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A Dutch Narrow-Gauge Network:

the Rotterdamsche Tramweg Mij.

By Peter van der Els

Peter van der Els <>
All photos and text copyright 1996 by the Author or as noted below
NOTE: Click on the word Photo while reading the story to see the corresponding image.
Complete photo discriptions are located on the bottom of this page.
(Aritcle was written and uploaded in 1996)

At the turn of the century, the desire to travel increased in the Netherlands. A tramway company was established around 1880 to serve the then isolated area south-west of Rotterdam, the vast Rhine delta (Map) with many isles that was divided by rivers and broad waterways. Starting off with only a limited network of horse-trams in Rotterdam, it quickly expanded; and by 1906, the Rotterdam Railway Company had become one of the largest inter-local tram (read: light railway) networks of the Netherlands. The company was, in many ways, the explorer of the isles, since bridges were constructed at several places (ferries were also used for crossing the wider sea-arms), and, for the first time in history, an easy way of travelling to and on these isles had become possible. Before the tram they could only be reached by steamboat services and with a horse and wagon, which was very time consuming. For instance, a distance of about 30km took half a day to travel; the introduction of the tram cut this down to less than two hours, and later (after 1930) this was further reduced to just over one hour!
{At present, travelling the same distance by subway and bus, the time is still 50 minutes.}

To keep the costs low, and yet allow a substantial heavy traffic, the line was built using Cape Gauge (1067mm), at that time very popular for light railways. At first the track was laid next to existing roads, following the road's curves. This proved to be rather inefficient, so the newer lines were projected on a completely free track, allowing higher speeds and heavier trains. At some area's, especially in Rotterdam, double track was laid.

At the beginning of the exploitation, the rolling stock consisted mainly of B-locomotives, which were completely covered by a steel superstructure which made them look like a box, usually called 'square' locomotives (16-40). (Photo 1) From 1910 on, C-loco's with were developed for the company (1-14). (Photo 2) Although they didn't have a 'powerful' appearance, they performed very well. The last ones based on this design, again somewhat bigger and now using superheated steam, were built from 1914 till 1920. They had a very good weight/power ratio: with a weight of 23.000kg, they could develop almost 350hp, and they proved very successful and were used till the sixties! As they could reach relatively high speeds (55km/h), they were used for both heavy passenger and goods trains (51-58). (Photo 3)

In the mid-twenties, a new type of motive power was introduced: the petrol (or diesel) powered carriage (315-318). (Photo 4) As this technology was still new, lots of experimenting had to be done before it became the diesel engine as we know it today. The RTM was not the first in the Netherlands to use these new technologies, but it was the first light railway to use it on such a large scale. In the thirties, three petrol-powered locomotives (actually motor-carriages) were bought, which proved to be rather efficient, although they suffered regularly from technical problems. The power units were later replaced by diesel engines with a mechanical gearbox and put into service under new numbers (M1801-M1804). (Photo 5)

After the second world war, when a large part of the rolling stock had been damaged or destroyed, the company took over four diesel-electric locomotives from another company - one in a useable condition, the others more or less damaged. A plan was developed to rebuild them and convert them into modern diesel units. Due to lack of money - the company was nearly bankrupt after the crisis and the war - this plan had to be postponed, and the four were just repaired and put into service (M67-M69). (Photo 6) In the fifties three were rebuilt as planned, in a modern look, with an attractive red/cream colour. As they were all rebuilt separately, they differed considerably from a technical point of view (although from the outside they looked alike) (1805-1807). (Photo 7)

With these 'new' engines,'new' carriages were also introduced: rebuilt 15m long 1st class carriages, with a modern red/cream look and comfortable seats, and, even a matching (green/cream coloured) buffet car in some trains. Unlike many other railway companies, the RTM has always used carriages with bogies. The oldest one, which is still in use today, dates back to 1899! This is a beautiful 12m long carriage, built completely of teak on a steel chassis. Other companies also used this kind of carriage; the RTM had over 50 of them. Eight still remain. (Photo 8)

About the remaining: the normal services on the network were terminated in 1956-66. A large part of the available rolling stock was then acquired by a foundation, which started conserving and repairing the ancient vehicles. This foundation transferred the possesions and activities after some years to a new RTM, but now a Rolling Tramway Museum, as it was called. (Photo 9) This organization has been operating a museum line with the material ever since and, at present, has three steam locomotives, four diesel locomotives, many passenger carriages of two types (teak and steel), and an enormous amount of goods vans, such as box cars, flat cars, hoppers, cabooses, mail cars, and even an early form of container car - it was easier to transport a 'container' by boat than a complete goods van. Just about everything a mid-size railway company would have needed for a normal service. (Photo 10)

The museum has gone through some roaring times; about five years ago, the museum (which was still located on the old yard in Hellevoetsluis) decided to move to a new location, as the relationship with the town council of Hellevoetsluis was 'not optimal'. Now, in 1995, the move has been completed; new buildings have been erected; about 6km of track and yards has been laid; station facilities have been established; and a lot of the rolling stock has been revised thoroughly. A hallmark of the new situation was the 'lease-contract' the RTM and the national Dutch railway museum signed for the lease and rebuilding of an ex-RTM diesel locomotive (M67) [photo 6] which had been in the railway museum since the termination of the rail services in 1967! A remarkable fact is that it took only some 24 hours to get the engine running again, and since then the machine has been active now and then for shunting purposes. The rebuilding of this remarkable locomotive started a short while ago - it's expected that it'll take about a year to get the job done.

The year 1995 will be the first year of regular operation and several days have been scheduled, with three services per day. Point of departure and arrival is the museum, which is located near the 'Brouwersdam' on the isle of Goeree-Overflakkee. (Photo 11) The line goes partly through a very attractive dune area and partly across the dam, ending near the holiday village 'Port Zelande'. A return ride will take about one hour.

What can you expect? The museum offers a good impression of a light railway as it existed in the Netherlands in the first half of this century. Apart from three steam locomotives, five diesel engines, over 10 passenger carriages and a variety of goods vans, there is also an exhibition of original photographs from the past, a gift shop, and... people. Among the staff of the museum are some old RTM-workers like engineers and mechanics who will give you a guided tour through the collection, and will be able to tell you interesting stories about the past.

About the past...what was it like, travelling in the old days when cars were still rare (motorways too)and electricity something that existed only in the towns? Suppose you lived in Brielle (like I did), an old fortress-town on the isle of Voorne, some 35 km south-west of Rotterdam, in the mid-fifties. Steam traction was still abundantly available, but the diesels were now the main traction form. (Photo 12) Apart from an hourly passenger service with Rotterdam, there was still a lot of goods traffic. Bulk cargos like coal, sugar beet and onions were transported, along with the mail. The sugar beet transport was something special; the sugar campaign in the autumn was a very busy time for the RTM, in the top years about 400,000 tons of sugar beet were transported to the sugar mills. It was impressive, the tiny 23-ton steam engines hauling heavy trains with a speed of 45km/h. When the (high) bridge over the river Old Maas had to be crossed [photo 3], the engines took this barrier with thundering exhaust strokes. However, during the fifties the goods transport was clearly decreasing, although now and then some of the work could be won back.

But, back to Brielle. At that time most of the isles were very rural, with little or no facilities. Special trains would run on market days, and in summer special children's trains ran from Rotterdam to the beach in Oostvoorne. (Photo 13) (Photo 14) Normally an hourly service was available to and from Rotterdam. To go to Rotterdam, for work or shopping, you'd take a tram at the station of Brielle. As this station was situated within the shooting range of the town, the station building was (and still is) a small cosy wooden house. Get on the train, and via villages like Zwartewaal, Heenvliet, Geervliet you would reach Spijkenisse. (Photo 15) Here the train would be combined with a train coming from Hellevoetsluis, with passengers who'd have come with the boat-train from the next isle. At Spijkenisse, the conductor had to warn the bridge controller of the bridge across the Old Maas. (Photo 16) Crossing the bridge, the tram had to mingle with the road-traffic, which caused problems every now and then with drivers who weren't used to this. After the bridge, the expanding town of Hoogvliet was reached, and soon after the outskirts of Rotterdam were reached. The last part, on the double track through Rotterdam, was always rather dangerous, as many people didn't take notice of the oncoming train, which resulted in many accidents. The Maastunnel-square especially had a bad reputation, as traffic here was very busy, so the steam-whistle or two-toned horn was used very frequently. Finally, after crossing the railway tracks of the shunting yard of the Dutch state railways, the Rose-street was reached where the main terminus of the RTM was located. This was a very busy station, as most of the lines ended here, and most of the technical facilities and the main shunting yard of the RTM too. (Photo 17) Add some tracks to nearby situated factories and docks, and the picture is complete.

As mentioned before, the first lines were abandoned in the mid fifties for several reasons. One of them was the derailment of a train in 1956 due to lack of maintenance on a piece of track. In the sixties, only the most modern lines to Hellevoetsluis and Oostvoorne were still in operation. As buses were believed to be the best solution for the public transport and cars became more and more common, in 1966 these lines were closed too. In and around Rotterdam, a modern Metro has taken over, though the electric city tram is still alive and kicking. In some way it's been a good thing that the rail service was terminated, as a considerable amount of the rolling stock has been saved, which would have been questionable if the line would have remained operational.

About the author: Born in 1963, I never really saw the line in operation. Having been an active member of the RTM preservation society for 10 years, I've become very well acquainted with the history of the RTM, and have published some articles on the RTM in the Dutch railway press. For questions on the RTM you may email me:
Peter van der Els <>

About the RTM museum:

For general RTM information, please click here!
The museum is a foundation working with only volunteers and publishes a quarterly illustrated magazine called 'The Tramkoerier' for it's donators. You may become a donator for DFL 30,- per year.

The workshop with exposition and giftshop (see the big black dot map on the (Map) may be visited Saturdays and Wednesdays,
G.C. Schellingerweg 2 (De Punt West),
The Netherlands.
the mail address:
Stichting RTM Grevelingen,
Postbus 25,
The Netherlands.

About the photographs: All photos are from my archive or the RTM's and, except for my own (today's) pictures, the takers are mostly unknown. Therefore, I couldn't mention any names, and I apologize beforehand for using them without their consent. The map is taken from the RTM museum guide.

Photo List and Discriptions