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The physical infrastructure in the Netherlands ranked 3rd worldwide, according to the World Economic Forum

Updated on 19 February 2024

It’s quite well known that the Netherlands has one of the best infrastructures in the world. The quality of Dutch roads is nearly unmatched, and all necessary commodities for businesses are always in close proximity due to the relatively small size of the country. You can literally travel to Schiphol airport and the port of Rotterdam in just two hours’ time from any place in the Netherlands. If you own a logistics business in the Netherlands, you are already well aware of all the benefits and perks that the Dutch infrastructure offers. If you are a foreign entrepreneur who would like to expand their logistics, import, and/or export business to the European Union, then rest assured that the Netherlands is one of the safest and most profitable bets you could place. The port of Rotterdam connects the country with the entire rest of the world, whilst it also benefits from the European Single Market due to being an EU member state.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Netherlands are home to the best infrastructure in the world. The Global Competitiveness Report, released by the WEF, ranks 137 countries on a scale where 7 points are the highest. Points are accumulated based on the quality of different types of infrastructure, such as railways, ports, and airports. As a result of these measurements, Hong Kong had a score of 6.7, Singapore 6.5, and the Netherlands 6.4.[1] This makes Holland the third-best country regarding infrastructure worldwide—no small feat. We will discuss the Dutch infrastructure in detail and how you, as an entrepreneur, can profit from its high quality and functionality.

The Netherlands performs exceptionally well compared to the rest of the world

The Netherlands is the main access point for all goods to the European continent, due to the accessibility of the country and the port of Rotterdam being the largest port in Europe. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that the Netherlands also has the best infrastructure to facilitate the transport of all these goods to the rest of Europe. Many high-quality highway connections have been established in the country to facilitate transportation from the coast of the Netherlands to the rest of the country. These roads are also very well maintained. Due to a very high level of urbanization, as Holland is very densely populated, most of the city's roads are built to include sidewalks for bicycles, allowing the country to avoid congestion on its roads. The widespread use of bicycles has also enormously aided in reducing pollution, although roughly 80% of citizens still use cars. Nonetheless, bicycling has actually become a trend worldwide, partly because of the large number of bicycles in Holland. It has even become somewhat of a Dutch staple, just like windmills and wooden shoes. The Netherlands also has several thousands of kilometers of railroad as well as advanced waterways. The country has a highly developed communication system and digital infrastructure as well, with a very high level of coverage. According to the Global Competitiveness Report 2020 of the WEF, the Netherlands scores 91.4% on "Upgrade infrastructure to accelerate the energy transition and broaden access to electricity and ICT”. Meaning that the Netherlands scores exceptionally high on both its physical and digital infrastructure. In short, the strategic location of the Netherlands as a gateway to European markets and its well-developed logistics infrastructure, including ports, airports, and extensive transportation networks, make it a prime choice for companies involved in global trade.

The importance of a solid infrastructure

A good infrastructure is of extreme importance if a country wants to facilitate trade, business in general, and the smoothtransportation of natural persons. It also has a direct impact on the economy of said country because it allows goods to be transported in an efficient manner to available ports, airports, and ultimately to other countries. Without a good infrastructure, goods will not reach their destination in time, which inevitably leads to economic loss. A highly developed infrastructure will help in the economic development and growth of a country. The connection between travel hubs and a good infrastructure is also notable, due to the shorter travel times and higher level of ease when traveling. If you are a foreign company based in the Netherlands, the quality of the infrastructure will massively aid your company if you are aiming for very fast delivery options and excellent connections to the rest of the world.

A world-class airport and port are within easy reach

The Netherlands has the largest port in Europe and a well-known international airport within easy reach of each other. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is by far the largest airport in the Netherlands, both in terms of passenger transport and cargo transport. Other civilian airports are Eindhoven Airport, Rotterdam The Hague Airport, Maastricht Aachen Airport, and Groningen Airport Eelde.[2] Furthermore, in 2021, 593 million metric tons of goods were handled in Dutch seaports. The Rotterdam port area (which also includes the ports of Moerdijk, Dordrecht and Vlaardingen) is by far the largest seaport in the Netherlands. 457 million metric tons were handled here. Other important seaports are Amsterdam (including Velsen/IJmuiden, Beverwijk, Zaanstad), North Sea Port (Vlissingen and Terneuzen, excluding Ghent), and Groningen Seaports (Delfzijl and Eemshaven).[3] You can reach both from any place in the Netherlands within a maximum of two hours, which is ideal if you aim for fast shipping.

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport

Schiphol started in 1916 on a dry-ground piece of land in the region known as Haarlemmermeer, which is close to the city of Haarlem. Thanks to courage and pioneering spirit, the national airport of the Netherlands has grown into a major global player in the last 100 years.[4] Due to the presence of Schiphol Airport, the Netherlands is excellently connected to the rest of the world by air. Schiphol also provides a lot of means for employment, both directly and indirectly. Partly because of Schiphol, the Netherlands is an interesting location for internationally operating companies. The Dutch are aiming to maintain that strong hub function. At the same time, attention must be paid to reducing the negative effects of aviation on people, the environment, and nature. There are various challenges around the airport in the fields of nitrogen, (ultra) particulate matter, noise pollution, quality of living environment, safety, and housing. This requires an integrated solution that offers certainty and perspective for both the hub function of Schiphol and the surroundings of the airport. European agreements on the fair taxation of aviation are actively supported. The level playing field within the EU and between the EU and third countries is central to this. The Dutch want rail transport in Europe to become a solid alternative to flying as soon as possible, both in terms of time and cost. At the national level, Schiphol commits to the blending of biokerosene and stimulates the production of synthetic kerosene.[5]

Port of Rotterdam

Rotterdam became the most important port city in the Netherlands during the nineteenth century, but the port itself has actually existed for many more centuries. The history of the port is actually interesting. Somewhere around the year 1250, a dam was built in the mouth of the peat river Rotte. At this dam, goods were transferred from riverboats to coastal vessels, marking the beginning of the port of Rotterdam. During the sixteenth century, Rotterdam developed into an important fishing port. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the port continued to expand, mainly to take advantage of the flourishing industry in the German Ruhr area. Under the direction of hydraulic engineer Pieter Caland (1826-1902), the dunes at Hoek van Holland were crossed and a new connection to the port was dug. This was called the ‘Nieuwe Waterweg’, which made Rotterdam much more accessible from the sea. New harbor basins were being constructed in the port itself, and machines, such as steam cranes, made the unloading and loading processes more efficient. Thus, inland vessels, trucks, and freight trains transported products faster to and from the ship. Unfortunately, during the Second World War, almost half of the port was heavily damaged by bombing. In the reconstruction of the Netherlands, the restoration of the port of Rotterdam is a top priority. The port then grew rapidly, partly due to the flourishing of trade with Germany. Expansions were already needed in the fifties; the Eemhaven and the Botlek date from this period. In 1962, the port of Rotterdam became the largest in the world. The Europoort was completed in 1964 and the first sea container was unloaded in Rotterdam in 1966. In the large steel sea containers, loose 'general cargo' can be transported easily and safely, which makes large-scale loading and unloading possible. The port continues to grow after that: the First and Second Maasvlakte will be put into operation in 1973 and 2013. [6]

As of today, Rotterdam is the largest port in the EU and ranks 10th worldwide. [7] Only Asian countries trump the port of Rotterdam, making it the largest port compared to continents like Africa and the US. To provide an example: in 2022, a total of 7,506 TEU (x1000) containers were shipped to the Netherlands and a total of 6,950 TEU (x1000) were shipped from the Netherlands, which equals a total of 14,455,000 containers that were imported and exported.[8] TEU is the designation for the dimensions of containers. The abbreviation stands for Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit.[9] In 2022, 257.0 million euros were invested in the port of Rotterdam. In doing so, the Dutch focus not only on infrastructure but also on stimulating the use of sustainable energy sources, such as hydrogen, CO2 reduction, cleaner air, employment, safety, health, and well-being. In this way, the Dutch government immediately fulfils their important social role by creating space for the transition to a sustainable port in all respects.[10] Globalization is increasing the movement of goods worldwide. This means that the competition is also growing. The Dutch government is keen on keeping Rotterdam competitive because the port is also known as a "main port," an important hub in the foreign trade network. For example, in 2007, the ‘Betuweroute’ was opened. This is a railway line intended exclusively for freight transport between Rotterdam and Germany. All in all, the port of Rotterdam keeps growing, expanding, and flourishing, creating a beneficial hub for all kinds of companies worldwide.

The Dutch infrastructure and its components

According to the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), the Netherlands has around 140 thousand kilometers of paved roads, 6.3 thousand kilometers of waterways, 3.2 thousand kilometers of railways, and 38 thousand kilometers of cycle paths. This includes a total of more than 186 thousand kilometers of traffic infrastructure, which equals nearly 11 meters per inhabitant. On average, a Dutch person lives 1.8 kilometers from a highway or main road and 5.2 kilometers from a train station.[11] Next to that, the infrastructure consists of objects such as locks, bridges, and tunnels. This infrastructure actually underpinsDutch society and the economy. And whilst the existing infrastructure is aging, it is being used more and more intensively at the same time. That is why the Dutch are working on optimal assessment, maintenance, and replacement of infrastructure in the Netherlands. Some interesting figures are, for example, the amount of money it costs the Dutch government to maintain all existing infrastructure, which is around 6 billion euros annually. Thankfully for the government, all Dutch citizens that own a car are legally obliged to pay ‘road-taxes’ on a quarterly basis, which can be used to maintain roads and other infrastructural components.

The choice to repair, renovate, or replace a part of the infrastructure largely depends on the condition of the infrastructureand also on the extent to which the roads are used. Logically, roads that are used more often also require more maintenance. The Dutch are working on innovative technologies to assess the existing infrastructure in the Netherlands and better maintain and replace it. The Dutch government is extremely committed to the accessibility of the entire country. The transport and logistics sectors are of huge economic importance to the Netherlands. A solid infrastructure is needed for basic activities such as getting to work, visiting family, or accessing education. The Dutch infrastructure is therefore well-maintained, of high quality, climate-adaptive, and fits together seamlessly. Topics such as safety, an eye for new developments, and sustainability are important. Continued investment in infrastructure and associated bottlenecks is thus essential and should be acted upon when necessary.[12]

How the Dutch analyze, prevent, and solve infrastructural risks

Infrastructural risks are always a possibility, even with high levels of maintenance and foresight. Roads are used every day, with a staggering amount of drivers that can cause problems at any moment. Whenever the quality of a road diminishes, the risks for users of the infrastructure grow at the same time. It is of vital importance that all roads are well-kept at any given moment, creating a challenging scenario for the Dutch government and all involved parties. One way the Dutch safeguard their infrastructure, is by assessing the structural safety and service life of all involved structures. Up-to-date and accurate information about the current and future state of steel and concrete structures is a huge gain for infrastructure managers. This is also where digitalization comes in, which we will cover later. In addition, the Dutch are working on condition forecasting. This encompasses, for example, the monitoring of structures, roads, and railways to determine the current condition of the structures. By using the measurement data as input for a predictive model, they know more about the possible future condition and how long the construction will last. Better condition forecasting ensures cost savings and prevents traffic disruptions without compromising safety.

The Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (Dutch: TNO) is a massive player in the maintenance of Dutch infrastructure. Amongst other things, they conduct research and innovation in the fields of water safety, tunnel safety, structural safety, and investigating the traffic load of certain structures. Safety in general is a prerequisite for all infrastructure; without proper analysis and safety management, it becomes unsafe for natural persons to use certain parts of the infrastructure. For many existing constructions, the current regulations are not sufficient anymore. The TNO uses analysis and assessment methods to develop frameworks for the safe use of the Dutch infrastructure. This means that construction work is not replaced until it is actually needed, which reduces costs and inconveniences. Next to that, the Dutch TNO uses probabilistic analyses in their risk assessments and analyses. In such analyses, the probability of a construction project failing is determined. The uncertainties that play a role in this are explicitly taken into account. Furthermore, the TNO conducts research on samples in their Building Innovation Lab under strict conditions. For example, researching factors like the long-term behavior and consistency of the roadsor significant properties of structures that are important in maintenance. In addition, they regularly carry out damage investigations on construction sites. If there is damage with a major impact, such as personal suffering, major financial consequences, or even a partial collapse, an independent investigation into the damage is important and should be carried out. The Dutch have forensic engineers available for an investigation into the cause. In the event of damage, they are able to immediately start an independent investigation together with other TNO experts, such as constructors. This gives a quick picture of the situation, and it becomes immediately clear whether more measures are needed.[13]

The Dutch government is gradually shifting towards an infrastructure that also has digital components, such as cameras. This, however, also means that cybersecurity risk becomes a larger concern. About three-quarters (76 percent) of global infrastructure leaders expect more attention to data security during the next three years. Which is no surprise since the number of attack vectors is growing exponentially as more and more components are connected to the internet. This doesn’t only entail highly sought-after personal data, but also asset data that can be interesting for a variety of commercial purposes. For example, you could think of traffic movements that enable a better prediction of routes in a navigation system. Solid and adequate protection is a must. In addition, there is also physical safety. Physical safety testing has shown that weaknesses can surface, enabling unwanted or unintended activities. Think, for example, of opening locks or pumping stations. This means that thinking carefully about segmentation is essential. Does an office automation system need to be linked to operational systems? A choice that needs to be considered at the front end of the entire infrastructure development process. In other words, security by design is needed. Taking cybersecurity into account from the start is crucial, as opposed to testing it afterwards, because then you run into the problem that the way of building is already several years old, while the way in which attacks take place has developed much further.[14] Foresight is essential in order to prevent accidents, attacks, and various other issues concerning infrastructure.

Sustainability is very important to the Dutch government

The Dutch TNO has solid and established goals in order to guarantee a sustainable way of maintaining infrastructure with as little harm as possible to the direct natural environment. With the sustainable goal in mind, the Dutch are able to use innovation and foresight during every part of the process. If you want to operate in a country with consistently high-quality infrastructure as an entrepreneur, the Netherlands should probably be at the top of your list. Due to continuous research and innovation, new methods of maintenance and surveillance, and an overall oversight of all things important, the Dutch infrastructure remains in excellent and pristine condition. The TNO highlighted the following goals for the near future:

·         Sustainable infrastructure

The TNO is committed to an infrastructure that has the least possible impact on the environment. They do this through innovations in design, construction, and maintenance. And they develop new solutions with governments and market parties. Rijkswaterstaat, ProRail and regional and municipal authorities take sustainability into account in their tenders. This is one of the reasons they are working on sustainable innovations and methods for better assessments of environmental performance. When working towards a sustainable infrastructure, they focus on three areas.

·         3 focus areas for sustainable infrastructure

The TNO is working on innovations to increase the environmental performance of infrastructure. They mainly focus on:

  • materials
  • product
  • processes

In which knowledge is an important factor for further development and implementation. The materials should be of the best quality, the product should be as promised, and the process should enable a smooth transition from materials to product.

·         Reducing emissions

According to the TNO, CO2 emissions from infrastructure can be reduced by 40% via more efficient use of materials and energy, life extension, reuse, and innovative materials, products, and processes. These measures often also entail a reduction in costs and other harmful substances. They are working on all kinds of innovations, from fuel-saving road surfaces to concrete made from waste materials, from a glass cycle path with solar cells to energy savings for construction equipment. The Dutch are very innovative in such approaches.

·         Closing raw material chains

Asphalt and concrete are the most commonly used materials in the Dutch infrastructure, but generally around the world as well. New and improved methods in recycling and production ensure that more and more raw materials are reusable. This results in smaller waste streams and less demand for primary raw materials such as bitumen, gravel, or cement.

·         Less damage and nuisance due to noise and vibrations

New railway lines, more and faster train traffic, and houses close to the railways require effective reduction of noise and vibrations. Among other things, the TNO conducts research into the severity of vibrations. This makes living next to a busy highway a lot more acceptable, and this is a very important factor in a densely populated country such as the Netherlands.

·         Environmental performance assessment

The TNO also develops methods to assess the environmental performance of infrastructure projects. This allows a client to translate their environmental objectives into clear and unambiguous requirements during a tender. Because market parties know where they stand, they can make a sharp, distinctive offer. In particular, the Dutch focus on methods that help assess the environmental performance of innovative solutions at an early stage. This enables innovation while keeping the risks manageable. They develop methods for determining sustainability performance both nationally and at EU level.[15]

As you can see, the Dutch have ranked sustainability as a very important factor for future activities, purposes, and in general. Whatever needs to be done is done in a way that requires the least amount of harmful substances, whilst also ensuring the best possible lifespan for every structure involved. This is one of the ways the Dutch keep their high ranking regarding the national infrastructure.

Some crucial Dutch government plans for the near future

The Dutch government has laid out several plans for the future of infrastructure in the Netherlands. These are aimed at an efficient way of maintaining the quality of the roads and structures, but also at future developments and new ways of constructing, building, and maintaining crucial parts of the infrastructure. This ensures that you, as a foreign entrepreneur, can benefit from the stellar options the Netherlands offers for any logistics company. The plans are as follows:

  • “We are structurally allocating €1.25 billion to make up for delays in the management and maintenance of our roads, railways, bridges, viaducts, and waterways and for the maintenance, renovation, and replacement of them in the future, also regarding road safety.
  • Road safety remains the spearhead of our policy. Together with the municipalities, it is being examined where the speed limit can be meaningfully reduced to 30 km/h within inhabited areas. The speed on other roads remains unchanged.
  • In consultation with the region, we are considering whether an alternative interpretation of a certain highway proposed by the region within the existing container solves the accessibility problem in an equivalent way. Access via (high-quality) public transport and cars to new residential areas in the region is part of this. If this is the case, the proposal from the region will be adopted. If not, the ongoing decision-making process will continue.
  • We reserve funds to be able to build the Lely line in the long term with co-financing from the region and European funds. In the coming period, we will work out how the Lely line, within the framework of the Delta Plan for the North, can contribute to strengthening the economy of the North, opening up new housing areas to be developed, and improving international train connections with the north of Germany.
  • We are investing in the expansion and improvement of the infrastructure for public transport, bicycles, cars, and water because we want solid and faster connections between cities and regions. We focus on the biggest bottlenecks from the Integrated Mobility Analysis 2021: connections in the (economic) regions and N-roads.
  • The new homes in the 14 urbanization areas and beyond will also be easily accessible by public transport, bicycle, and car. To this end, a total of €7.5 billion will be added to the Mobility Fund for the next 10 years.
  • We are committed to better international (night) train connections that connect to HSL junctions across the border, so that the Netherlands is sustainably connected. We involve European funds in our investments to create better cross-border connections. We encourage the movement of freight transport from the road to rail and water.
  • We are developing 'hubs' where travelers can easily switch to a (shared) car, bicycle, train, or metro via tailor-made multimodal travel advice. We are also committed to making public transportation socially safer and more accessible to people with disabilities. We invest in bicycle parking facilities at public transportation hubs and bicycle highways. In order to keep travel to work affordable, the government is increasing the untaxed travel allowance.
  • We are committed to good connections for inland shipping by better coordinating the operation of locks, bridges, and road traffic and ensuring good berths.”[16]

As you can see, the Netherlands invests a major portion in the quality and maintenance of its infrastructure. As an entrepreneur, you can benefit from this immensely.

The future of physical infrastructurein the Netherlands

Digitalization is changing everything at a very rapid pace. In a world where everything is becoming connected, the purely 'physical' infrastructure (such as roads, bridges, and electricity) is shifting further and further towards a 'physical-digital' infrastructure. Artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and cybersecurity are reshaping infrastructural thinking, according to the study The Future of Infrastructure, published earlier this year, in which infrastructure leaders were asked about their plans and expectations. Expectations that are partly shaped by the growing attention paid to the environment and broad social benefits.[17] In other words, the worldwide infrastructure is on the brink of great change. With continued digital surveillance, new methods of researching and measuring the strength and capability of structures, and evolving ways of looking at problems in general, all infrastructures in the world, including the Dutch infrastructure, are currently flexible and fluid in their development. Rest assured, as a foreign investor or entrepreneur, that the quality of the Dutch infrastructure will probably remain excellent and maybe even unmatched during the next decades, or even centuries. The Dutch have a knack for innovation and progress, and this shows very clearly, considering the goals and ambitions the Dutch government proposes. If you are looking for a country with high-speed, quality, and efficient travel routes, you have found the right place.

Start a Dutch logistics company in just a few working days

Intercompany Solutions has acquired many years of experience in the establishment of foreign companies. We can start your Dutch company in just a few business days, including several extra actions when requested. But our way of helping you as an entrepreneur doesn’t stop there. We can provide continual business advice, financial and legal services, general assistance with company issues, and complimentary services as well. The Netherlands offers many interesting possibilities for foreign business owners or startups. The economic climate is stable, there is much room for improvement and innovation, the Dutch are eager to learn from different points of view, and the accessibility of the tiny country is overall fantastic. If you are interested in the options that establishing a business in the Netherlands can offer you, please feel free to contact us anytime. We will gladly help you plan ahead, discover your potential, and minimize your risks. Contact us by phone or via the contact form for more information or a clear quote.

[1] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/10/these-economies-have-the-best-infrastructure/

[2] https://www.cbs.nl/nl-nl/visualisaties/verkeer-en-vervoer/vervoermiddelen-en-infrastructuur/luchthavens

[3] https://www.cbs.nl/nl-nl/visualisaties/verkeer-en-vervoer/vervoermiddelen-en-infrastructuur/zeehavens

[4] https://www.schiphol.nl/nl/jij-en-schiphol/pagina/geschiedenis-schiphol/

[5] https://www.schiphol.nl/nl/jij-en-schiphol/pagina/geschiedenis-schiphol/

[6] https://www.canonvannederland.nl/nl/havenvanrotterdam

[7] https://www.worldshipping.org/top-50-ports

[8] https://www.portofrotterdam.com/nl/online-beleven/feiten-en-cijfers (port of Rotterdam throughput figures 2022)

[9] https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/TEU

[10] https://reporting.portofrotterdam.com/jaarverslag-2022/1-ter-inleiding/11-voorwoord-algemene-directie

[11] https://www.cbs.nl/nl-nl/cijfers/detail/70806NED

[12] https://www.tno.nl/nl/duurzaam/veilige-duurzame-leefomgeving/infrastructuur/nederland/

[13] https://www.tno.nl/nl/duurzaam/veilige-duurzame-leefomgeving/infrastructuur/nederland/

[14] https://www2.deloitte.com/nl/nl/pages/publieke-sector/articles/toekomst-nederlandse-infrastructuur.html

[15] https://www.tno.nl/nl/duurzaam/veilige-duurzame-leefomgeving/infrastructuur/nederland/

[16] https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/regering/coalitieakkoord-omzien-naar-elkaar-vooruitkijken-naar-de-toekomst/2.-duurzaam-land/infrastructuur

[17] https://www2.deloitte.com/nl/nl/pages/publieke-sector/articles/toekomst-nederlandse-infrastructuur.html

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