No easy solutions to NS reduced timetables and crowding, new CEO warns
There are no easy solutions to the staff shortage NS faces, forcing the rail company to run fewer trains, new CEO Wouter Koolmees said on Op1. The reduced schedule, and more crowded trains as a result, will be here to stay for a while. But the company is doing everything it can to run more trains, including training office workers to help out as conductors. Koolmees himself will also follow that training, he said.
NS has some 2,200 open vacancies that it struggles to fill in the Netherlands’ currently super-tight labor market. As a result, the company is running fewer and shorter trains to guarantee that the trains that do run do so on time and safely.
The company announced plans to deploy office workers on trains as assistant conductors. NS will also hire private security guards to help conductors in the evening hours. NS hopes that this will prevent more train cancelations.
According to Koolmees, the office workers who will help as assistant conductors are employees with experience on the train, who got promoted to office work in the past, or employees with extra time to help out. The company hopes to start deploying them from January.
Koolmees himself, who started as NS CEO on Tuesday after Marjan Rintel’s departure to become CEO of KLM, is also getting conductor training. He wants to find out what NS employees experience on a daily basis, he said on Op1. “What they encounter, to learn from it,” Koolmees said. According to the new CEO, employees have recently reported that they feel ignored by NS. “That is a serious signal, which I have to act on.”
Some trade unions are unhappy with NS’s plans to use office workers as conductors, including the association for train drivers and conductors VVMC. “Because, for example, how will these people deal with aggression on the train, a suicide (almost daily fare), an evacuation in a tunnel, and everything else involved in the life of a conductor or train driver?” the VVMC said. According to the union, people think “too easily about the position of conductor” and that “anyone can do it with a few hours of training,” said a spokesperson.
FVN Spoor said it was “certainly not against” the measure to deploy NS office staff on the trains. “But safety should always come first,” said a union spokesperson. “The training and guidance must be good.” According to the union, it will be quite a challenge. “Office workers are also very busy.”
CNV called it “one of the possible solutions” but hopes it won’t just shift the problem. “It should not be the case that the work in the office piles up as a result,” a spokesperson said. This emergency measure is good “if it can create some breathing room. But it must be very short,” she said.
The company is reducing the timetable again from Monday, November 7. Before that, NS had already cut the schedule on 22 intercity and sprinter routes. And that resulted in considerably more complaints from travelers, according to interest group Rover.
Reporting by ANP and NL Times