December 10 2013

Noord-Zuidlijn in Amsterdam: Digging a Metro Line under the Historic City

For the last ten years, visitors of Amsterdam have been surprised at the sight of several open construction sites in the city’s historic center. Starting at Central Station, open construction sites are found throughout the city until the South/WTC railway station. The reality is that those multiple sites are all part of one big project: the Noord-Zuidlijn (North-South line) new metro line.

Central Station, Amsterdam

Noord-Zuidlijn is the fourth and last metro line to complete Amsterdam’s public transportation network. It will increase Amsterdam’s transportation system length to about eighty km. Although planned in the sixties, the Noord-Zuidlijn (line 52) construction project did not start until 2002. The metro line 52 will connect Amsterdam-Noord (North Amsterdam) to Amsterdam-Zuid (South Amsterdam) by passing under the IJ Lake, and will transport more than 180,000 passengers per day.

Open construction pit, Amsterdam

The route is 9.2 km long, and the journey is expected to take sixteen minutes. The metro will run every four minutes during peak times and every five minutes during the rest of the day, stopping at eight stations. Service frequency will be reduced to ten minutes during night time. The new metro line will increase the importance of Amsterdam’s southern rail station, which will eventually overtake Central Station’s role as a regional transportation hub.

If the line 52 project realization was delayed for more than four decades, it is because it represents many technical and engineering challenges. The metro line is being constructed under Amsterdam’s historic fabric. Buildings in this part of the city are founded on wooden piles and rafts inserted in layers of sands, silts and clay deposits; any soil movement can be threatening to the buildings’ structure. TBM tunneling (Tunnel Boring Machine) was then adopted to reduce surface disruption and damages to a minimum. Part of the project also consisted in reinforcing the foundation of many landmark buildings, including Central Station itself. Nevertheless, several buildings along the construction route suffered damages and were declared uninhabitable.

TBM on site, Amsterdam

Despite its great engineering achievements, damaged historic buildings and other issues have caused many delays and budget adjustments to the metro project. Initially expected to cost 1.4 billion euros and to be finished in 2011, the new metro line has reached 3.2 billion euros in expenses and its completion is postponed to 2017.

To respond to Amsterdam’s residents’ questions and concerns, a visitor center was opened near Central Station where an exhibition dedicated to the metro line 52 tunneling techniques and involved stakeholders is installed. Visitors can also access a part of the construction site beneath Central station, where they can have a sense of the complexity of the project. Social media tools are also used to communicate with residents.

Visitor Center, Amsterdam

Transportation projects are big investments in time and money. Their insertion into existing built or natural environments often requires innovation and engineered solutions. Unfortunately some of the biggest infrastructure projects also often necessitate compromises, or even the destruction of the existing built or natural environment.

Despite time and budget overruns, the Noord-Zuidlijn is an example of an urban sensitive infrastructure project. What are some of the other infrastructure projects that adopted a conscious and sensitive approach to their environment?

Credits: Images by Sarah Essbai. Data linked to sources.

Sarah Essbai

Sarah Essbai graduated in 2013 with a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from Ball State University in Indiana where she pursued her studies as a Fulbright scholar. Prior to moving to the US, Sarah obtained her Diplome d’Architecte from the Ecole Nationale d’Architecture in Rabat, Morocco. In Morocco, Sarah worked on the development of a green lodging facility in the Moroccan desert as well as the historic rehabilitation of the historic center of Fez, her hometown. Sarah’s interests include affordable housing, which was the subject of her master’s thesis, community development, real estate crowdfunding and social design. She believes that within these topics, sustainability should be inherent and should be a necessary component of every design project and development.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 10th, 2013 at 9:18 am and is filed under Engineering, History/Preservation, Infrastructure, Transportation. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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