Dutch rail operator NS “fined” €1.5 million for scaling down timetable
Dutch national railway NS will be penalized a maximum of 1.5 million euros because the rail operator scaled down its timetable last year, said Infrastructure State Secretary Vivianne Heijnen on Tuesday. The Cabinet provided the company with 274 million euros to compensate for disappointing passenger numbers in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.
In exchange, the NS had to maintain the timetable, but the company did not do that. Instead of collecting the fine, the Cabinet ordered the NS to invest the full amount in something that will benefit the traveler.
A spokesperson for Heijnen said the state secretary considered the move a rap on the knuckles for the NS. The rail operator has complied with the agreements associated with the use of the track up to and including 2024, such as providing sufficient seats. But the company did not receive a “green check” for the extra agreements associated with the coronavirus support. The last time the NS was fined was in 2017.
The services were under pressure, especially in the second half of 2022, due to the accumulated staff shortages, the state secretary noted. Passengers suffered from busier trains, unexpected cancellations and longer travel times.
The rail operator’s plan to reduce staff shortages seems to be having an effect this year, said Heijnen. She also thinks it is a “cautiously encouraging signal” that trains have been cancelled less frequent and have also been less busy after a new timetable was introduced in December.
A spokesperson for the NS said it understands that the fine has been handed out “because fewer trains were run than originally intended” in a “difficult and irritating year.” The rail operator said it hopes to implement improvements “step by step” after the introduction of the new timetable.
Last April, thousands of passengers were stranded because a planning system failed due to an IT malfunction. According to Heijnen, the NS worked out a plan to run trains anyway in such situations, which should be implemented at the end of this year.
ProRail was also fined 100,000 euros. The railroad infrastructure manager has performed well in most areas, said Heijnen, but not on a number of specific points. Passengers had to deal with too many delays on the high-speed line between Schiphol and Antwerp. Heijnen put the responsibility for this on both ProRail and NS jointly. Freight transporters were also not satisfied with the services provided by ProRail last year.
Reporting by ANP