NS slashing train timetable in 2023 with cuts from next month
Dutch national railway NS will operate 10 percent fewer trains in 2023 compared to 2019, the last year before the coronavirus pandemic. The decision is because of the staff shortages that the rail company is struggling to manage. The new timetable will start in full in December, but changes will already be gradually introduced from September. The company also stressed the need for the continuation of government support
The current timetable is still based on the expected "substantial" passenger growth from 2019, the NS said. "The world looks really different now," said the railway's acting president, Bert Groenewegen. Current service levels cannot be fully realized due to the current staffing levels, Groenewegen said. This will lead to train cancellations, disappointment among passengers and excessive work pressure. Adjustments to the timetable are necessary to "give colleagues more space to be able to do their work in a normal way again," he said.
For example, the number of intercity trains running per hour will be adjusted from six to four starting on 5 September. In the weekends and in the evenings, the NS will only run two intercity trains and sprinters per hour, instead of four. The new evening timetable will also start from that date at 8 p.m. Evening service schedules used to start at 10 p.m.
The railway company recognizes that travelers will have to get used to the adjustments, including increased crowding on some train routes. Passengers will also have to change trains more often during off-peak hours, evenings and weekends. With the adjustments, the NS hopes to prevent passengers from having to deal with train cancellations shortly before their journey.
The official timetable for 2023 will take effect on 11 December. From then on, there will be fewer intercity trains per hour during Friday rush hours, with two operating instead of four. During off-peak hours, evenings and weekends, intercity trains and sprinters will only depart twice an hour instead of four times.
There is one route that will be scaled up somewhat in a surprising diversion from the rest of the changes. Trains between Eindhoven and Amsterdam will run every ten minutes from Monday to Thursday. Previously, they operated every 15 minutes.
NS would be loss-making without government support
The NS also said it will not be able to remain profitable without support from the government. The rail company suffered a loss of 225 million euros in the first half of this year when not counting government aid.
Including government support and depreciation, a positive operating result of 78 million euros was booked, the NS announced. "This underlines that the financial urgency at NS remains high," the company said. In the first six months of the year, NS received 226 million euros in compensation from the government.
The rail company's turnover fell to 1.6 billion euros in the past period, from 1.8 billion euros a year earlier. "Due to a shortage of colleagues as a result of the tight labor market and higher absenteeism due to illness - just like in many other sectors - the service provision was under pressure and NS was unfortunately forced to cancel journeys," the group reported.
The NS also pointed out that the growth in the number of passengers is leveling off. "After the withdrawal of the coronavirus measures at the end of the first quarter, more and more passengers started traveling by train. Since June, however, we have seen the growth in the number of passengers level off, thus showing the first contours of a new travel pattern." the railway company said. The percentage of travelers compared to before coronavirus will remain at about 82 percent for the time being.
The rail company predicted that the outlook would remain fuzzy for the short and long term. "First of all, the passenger forecasts remain uncertain now that the first cautious passenger growth after the coronavirus measures is leveling off, and working from home appears to be more a part of daily life. Secondly, persistent inflation is causing the rising costs for the NS, which are not fully passed on in the price of a train ticket," the company said. High energy prices can also drive up costs in the long run.
Reporting by ANP