During a century the Hoek van Holland Haven station was the starting point of many international boat trains. For British travelers, arriving by ferry from Harwich, 'the Hook' was the gateway of the continent. From there they took the train to Berlin or the luxurious Rheingold to Switzerland. After World War II the number of international services reached a peak with trains such as the Holland-Scandinavia Express and even the Orient Express.
Exactly 100 years after its opening, the last international train left the station for Moscow. Today only photos and posters remind of Hook of Holland's heyday.
by Arjan den Boer
From 1875 onwards there had been a ferry connection between the Netherlands and England, departing from the Vlissingen (Flushing) terminus station of the State Railways. The Zeeland Steamship Company (SMZ) was established for this service. Many British, boarding at Queenborough, used the Flushing route to travel to Berlin.
In 1893 HSM, a competitor of the State Railways, opened a railway station at Hook of Holland. The British Great Eastern Railway (GER) started a ferry service from Harwich. The Hook ferry soon became the most populair one because of its proximity to large Dutch cities. Flushing-based SMZ responded with three new luxury steamships.
In 1893 the prominent Dutch architect H.P. Berlage designed a poster for the 'new short route'. It included plans of the Harwich and Hook stations, a timetable and a map of international connections, captioned 'From Vienna to Chicago'.
GER provided both day and night services to Hook of Holland. The names of the steamships Amsterdam, Berlin, Dresden, Munich and Vienna offer a good indication of the railway destinations. The foreign ones were reached by sleeping cars of the Prussian railways, hauled by HSM locomotives in the Netherlands.
Around 1905 a new HSM connection to northern Germany via Almelo, Salzbergen and Osnabrück decreased travel times. The SMZ at Flushing responded by changing its UK destination to Folkestone, which was a shorter crossing.
In 1907 a severe storm hurled the SS Berlin against the Hook of Holland pier. 128 of the 143 passengers did not survive this major accident.
During World War I, shipping services between England and neutral Holland continued, but were severely hindered by German mines an U-boats by 1917.
After World War I, GER was a shareholder of the German Mitropa sleeping car company, which made a London-Berlin and a London-Holland-Munich Express possible. In 1923 GER, including the Hook ferry, merged into LNER (London & North Eastern Railway).
The different Dutch railway companies had started working together as Dutch Railways (NS), which reduced the Flushing-Hook of Holland competition. In 1927 Flushing's SMZ shipping company was forced to change its port of arrival to Harwich, where it had to cooperate with LNER. From now on the day ferry sailed to Flushing and the night ferry to Hook of Holland.
The ferry services from Flushing (SMZ) and Hook (LNER) were now promoted together.
SMZ renewed its old advertisement with the seaman; there was now SMZ-LNER on his cap. LNER commissioned a poster by the celebrated designer A.M. Cassandre with the caption 'The Continent, via Harwich'.
In 1928 Hook of Holland was the starting point of a prestigious new train of Mitropa and the Deutsche Reichsbahn, called Rheingold. It connected the North Sea to the Alps, running along the Rhine. It was the German answer to the luxury Pullman trains of French competitor Wagons-Lits.
At the same time the British railway companies Southern Railway and LNER were contending for travelers to the continent. Southern cooperated with Wagons-Lits and the French railways on the Dover-Calais link, while LNER teamed up with Mitropa and the German railways on the Hook-Harwich connection.
Around 1925 the Balkan Express was launched from London via Hook of Holland to Istanbul and Athens. It was an effort to compete with the Simplon Orient-Express from Calais and Paris. The service, which was short-lived, probably consisted of some Mitropa through-carriages running in several separate trains.
From 1940 to 1945 the ferries were shut down. The Hoek van Holland Haven station was relatively untouched by the war, as opposed to Flushing. In November 1945 a decorated train marked the reopening of the night ferry to Harwich. The Flushing SMZ decided to move to Hook of Holland.
SMZ's first Hook-Harwich day ferry left in 1947. From 1952 onwards SMZ had a pooling agreement with British Rail, which had absorbed LNER. Later, British Rail ferries were rebranded Sealink, a name that was also applied to SMZ ships.
From 1946 to 1962 Hook of Holland was a transport hub of the British army and military administration in Germany. Every other day military trains arrived and a special ship went back and forth. A large transit camp near the station not only held sleeping and dining barracks but also a cinema and a dance hall.
The number of travelers grew rapidly after the war. Before 1940 the night ferry had an average of 170 passengers, in 1950 there were almost 600. The number of day ferry passengers could reach 1450 during the weekends.
To make room for the shipping company and customs authorities, construction of a new station terminal next to the 1893 station started in 1947.
Railway station architect Sybold van Ravesteyn designed an elongated facade with a repetitive vertical segmentation that revealed Italian influences. On its roof, statues by Jo Uiterwaal depicted nautical themes. Completed in 1950, the building's largest part was the customs hall.
The first post-war international train leaving Hook of Holland was the Holland-Scandinavia Express to Copenhagen in 1947. It connected to the night ferry from Harwich and ran via Amersfoort, Oldenzaal, Osnabrück, Bremen and Hamburg. After Copenhagen, there was a connection to the ferry to Malmö (Sweden); during some periods through-carriages ran to Stockholm.
In 1952 the Nord-West Express started running alongside the 'Scandex'. It had the same route but ran overnight, connecting to the day ferry from Harwich.
In 1957 a new high-speed service was launched on part of the Scandinavian route: the London-Hamburg Express. Fast German diesel trainsets of the VT 08 class were employed, featuring only 1st class seats. In 1958 it was discontinued already due to lack of interest.
Wagons-Lits operated the dining cars on most international trains, including the Holland-Scandinavia Express. At Hook of Holland the supply of fresh meat, vegetables and beverages took place.
In the trains of the German railways, such as the Rheingold, the dining car service was provided by DSG, the West German successor to Mitropa.
Most night trains, like the Nord-West Express from Hook of Holland to Scandinavia, also included Wagons-Lits sleeping cars. Additionally, Dutch en Danish 'couchette' coaches with berths were available.
An almost forgotten fact is that one could board the Orient Express at Hook of Holland between 1950 and 1952. It was not the Simplon Orient Express to Istanbul, which had seen some through-carriages leaving from The Netherlands before the war. It was the 'regular' Orient Express having Vienna as its final destination.
Wagons-Lits sleeping cars left from Hook of Holland and from Amsterdam. Via Venlo and Cologne they reached Nuremberg where there was a connection to the Orient Express from Paris to Vienna. There were also through-coaches to Prague, Warsaw and Berlin.
If you have a rich imagination, you'll soon find yourself romanticizing when you, as we did, walk along an empty Orient Express, which can be found in daytime at the platform of Hook of Holland. Then you won’t be surprised that so many novels and even some pieces of music flowed from the pens of as many writers and composers celebrating this train.
The departure of the Orient Express is almost imposing. It is quiet on the platform, as if everyone feels somewhat impressed. The gloved Frenchman of the Wagon Lits shuts the door of the sleeping car. At exactly 7:53 pm the long train slowly comes in motion and starts on its multi-day journey to the Orient.
Dutch Railways magazine 'Nieuw Spoor', September 1950
After the war the new Deutsche Bundesbahn tried to revive the legendary Rheingold from Hook of Holland and Amsterdam to Basel. An express train with three passenger classes started on this route, but it lacked the prewar luxury and took a long time.
In 1951 the new Rheingold Express was introduced with new streamlined 1st and 2nd class carriages. It was followed by a second express to Basel, named Rheinpfeil or Rhine-Arrow Express. In 1953 the first one was renamed Loreley Express and the other one Rheingold Express. In 1965 the Rheingold joined the Trans Europ Express (TEE), a fast and luxury rail network connecting 90 European cities.
Around 1960 the three dead-end tracks of Hook of Holland's station were often all occupied by international trains. Besides the Colonia Express to Cologne, the Harz Express to Hanover also ran during summer. The Austria and Brittannia Express services took British holidaymakers to Austria and northern Italy.
During the Cold War era the Hook-Warszawa Express was the most remarkable train. Besides carriages for East Berlin and the Polish capital of Warsaw, this train also had a sleeping car of the Soviet railways to Moscow. The Warszawa Express would continue as the last international train from the Hook until 1993.
In 1963 Hook of Holland's station was made suitable for car sleeper trains (Motorail). An increasing number of ferry passengers took their own car instead of the train, especially after the introduction of the large car ferry Queen Juliana in 1968. Only a quarter of the passengers still arrived by train in 1980.
In the 1970s the TEE Rheingold abandoned Hook of Holland and in 1988 the Holland-Scandinavia Express was terminated. Shortly after, Stena Line took over the ferry. In 1993 the last international train left the station. Until 2006 an Intercity connected the Hook to Amsterdam.
The international tracks of Hook of Holland now lie deserted. Today a slow train to Rotterdam is all that's left. In 2017 Hoek van Holland Haven will become a local light-rail station.
Hook of Holland, gateway of the Continent
Hoek van Holland Haven, poort van Europa in: Nieuw Spoor, September 1950
Sporen over Zee, magazine accompanying exhibition at Spoorwegmuseum, Utrecht, 15 October 2010-13 March 2011
Stationsinfo.nl Hoek van Holland Haven
Martijn van Vulpen De Hoekse lijn
Spoorwegmuseum/Geheugen van Nederland, Spoorwegen in beeld