It is considered a station of the future, the completely reconstructed railway station of Driebergen-Zeist (near Utrecht). The station has become even better suited to safely cycle to, park your bicycle and take the train. A level railway crossing was replaced by an underpass, there are now 4 railway tracks, there is an expanded bus station and there are parking garages for 600 cars and for over 3,000 bicycles. It is easy to reach on foot, by bicycle and bus, but also by car. An executive council member looked at the new station from a driver’s point of view. In a video he said: “Here in Zeist we are very happy with the fact that we went from horrible traffic bottleneck to a fantastic public-transport hub. People no longer have to wait 20 minutes per hour for the closed railway crossing, but they can drive on.”
The intercity station was opened on 2 March 2020 after a three year reconstruction. That was 9 months earlier than planned. When the decision was taken for this project, in 2016, after it had been planned from as early as 2002, it was estimated that it would cost about 90 million euros. The project was necessary for several reasons. Traffic on a major road had to wait for over 20 minutes per hour for the level crossing. That would have increased dramatically because the railways are planning to expand their services. As part of the high frequency program, intercity trains between Utrecht and Arnhem will run every 10 minutes in both directions on top of the local sprinter trains. There was not enough parking space for cars, nor for bicycles and the bus station could do with an update too. After considering several options the new station was going to be on the same spot as before, but on a lower level. The road passing the station could also be on that lower level, so that the railway could stay on ground level. The railway tracks are now on a 140 metre long deck over that lowered level. This meant that the railway tracks did not have to be raised or relocated and that the impact of this project on the surrounding forest would be as low as possible. The station of Driebergen and Zeist is exceptional. It is located in the middle of the forest, between the towns, about 3.2 km from Zeist and about 2.5 km from Driebergen.
Even though the railway tracks had to be replaced completely and the reconstruction took three years, the trains were only out of service for two periods of 16 days and one weekend prior to that. Road traffic did not have to be stopped at all, thanks to a second level crossing that could be used in the building phase. In a weekend in May 2017, the trains were out of service for the first time for preliminary works. That year a temporary bicycle parking facility was created, the bus station next to the station was opened, the old station was demolished (in just one weekend in September) and a temporary train station was opened in October. Lastly, in November 2017, the new parking garage for 600 cars was opened, in a new building, a few hundred metres from the station under construction.
In 2018, most of the construction of the new station took place. The lower level (below the groundwater table) was created as a watertight giant concrete box using underwater concrete. In the meantime the new railway deck was constructed on site. With 140 metres it is the longest in the Netherlands. It was shoved in place in August over a distance of 170 metres, in the first 16 day construction period in which no trains could run.
In those 16 days, three shifts of personnel worked 24 hours per day for 7 days a week. With 750 people working on site, at the same time, work that would otherwise have taken two-and-a-half months could be done in a little over two weeks. The railways proudly showed what an enormous amount of work that was, in a video report and a timelapse. After this first train free period people could use the new underpass and the traffic jams were instantly over. Also during this time, the historic canopy had been carefully disassembled to be restored off site.
Construction went on for all of 2019. The two new railway tracks were shoved in place on a similar deck as the one placed in 2018 and the restored station roof returned to be a familiar reference point for people, even though it is now on a slightly different location as before. In October 2019, a cycle viaduct was placed over the lowered main road. This viaduct makes it easier to cycle to some nature reserves near the station. The first 4 trees were planted in the lowered area in December. The water management in the concrete box is rather complicated. The entire station area is in this box below street level and below the ground water table. Rain water is caught and stored in underground tanks the size of a football field. All 320 new trees are effectively planted in concealed concrete planters. The stored rain water can be used to water these trees in drier periods, but it can also be used for the nearby nature reserves.
The last train free 16 day period took place in February 2020. During this time the temporary station and the temporary level crossing were removed and the last details of the new station were finished. From 17 February 2020, the new underground bicycle parking garage, with space for over 3,000 bicycles, could be used. The entire new station was in use from 2 March 2020, just 10 days before the pandemic stopped everything in the Netherlands. The planned opening festivities for May 2020 did not take place due to COVID-19. It is also why I only now had the opportunity to visit the station, one-and-a-half years later.
The station is beautiful and very inviting. With the long train decks the underpass isn’t in a dark tunnel the whole area is open and clear. While it is a concrete box in reality, the entire lowered area with the park-and-ride and the underpass feels like a natural open space. That, and the high quality of the used materials for the street furniture, enhances the feeling of social safety. The bicycle parking garage, even deeper under street level, does not feel dark either. There is now so much experience in building such modern facilities in the Netherlands that you simply do not see dark cellars being constructed anymore. The only negative points I heard of, were about the surface of the cycle ways (brick, not the much smoother red asphalt) and a tight turn in a cycle way at the bottom of a slope, which is unwanted and really should not have been planned like that. Apart from that, most people are very satisfied with the new station, which is expected to be a model for future stations in the country side.