The Netherlands is a country of distribution. It is seen as the gateway to the industrial heart of Europe, the German Ruhr. The Rotterdam harbour is the largest in the world, with a cargo throughput of 310 million tons in 1997. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is the fourth-largest airport in Europe, with 367,525 aircraft movements last year.
The country's transit function, combined with its high population density, results in many infrastructural problems. Motorway congestion is alarmingly high, especially in the Western part of the country, which slows down trucks travelling to the German hinterland. The influentual transport lobby urges the government to build new roads in order to keep the traffic in motion. Both the government and the transport sector, however, have to maintain a delicate balance so as not antagonise the environmental lobby. Motorway density is already the highest in Europe, with 56 kilometres of asphalt per 1,000 square kilometres. Building new roads is therefore politically almost impossible. Solutions have to come from other means of transport, such as the train. Only a small percentage of cargo currently travels by rail.
In order to keep the port of Rotterdam connected to Germany, a new rail link is being built through the Betuwe, an area of outstanding natural beauty. When the plan was announed, protests were widespread and ferocious. Amsterdam Airport suffers from other difficulties. Because of the growth of suburban Amsterdam, more and more people live in areas where noise pollution limits are regularly exceeded. Paradoxically, many of those who suffer from the noise also make their living from it in a job directly or indirectly dependent on Schiphol's success. But Schiphol's phenomenal growth has now been curtailed by central government.