Unused railway line now a city hotspot
Rotterdam has an historical railway line in the middle of the city, located behind Hofplein. The trains are gone, but thankfully, the old structure beneath the tracks has managed to escape the demolition hammer. It has become an increasingly popular space for creative entrepreneurs to set up shop.
Words: Evelien Baks
New York has its High Line and Rotterdam its Hofpleinviaduct. In Manhattan, trains stopped running on the 2.33km-railway line back in 1980. Here, trains only stopped using Rotterdam’s Hofplein line in 2010. The Americans decided to build a huge park on their old route. Every year millions of people visit to take a stroll or stop for lunch. There are plans to create a similar park on Rotterdam’s 1.9km-long abandoned railway viaduct. That would signify a glorious revival for the historical route that trains thundered along for more than 100 years.
The railway line was conceived towards the end of the 19th century thanks to a few distinguished gentlemen who were keen to see a rail link between the port city on the Maas and the popular seaside resort of Scheveningen. It meant the city’s inhabitants would be able to head off to the North Sea for a day at the seaside, and the harbour barons who had moved to live in or near chic The Hague would have transportation to and from Rotterdam. The construction of the railway line, the first electric line in the Netherlands, took three years and began operating in 1907.
In Rotterdam, the first section was built on top of a solid foundation, the so-called Hofbogen, which elevated the tracks so the roads below could be kept clear. The structure, with its many arches, was made of reinforced concrete, a novelty at the time. When it was finished, Rotterdam had a structure boasting 14 traffic lanes and no fewer than 189 spans.
Although the Hofbogen was designed as an open structure, it wasn’t long before shop fronts were installed, much to the delight of Rotterdam entrepreneurs who were very quick to move their businesses into the spaces. Part of the drive to set up business there may have been due to the fact that the train line had started to transport more and more goods, such as fresh fish from The Hague. That meant trade.
The Hofbogen and Hofplein Station were not spared during the bombing of the city in May 1940 and were pretty much reduced to a pile of smoldering rubble. A new station was built, the design taking into consideration the space beneath it as well. The flattened city centre had a huge shortage of retail space and so it made sense that the Hofbogen would play a role in addressing the problem. A long, industrial building was thus created. The last train departing from Hofplein Station blew its whistle for the final time on the evening of August 16th, 2010. Nowadays, all trains come and go from Rotterdam Central Station.
That final whistle also meant the beginning of the decline of the Hofbogen. For several years, the Hofbogen area was not the sort of place to wander around on your own after the dark. But the tide has certainly turned! In 2002, the viaduct was given ‘National Monument’ status, the title ushering in a sparkling new life for the Hofbogen.
Ask any Rotterdammer for tips on the best, most lively and interesting places to visit in town and I’ll bet the pimped-up Hofbogen scores high on the list.
In the block closest to the city centre, you’ll find a number of popular restaurants, including Bird (also a pop venue) and the starred restaurant, FG. In the next block, as you walk towards Bergweg, there are trendy shops and creative workshops. Fashion, design, barbers, furniture makers, home decor – it’s all there. And one of the city’s most gorgeous flower shops just moved in this summer as well.
Be sure to go upstairs and visit the Luchtpark, a green oasis with fruit trees growing healthy vitamins right in the middle of the city. Open every day from 10 AM until sunset. The entrance is at FG Restaurant, next to the yellow Luchtsingel.