor the time. I will deal with ERTMS in a separate post. The HSL Zuid has been constructed practically along the motorway hard shoulder thereby reducing environmental disruption to the minimum.

Our route left the HSL Zuid for a while, only to rejoin it again on the other side of the Holland – Belgium border. I decided that the graciously curved catenary supports in Holland were much more attractive than the traditional straight variety installed along the Belgian section of the line. Antwerp, with its long underwater tunnel, was passed without a hitch. Then some 50 km later, the turn off for the motorway to Ostend was closed. Wojtek switched on his sat-nav and I kept a close look out for road signs. Our diversionary route was signposted some 20 km later. So far so good, Wojtek’s sat-nav and the road signs were in perfect agreement. But then after 15 km, our diversionary route was coned off. We had to take a diversion off our diversion! We found ourself driving through an elegant residential area, small bungalows with large gardens. The road was barely wide enough for our lorry! Then we reached a spot where the sat-nav said “Straight on,” and the road sign said “No through road”.

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