Amsterdam Central Station Tunnel

For the first time since the Amsterdam Central Station was built in the 1880s there is now a tunnel to pass straight under it. Last Saturday, 21 November 2015, it was finally opened. Building started already in 2011 and the tunnel had been finished long ago, but at the exit cars were still in the way. Only after the riverside car tunnel behind the station was also finished, it was possible to create a safe exit and the tunnel could now be opened, almost two years behind schedule.

Not only pedestrians admired the tile mural. This woman draws the attention of the rider behind her to it. Clearly visible in this picture are the exit of the tunnel and the light strip separating the pedestrian area from the cycle area, which are both safety features.

The tunnel is only to be used for cycling and walking. It is 110 metres long, 10 metres wide and 3 metres high. It is expected that 15,000 cyclists and 10,000 pedestrians will use the tunnel daily. The division between walking and cycling is very clear. Each mode gets 5 metres of the total width. The brightly lit pedestrian area, clad in Delft blue tiles, is at a slightly higher level than the cycleway. That cycleway is kept dark and a strip of light marks the edge. This will let people walking know – subconsciously – where they should not go. Influencing behaviour by design is something that happens more often in Dutch public space because it is much more successful than putting up signs. The dark material behind the steel grating on the wall and ceiling of the cycle part of the tunnel is in fact a soft sound absorbing material. This is the reason that the sounds in the tunnel are pleasantly reduced. There is no echo either. Social safety is enhanced by the fact that the tunnel is light and open and that you can always see the end of the tunnel. There are no dark corners for people to hide in.

The tunnel entrance at the city centre side was kept very plain and simple.

The tunnel gives access to the ferry terminal right behind the Central Station. Before this tunnel was open people had to either walk through the station or ride around it to reach the ferries to the North of Amsterdam. For cycling that meant a 3 minute ride. The tunnel can be traversed in less than a minute. So it shaves 2 minutes off every journey. The railways no longer want non-travellers in their stations, so that was another reason to build a route to bypass the station building.

The waterfront exit. The tunnel is implemented in the new bus station and taxi stand now at the back of the station building. A brand new hall was also built.

The tunnel was designed by Benthem Crouwel Architects, who also designed the Paleisbrug in ʼs-Hertogenbosch. About 9,000 tons of sand and rubble had to be removed to dig this tunnel that consists of 20 concrete elements weighing 100 tons each. They are supported by 110 pilings, drilled deep into the ground.

The tile mural in the tunnel drew a lot of attention already on the first day. Inset: the original early 1700s tile mural that the new one was inspired by.

The main eye catcher in the tunnel is the 17th century style tile mural with a fleet of ships on water. The fishing boats are depicted while fishing on the IJ right behind Amsterdam’s Central Station, under the protection of several war ships. It is a modern rendition of a tile mural from about 1700 made by the artist Cornelis Bouwmeester, that belongs to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Irma Boom designed this new version and a remarkable detail (given the rivalry between Amsterdam and Rotterdam) is the fact that the main tall ship now shows the Amsterdam coat of arms, although the original ship sailed with the Rotterdam crest!

The tiles were hand painted in the factory in Friesland. Picture courtesy of Royal Tichelaar.
A model of the tunnel was constructed in the factory in Friesland to make sure that every tile would fit perfectly in its final location. Picture courtesy of Royal Tichelaar.

The decorative wall tiles were all hand formed and hand painted in a factory in Friesland. At Koninklijke Tichelaar in Makkum a model of the tunnel was built to make absolutely sure that all the 77,000 tiles would fit in the right position. It took two painters two years to transfer the design to the tiles, that have the traditional size of 13×13 centimetres. The curves of the tunnel got curved tiles so the walls are followed really smooth. All tiles were numbered and put in their final place in Amsterdam one by one and by hand. This work of art makes the otherwise plain tunnel really special. Already on the opening day many people took pictures of themselves with this beautiful backdrop.

Putting the tiles in their right position was done one by one and by hand. Picture courtesy of Knauf.

There was a storm of protest when the city of Amsterdam announced this summer that the cycleway through the tunnel would end in a shared space zone. With the existing cycleway alongside the IJ there are now three cycleways ending in that shared space zone. The space needs to be shared between people walking and cycling. Most of whom are going to or coming from one of the ferries. There was even an on-line petition to try and stop this plan, but the shared space zone was built. On the opening day it didn’t even look so strange. Considering that the ferries arrive and leave at different locations on the terminal every few minutes, the desire lines change all the time. With this shared space zone people are allowed to ride and walk where they please. It has to be noted, however, that it was a Saturday afternoon and it can be quite different from a morning or evening rush hour. The city will monitor how things go with cameras and there are stewards to guide people if it gets really busy. After some time the situation will be evaluated. Let’s hope the right decision was taken or will be taken if necessary. The first rush hour test was Monday morning and the local press reported no incidents. Everybody was careful and a bit insecure, there was some ringing and people used their brakes a lot, but the flow was smooth.

I marked the new tunnel with a red line on this detail of a map showing the (new) cycle routes around Amsterdam Central Station. Top centre you can see where the shared space zone at the ferry terminal is located. Three cycleways lead to it. Especially the fact that the East-West direct cycle route is now interrupted is something many people find hard to accept.

On the city centre side the cycleway connects to the network of cycleways that already exist. But also on this side a lot will change in the years to come. Private motorised traffic will be completely banned from the centre side, now that the riverside car tunnel at the back of central station is finished. In a post next week I will try to explain all about that enormous change.

Video with background information of the tunnel

Video showing rides through the tunnel during the day and at night

35 thoughts on “Amsterdam Central Station Tunnel

  1. I envy a place that makes room for cyclists. I also am glad that they make safetly a priority. Great pictures and maps–you put this together well.

  2. Reblogged this on bike-a-razzi and commented:
    Tja, das sind die Träume, die anderswo in Europa passieren. Heute Amsterdam. Ein Tunnel unterm Bahnhof rüber zur Fähre.
    Da ist an alles gedacht. Wunderschöne Wandfliesen für die Fußgänger, und Soundabsorber auf der Fahrradseite.
    Getrennt durch eine Lichtband in der Mitte.

    Meine Stadt hat auch einen Tunneln unterm Bahnhof (!) . Ein Bahnhof an dem niemand aussteigt und ein Tunnel der ein klaustrophobicher Alptraum ist.
    Dankzij NL Cycle voor de geweldige artikelen en videos. (google translator 🙂 )
    You are on my RSS List

  3. I really like the sound absorbing design; it makes it easier to hear people you’re walking or cycling with, and hear other people around you.

    I see they still haven’t done much to improve the chaos of people on the city centre side, but at least there seems to be a clearer cycle path between the station and the road on the main land (because the station is an island, right?). Of the dozen or so times I’ved biked to or from Amsterdam CS I’ve always found it a bit complicated to maneuver on a bicycle in this area.

  4. Another impressive infrastructure implemented by the Dutch. Congratulations! A very well engineered, aesthetically pleasing, and convenient creation.

    Interesting about the Amsterdam coat of arms on the tall ship. Saint Andrews crosses. That cross appears on a lot of flags including the one from Scotland.

    I wonder if there will be commemorative tiles available.

  5. Thanks Mark
    Looks like an excellent example of ‘influencing behaviour by design’
    not something we see so clearly practised for pedestrians and cyclists in Australia! Mostly we have designs to give priority for motor vehicles and to intimidate pedestrians and cyclists.

  6. I hope I didn’t make you think I wanted to murder you last week Mark when I asked whether you had in your will and testament that you have your corpse transported in a bakfiets. But I am wondering what you use in the cold of winter to stay warm. What are your personal tips for how to stay warm, and not soggy with sweat, when you cycle in the winter? I am already needing these tips because in my city it is already -13 degrees on an average day. Celsius. If you know how to fit a hat under a helmet, that would be appreciated too if you tell me.

    1. If you still want or must wear a helmet, there are special bicycle hats for beneath a regular cycling helmet. They are thinner as a regular winter hat so they fit under your bike helmet and go over your forehead and ears. Check a good cycling store.

      @meltdblog: if I would cylce in the Netherlands, i wouldn’t wear a helmet – but over here, in Switzerland, we usually have to “share the road” with cars. On a separated bike path, sure, no helmet. In my case, i have a speed pedelec and helmets are mantandory here in Switzerland for these kind of pedelecs. In Winter, i use the special “ebike helmet” from Casco, that type of helmet keeps you warm without an extra hat.

    2. When it is really cold I wear several layers of clothes under my coat. A good warm scarf, thermo gloves or mittens, no hat or cap but a thingy to keep my ears and forehead from freezing. Don’t forget, the medium Dutch cyclist rides a situp bike and in a moderate tempo.

    3. Simple: wear several layers. If you are cold, put another layer on. When you are too warm, take one layer off. The other layer should be windproof, to prevent the wind chill factor. Nylon, Gore-tex, tight woven cotton all works well to block the cold wind.The mid layers should be for warmth, so long johns under your normal baggy pants. shirt with long sleeve t-shirt made from fleece or wool, NOT cotton. Cottons absorbes a lot of sweat and make you very cold. Finally start with a t-shirt made from coolmax, it wicks moiture away big time. If you want to see a picture: google ecwcs generation 1 and 2. And don’t forget the scarf and gloves/ mittens. Any extremity will suffer from hypothermia/ frost bite, like fingers, toes, nose, ears and your big, yet little friend.
      I advise a tight fitting hoodie or balaclava under the helmet. IF you are allowed by law to wear a balaclava/ ski mask in public.

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