Poster 125 years of Dutch railways, 1964 | Design Jan Rodrigo, collection Spoorwegmuseum

From 100 to 175 years of railways   in the Netherlands

Three Dutch railway anniversaries

Nederlandse versie

This year the Dutch railways celebrate their 175th anniversary. The first train ran between Amsterdam and Haarlem in September 1839, hauled by locomotives called Arend (eagle) and Snelheid (speed). In 2014 this fact is celebrated modestly compared to previous railway anniversaries.

In 1939, 1964 and 1989 large public events took place. These celebrations not only left us graphic witnesses such as posters and commemorative stamps, but also artworks in railway stations.

The 1939 centenary followed shortly after the completion of the merger of 19th century railway companies into the Dutch national railways (Nederlandse Spoorwegen). The anniversary provided an opportunity to look both back and forward.

by Arjan den Boer


The Dutch Iron Railway Company HYSM, later called HSM, was founded in 1837. This private company was supported by King William I. Two years later the first Dutch railway connected Amsterdam to Haarlem. This so-called Old Line was extended to Rotterdam in 1847.

Around 1860 the expansion of the railway network faltered. The government decided to take on the task of constructing new railways, which were then given in concession to the Society for Exploitation of State Railways (SS, 1863). The SS and HSYM became fierce competitors swallowing up smaller railway companies.

Tile tableau 75 years of HYSM, Amsterdam Central Station, 1914 | Unknown photographer (Spoorwegmuseum)
State Railways 50th anniversary, 1913 | Unknown photographer (Spoorwegmuseum)

Dutch Railways

After the turn of the century the government put pressure on the two large railway companies to cooperate. From 1920 onwards they operated in a partnership called Dutch Railways, but the SS and HSM companies still existed on paper.

The merger was completed in 1938 with the foundation of the 'Nederlandsche Spoorwegen' joint-stock company with the Dutch State as sole shareholder. And only one year later its centenary could be celebrated!

The Train 1839-1939

The railway centenary was commemorated in 1939 with a major event on the Frederiksplein square in Amsterdam, a place where ten years before the Palace of Industry had burned down and today the Dutch Central Bank is located.

Despite the threat of war, the festivities continued as planned. The exhibition's highlight was a ride on a replica of the 1839 Arend locomotive, which departed from its 'original' station called One hundred rods.

The Arend was also on the exhibition poster by Jan Wijga (1902-1978), later known for his Amstel Beer ads. The modern train on the poster was an electrical Mat '36, also present at the exhibition. Landing of this train via the tram tracks had caused a lot of trouble.

The Train exhibition poster, 1939 | Design Jan Wijga, collection Arjan den Boer (photo: Van Sabben Auctions)
Arend locomotive at the Dutch Railway Museum | Photo: Quistnix/Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA

Arend locomotive

The Arend (eagle) was completed in 1839 as the second locomotive built by Longridge in England. Together with the first one called Snelheid (speed) it hauled the inaugural Dutch train. The locomotives were demolished in the course of the 19th century. When the replica was built at the Zwolle Central Workshop in 1938 the Arend was selected because of available construction drawings. Today, the Arend resides at the Dutch Railway Museum.


In the large exhibition pavilion both past and present of the Dutch railways where on display. Modern exhibition techniques were applied, such as models and photomontages. A life-size three-dimensional pie chart served as a data visualization.

Railway signaling was demonstrated by a model railway layout that afterwards served for decades in the Dutch Railway Museum.

Plan of The Train exhibition, Frederiksplein, 1939 | collection Arjan den Boer
Outdoor exhibition, Frederiksplein Amsterdam, 1939 | Unknown photographer(Spoorwegmuseum)

Outdoor display

The outdoor display included a class 3900 steam locomotive, a Wagons-Lits Pullman coach and a streamlined diesel-electric trainset. There was also a signal box and an outdoor cinema.

Anniversary movie

The outdoor cinema featured a special anniversary film on 100 years of railway history, created by director Max de Haas and cameraman Emiel van Moerkerken. In this film, most 'historical' scenes were shot at Hoofddorp with the Arend replica playing a leading role.


The 1939 anniversary evoked a lot of creativity and craftwork at railway stations across the country. Facades, platforms, station halls and restaurants were decorated with green garlands, images of the Arend and the 1839-1939 numbers. This also applied to many railway bridges and locomotive sheds.

Railway management made a festive train ride along the decorated objects.

Businesses where picking up on the centenary publicity. Amsterdam fashion warehouse Peek & Cloppenburg dedicated its window displays to railway history. Many commercial ads referenced the anniversary too.

Decoration at Leiden station, railway centenary 1939 | Unknown photographer (Spoorwegmuseum)
Centenary Traffic Parade poster, 1939 | Design A. Frederiks, collection Spoorwegmuseum

Traffic Parade

In the railway capital of Utrecht a historical traffic parade took place on the occasion of the centenary. It started at the cubist Railway Administration Building, which was also decorated. The parade consisted of carnival-like floats with historical themes. Barges, stagecoaches, trainsets and automobiles passed through the city streets.


In the anniversary year of 1939 several important new railway stations were inaugurated. They were provided with artworks referring to the centenary.


Architect Sybold van Ravesteyn revamped the Utrecht central station. It was given a distinctive undulating facade, crowned with statues. Inside was a statue by Charles Eyck (1897-1983), which was presented to railway management by the works council on occasion of the centenary. Its classical symbols, including a winged wheel,
were not very modern, but the
neo-baroque statue fitted well
between Van Ravesteyn's
white curves.
were not very modern, but the neo-baroque statue fitted well between Van Ravesteyn’s white curves.

Cigar tin with the new Utrecht station, 1939 | collection Arjan den Boer
Amstel station with mural, 1939 | Unknown photographer(Spoorwegmuseum)


In Amsterdam, railway architect H.G.J. Schelling built the new Amstel and Muiderpoort stations. Despite their functionalist design, focusing on optimal traffic handling, there was room for art.

Peter Alma (1886-1969) created two huge murals depicting the technical development of the railways. The historical angle linked up with the centenary, even if Alma chose a more international perspective. Stephenson's Rocket was shown instead of the Arend, although Alma did depict Dutch streamlined trainsets.

Centenary statue by Charles Eyck, Utrecht Central Station, 1939 | Photos: Arjan den Boer

From Steam to Electricity

In 1964, the 125th anniversary of the railways was celebrated with an exhibition entitled From Steam to Electricity. It was held in a special pavilion at the Dutch Railway Museum in Utrecht. The displays focused on the well-advanced railway electrification.

Again, the Arend locomotive functioned as a figurehead in combination with the most modern train of the moment: the prototype of Plan T, the 'Trainset Future'. These commuter trains of the Mat '64 class became iconic in the subsequent decades. In view of their round fronts, they were also known as monkey heads.

Utrecht painter Jan Rodrigo (1921) designed the anniversary poster in three variants. The oldest and newest train were shown in different combinations of line drawings and gouache paintings.

From Steam to Electricity exhibition, 1964 | Unknown photographer(NS/HUA)
Poster 125 years of Dutch railways, 1964 | Design Jan Rodrigo, collection Arjan den Boer
Anniversary photo near Amsterdam Central Station, 1964 | ANP Photo Heuvel/Klok CC-BY-NC-ND

Anniversary events

Virtually all Dutch train types were gathered in Amsterdam for an anniversary photo. This required a lot of complicated shunting. In front was of course the Plan T trainset, alongside the Mat '36 which had served as a figurehead at the previous anniversary. Next to it was a 1957 diesel-electric Trans Europ Express train.

The 1964 anniversary events included a musical tattoo at the Utrecht Galgenwaard stadium, a reception of foreign railway directors at the city museum and a visit by Queen Juliana, including a ride on the 'Trainset Future'.

Illuminations Jaarbeurs Fair Utrecht, 1964 | Photo: A. Mebius


During 1964 the Jaarbeurs Exhibition Centre at the Utrecht Vredenburg square was decorated with neon lights depicting the unescapable Arend locomotive and the Plan T trainset.

Train ride by Queen Juliana, 125th railway anniversary, 1964 | ANP Photo Heuvel/Klok CC-BY-NC-ND

Neighboring countries

In Belgium and Germany railway anniversaries were celebrated in a similar way at events where the first train was put in replica alongside the most modern trains. The only difference was that these countries were some years ahead of the Dutch, because the railways were introduced relatively late in Netherlands.

The German railways for example had their centenary in 1935 at Nuremberg with a replica version of the Adler. Of course the Nazis put their mark on this celebration. 25 years later the Adler re-appeared on the next anniversary poster along with the striking VT 11.5 class Trans Europ Express train.

Poster 125 Jahre Deutsche Eisenbahnen, 1960 | Design: Himke Faber (foto Van Sabben Poster Auctions)


Belgium was also five years ahead of the Netherlands. In fact, in May 1835 the train service between Brussels and Mechelen was the first on the European continent. The 1985 poster for the 150th Belgian anniversary differed from the usual pattern: no old and new trains but a staff hat taken off for the passengers. The poster was designed by Julian Key (1930-1999).

Poster 150 years of Belgian railways | Design: Julian Key

Trains Through Time

The 1989 event on the occasion of 150 years of Dutch railways was called Trains Through Time. It consisted of a large exhibition in the Utrecht Jaarbeurs halls and a train show on the rear tracks of Utrecht Central Station. On the Jaarbeurs square the refurbished Arend locomotive offered rides on a circular track.

In keeping with the familiar formula, the unsigned 1989 poster depicted the Arend together with the most modern train: an Intercity train with roof cabs called Koploper (head runner). The poster's colors and typography were fashionably 'postmodern'.

Poster Trains Through Time, 1989 | Design NS, collection Arjan den Boer
Queen Beatrix opens Trains Through Time, 1989 | Photo: Rob Bogaerts, Anefo/Nationaal Archief CC-BY-SA

Royal visit

Each of the three 20th century railway anniversaries was honored with a royal visit. In 1939, Queen Wilhelmina visited the Frederiksplein exhibition in Amsterdam. In 1964 Queen Juliana attended the Utrecht events, just like her daughter Queen Beatrix did in 1989.

Steam Parade 150 years of Dutch railways, Utrecht 1989 | Photo: Dick Bolt

Steam Parade

The Trains Through Time Steam Parade with 17 locomotives made ​​a great impression on enthousiasts.

Throughout the country historic rides were undertaken by the NS 3737 'Jumbo' locomotive.

TGV Atlantique at Trains Through Time, Utrecht 1989 | Photo: Dick Bolt

Anniversary film

As in 1939, the Dutch Railways commissioned an anniversary film: 'Cadans' by Toonder Studios. Unlike the centenary movie Cadans does not depict ​​the history of the railways, but offers an impression of daily train use by 'ordinary Dutch' and railway staff instead.

High-speed trains

At Trains Through Time the Dutch were introduced to two high-speed trains which would call at the Netherlands a few years later.

From France the TGV Atlantique had come over, which would connect Amsterdam with Paris as Thalys from 1996 onwards. Also present was the German ICE, which actually did not call at the Netherlands until the year 2000.


On occasion of all railway anniversaries special stamps were issued.

Painter and graphic artist Gé Röling designed the centenary stamps. Unsurprisingly one stamp shows the Arend and the other one the electric Mat '36 trainset.

The photographs on the 1964 anniversary stamps were taken by Cas Oorthuys. Of course the new Mat '64 train made an appearance. The other stamp featured a dwarf signal.

In 1989 three renowned designers created a stamp. Studio Dumbar portrayed passengers with a detail of Rodin's Kiss. Paul Mijksenaar lined up rolling stock, including the Arend and the Koploper. Donald Janssen depicted the track itself.

Railway centenary stamps, 1939 | Design: Gé Röling
125th railway anniversary stamps, 1964 | Design: Cas Oorthuys
150th railway anniversary stamps, 1989 | Design: Studio Dumbar, Paul Mijksenaar and Donald Janssen

Railway anniversaries ‒ from 100 to 175 years of Dutch railways


Bibliograghy (Dutch)

W. van Leeuwen en H. Romers, Een spoor van verbeelding. 150 jaar monumentale kunst en decoratie aan Nederlandse stationsgebouwen, Zutphen 1988

Veenendaal, Guus Spoorwegen in Nederland van 1834 tot nu, Amsterdam 2008

Online sources

Dutch Railway Museum/Memory of the Netherlands: Spoorwegen in Beeld

Het Utrechts Archief: Beeldmateriaal

Nico Spilt: Langs de Rails

Wikipedia (Dutch):