Traverser bridges: Step-by-step sideways, along the main lines.

Showcases  — Sun 24 Sep 2023

Back from being almost gone!
Around the turn of the millennium there were still 3 functioning traverser bridges in the Netherlands. Not much if we compare it to better times and not much if we compare it to neighboring countries. But first let's explain what kind of traverser bridges we are looking at. After all, they come in many forms. Think of Sydney's monorail, which has one in use and even traverser bridges can be found in various roller coasters. But in this article we are of course referring to traverser bridges that move regular rail vehicles, including trams and metro trainsets, in a sideways direction on the tracks. In short, the purpose of a traverser bridge is to move equipment from one track to another faster, easier and more flexibly than via a switch street. And then also on a smaller base than a switch street would need for the same situation. This formula works best in a situation involving short equipment, such as separate locomotives, wagons or carriages. The site is preferably relatively short and wide and may also require a somewhat flexible track bundle. We quickly think of locations where rolling stock is built and maintained or industrial sites where goods are moved by rail. That may be because large quantities are involved, but in this case also when small numbers of objects are involved that are large and/or heavy and can therefore most conveniently be transported by rail.

Back in the day, “when everything was better”.
In any case, we have seen at least 50 roller bridges come and go in the Netherlands. Some interesting locations include the Werkspoor site in Vleuten, now surrounded by the city of Utrecht. In its heyday, around 1915, no less than 9 traverser bridges served simultaneously on the site. But Tilburg also had an area where, in its heyday, about 5 traverser bridges were in active service at the same time. In both and many other situations, we see that the traverser bridges are sometimes moved, expanded or demolished according to the wishes of the moment. They therefore form a more permanent element in the space than, for example, rolling stock, but they seem to be handled a little more flexibly than, for example, large buildings. An age of 10 years can certainly be expected and 50 years of service is the rule rather than the exception. But a monument status is seldom reserved for the traverser bridge. The presence of traverser bridges was not limited to large numbers on a few large sites. Main workshop Haarlem has only had 1 traverser bridge for a long time. And also in places like Hengelo and Beverwijk there were traverser cranes. In those cases on the sites of private companies. The mining affairs in Zuid Limburg had a variety of traverser bridges at various locations, because in all cases traverser bridges were custom built. If we reduce our focus to the national level, we can say that from about 1850 the number of traverser bridges increased until about the period around 1930. After that, the number slowly but surely decreased to the lowest point in the 1990s.
During that period we found:
- 1 large bridge in a hall of the former NS main workshop in Tilburg.
- 1 large bridge outside on the RET workshop site, “Kleiweg” in Rotterdam.
- And 1 large bridge outside on the GVB workshop site in Diemen. This is the only one in the Netherlands with a roof to protect rolling stock against precipitation.

The tide seems to have turned.
The perhaps typical Dutch urge for innovation led us, among other things, to the demolition of the Tilburg traverser bridge around 2013. The former Rotterdam bridge was “promoted” to a museum piece around 2019. And that would have meant that only the traverser bridge in Diemen is still in active service. But in that same relatively short period, namely between 2005 and 2020, no less than 5 new traverser bridges appeared in an equally relatively small part of the Netherlands, namely only the municipality of Rotterdam!
Let's make a short list for the interested among us:
C.a. 2006 Workshop Albert Plesmanweg (Waalhaven).
The dark blue bridge is about 20 meters long. The pit connects 14 tracks over a width of about 100 meters. At the time of writing, in 2023, the traverser bridge is in active, professional service and clearly visible from the public sidewalk of Albert Plesmanweg.

C.a. 2012 Euromax container terminal (Maasvlakte).
The predominantly dark blue bridge is about 32 meters long. The pit connects 7 tracks over a width of about 45 meters. This bridge is not very visible. Photos and satellite images on the internet provide the best insight for most of us. The traverser bridge serves to place the locomotives of container trains on the bypass track, given that the railway yard is only accessible on the west side.

C.a. 2018 Between the A15 and the Brittanniëhaven (Rozenburg).
The “little brother” of the traverser bridge at the Euromax terminal. The predominantly dark blue bridge is about 21 meters long. Who knows where to look can see this bridge from the A15, if the surrounding area is not too crowded. The pit connects 5 tracks over a width of approximately 37 meters. The traverser bridge serves to place the locomotives of container trains on the circulation track, given that the railway yard is only accessible on the east side.

C.a. 2019 LWR traction workshop (Maasvlakte).
The light blue (or according to some people “Siemens gray”) bridge is about 22 meters long. The pit connects 10 tracks over a width of approximately 55 meters. Incidentally, the tracks are not always directly opposite each other. For manufacturer Bemo this is the 3rd bridge in this environment.

C.a. 2019 RET workshop Kleiweg (Rotterdam North).
With a bridge length of 46 meters and a well width of approximately 120 meters, it is the largest traverser bridge in the Netherlands. Also special is the connection to the bus, tram and metro network of Rotterdam. The gray bridge, called traverse at the RET, was built in 2018 and has been in active professional service since 2019. In 2023, the old red 20-metre-long bridge in a pit, of which 125 meters remain, will only be used as a footpath at the entrance on Rozenlaan. Although the monumental one can still be admired from the Rozenlaan, a better picture of the new traverser bridge can be obtained via various internet sources.

Across national borders.
Including the bridge on the VSM workshop site in Apeldoorn, we know in 2023, 7 functioning traverser bridges within our national borders. A nice number if we compare it with the 1990s, but only meager if we compare it with our neighboring countries. Take Belgium. Both in the 1990s and in 2023, they have about 15 traverser bridges in active service. Mainly at NMBS, but also at other parties. In Belgium, the urge to innovate seems to play a less important role. The average age of the traverser bridges there is certainly well above that of the Dutch ones in 2023, although the last new one was also built there in 2019. It is located in the town of Melle, near Gent, and together with the completely new workshop site replaces an old complex with two traverser bridges a little closer to the city limits of Gent. What is currently also much more common in Belgium than in the Netherlands are sites where two or three traverser bridges are used on one site. We have not known that in the Netherlands since the 1970s. Over the years, the Germans and the British have also had numerous traverser bridges at their disposal, which means that there are more traverser bridges per km2 and per number of inhabitants than in the Netherlands. Who knows, the 1990s may go down in the books as a one-off low point for Dutch traverser bridge history and we are now steadily on our way to better times.
Because say for yourself: It is far too beautiful and versatile a piece of technology to allow to be shunted sideways out of our existence.

Rolbrug werkplaats Kopenhagen
Traverser bridge Copenhagen, Denmark. Active in 2023

2e Rolbrug bij werkplaats Kopenhagen
2e active traverser bridge on the same terrain, but completely different in model

Rolbrug werkplaats Albert Plesmanweg Rotterdam
Traverser bridge detail Albert Plesmanweg Rotterdam, in 2007

Rolbrug werkplaats Tilburg 2015
Traverser bridge Tilburg, out of service since 2013, photo 2015

Rolbrugdetail werkplaats Tilburg 2015
Tilburg traverser bridge, bridge deck also suitable for road vehicles and pedestrians

Oude rolbrug bij NS hoofdwerkplaats Haarlem
Old traverser bridge from workshop Haarlem in 1989
(Photo H. Baardemans)
Rolbrug LWR traction workshop (Maasvlakte)
A sequel.

We are provided with sufficient traverser bridge information to produce meters of text, for example about various construction details, exceptional specimens in size and functionality, numerous names in various languages, the versatile purposes of use and extensive information about the intriguing relationships between the traverser bridges and their immediate surroundings. But of course it also has to be fun for the readers.
If you still want to know more, or want to exchange thoughts on this subject, feel free to let us know on the forums, by e-mail, or on our Facebook page

Active traverser, LWR traction workshop (Maasvlakte)
A video with the actual example of the traverser bridges and a selection of the Markenburg traverser bridges model developments.