By Piroschka van de Wouw
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Badgers have dug out a home underneath a major rail line in the Netherlands, leaving tens of thousands of passengers facing delays.
Train traffic has been halted, possibly for weeks, between two major southern cities, Den Bosch and Eindhoven, due to worries that the badgers' tunnels have weakened the ground under the tracks.
But the company that maintains the country's rail network says the badgers are protected by law and must be removed before repairs can begin.
"Badgers are beautiful animals ... but it's clear they are a problem for our safety on the railways," said Aldert Baas, spokesman for ProRail.
The Dutch government on Wednesday said that 50,000 people per day use the affected train line. Travellers are either being shifted to buses or following a different route, adding 30-60 minutes to travel times.
The plan to get things back on track is to create a new home nearby for the badgers and then place a metal barrier along the tracks so they cannot return.
Baas said it was not clear how long that will take.
Badgers, not an endangered species, nearly died out in the Netherlands in the 1980s but have since made a strong recovery.
Vivianne Heijnen, the deputy minister for traffic and infrastructure, said in a letter to parliament there were 40 places that badger dens, known as setts, were close to train tracks.
"I have asked ProRail to keep a close watch on the activities of badgers," Heijnen said.
"Once this is over, the process will be evaluated for possible improvement."
(Reporting by Piroschka van de Wouw and Toby Sterling; Editing by Alison Williams)