Badger train stoppage will continue for weeks; Badgers digging in 40 locations
It will be weeks before two train routes will be back up and running after a badger den underneath sections of rail raised concerns about the stability of the railroad. The NS timetable was updated this week to indicate that trains affected by the badgers will not run until at least April 24 between Workum and Stavoren in Friesland. On Tuesday, railroad infrastructure firm ProRail said that trains will also have to stop running for a week between Den Bosch and Eindhoven in Noord-Brabant, however that now looks like it will take even longer. A bus service is replacing the trains in both locations.
Badgers are digging near or under the train tracks at 40 locations, particularly in the eastern part of the Netherlands, according to ProRail. The organization previously applied for permission to remove the badgers affecting the track in Friesland, and on Tuesday filed an application to do the same in Esch, Noord-Brabant. However, it will be a few more weeks "before trains can run on the track again," a ProRail spokesperson told Nu.nl.
The news outlet said a badger den, or sett, involves tunnels that are roughly 30 centimeters wide. A family of badgers living together can burrow extensively until they have created as many as 30 different rooms in one sett. Each room is about 50 centimeters high.
The application process just to get approval to remove badgers can take about 13 weeks under normal circumstances. It can take up to two weeks to motivate the badgers to move from the area, ProRail said.
Forty locations under surveillance
A spokesperson told ANP that the railroad firm has known about the animals for years, and dozens of locations where badger activity is known are being closely monitored. He said it was an exceptional situation in Molkwerum, Friesland, and Esch, Noord-Brabant, where the trains are not running because of concerns that the tracks will buckle or sink due to a clear increase in the digging by the badgers.
Since the badger is a protected species, ProRail needs approval from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) to enact any measures. “The badgers do not cause problems everywhere, so we can’t just chase them away,” said the spokesperson.
ProRail has known about the setts near Esch for some time and has already started the procedure to carry out repairs. Over the past few days, an inspection showed that badgers had suddenly started digging much more actively, with direct consequences for the track's safety.
ProRail says it can no longer guarantee rail traffic safety due to the badger dens in Molkwerum and Esch. ProRail CEO John Voppen has already argued for measures to be taken more quickly, as the closure of these tracks has significant consequences for travelers and freight transporters. Emergency consultations are underway with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management on this matter.
An RVO spokesman said that "people were immediately dispatched" to review ProRail's application. Ecologists and lawyers will assess whether measures are required, and which measures may be taken. It is not possible to say how long the assessment of the application will take.
Permission expected in Friesland this week, later for Noord-Brabant
ProRail expects to receive permission to move the badgers in Molkwerum on Wednesday or Thursday. The railway manager started work there last Sunday with the construction of an artificial den. The animals will have to leave their current home in the near future, using measures meant to discourage them, such as scent trails, or the use of light and sound. The spokesperson expects the entire process to take more than a month, as it also includes track repairs and installing miles of fencing in the ground to prevent the animals from returning.
It is still unclear whether this approach will also be used in Esch. According to ProRail, the situation there may be different from Molkwerum, and a custom approach is needed for each location.
Reporting by ANP and NL Times