Dutch winter railway mess due to lack of snow, cold readiness


Chaos on the railways during snow storms in the Netherlands last month can partly be attributed to rail manager ProRail not being ready for the winter - work on the heating systems of some 50 rail switches was not done yet, AD reports. "At a limited number of locations, the work on switches had not yet fully been completed", ProRail spokesperson Jaap Eikelboom said to the newspaper. 

Hundreds of trains could not travel on December 10th and 11th. During both those snow days, there were breakdowns at about 50 switches. Major train traffic disruptions occurred at Zaandam, Amsterdam Sloterdijk and Amersfoort.

The Netherlands counts around 5,500 switches with heating, two thirds of which operates on gas. ProRail is in the process of replacing the gas heating systems with ones that operate on electricity, because the gas ones can get clogged with snow and the electric ones are more sustainable and easier to monitor. According to AD, it turned out during the snow days that part of the electric heating systems did not work.

Travelers organizations flabbergasted by this revelation. "Winter work must of course be completed before winter, how else are you winter ready?" Freek Bos, policy director at travelers organization Rover said to AD. Rikus Spithorst from Maatschappij Voor Beter OV is shocked that the new heating systems weren't tested after being replaced. "If you put a new light bulb in your home, you don't wait until it gets dark to test if it works." he said. 

The work on the switches has now been completed, a spokesperson for ProRail said to RTL Nieuws. He added that blaming all the problems on ProRail not being prepared for winter conditions goes too far. Force majeure also may have played a role. "On the highways there were also 1000 kilometers of traffic jams. We are not always able to withstand so much snow. Next time too there is no guarantee that things will go well."