NS harshly criticized for sloppy train repair administration: report
Dutch rail company NS’s system for registering train maintenance, defective parts, and repairs needs “urgent” improvement, the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate said in a confidential letter to the NS directors. The sloppy system means that the rail company underestimates the number of trains that can’t run due to material defects and has little insight into dangerous situations that can arise on the tracks, the Inspectorate said, NRC reports based on its own research.
In 2019, a whistleblower at the NS Components Company in Tilburg, a subsidiary that overhauls train components, reported to the integrity department that NS had been wasting money and jeopardizing rail safety for years by performing poor maintenance on trains. The whistleblower’s report ended up with the Inspectorate, which launched an investigation that ran from September 2020 to December 2021, according to the newspaper.
The Inspectorate found “unclear’ and “possibly out of control processes” in NS’s administration of defective train components. The rail company doesn’t keep track of which trainsets contain new or revised parts. This means that if there’s a recall of one specific part, NS will have to send all trains to the workshop to check whether they contain the part.
Based on the whistleblower’s report, the Inspectorate specifically looked at NS’s internal safety system for train doors and brakes. This system should register incidents of train doors opening spontaneously or brakes getting stuck. But the registration happens inconsistently, resulting in underreporting and excessive wear and tear.
According to the Inspectorate, excessive wear and tear resulted in a trail derailing at the Binkhorst in The Hague in 2020. NS had been using the train as a local train but had it registered as an intercity. The frequent stops wore out the breaks because the incorrect registration resulted in the train not getting the necessary maintenance.
The Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament, and the passenger association Rover do not know about the whistleblower’s report or the Inspectorate’s criticism, according to NRC. The Inspectorate said it couldn’t share information because of the whistleblower’s privacy. But according to NRC, the whistleblower has repeatedly told NS and the Inspectorate that their report can be published so travelers and politicians are aware of the issues.
NS told NRC that the trains are currently crowded because fewer trains are running due to staff shortages, not maintenance problems. “The number of technical failures in our trains has not changed in recent years,” a spokesperson said. NS said it conducted internal investigations after the whistleblower’s report and found “no safety problems.”