NETHERLANDS Railways faces the prospect of having to surrender half its passenger services to rival operators from 2010 under proposals to introduce competition to the Dutch rail network drawn up by Transport Minister Annemarie Jorritsma. A discussion paper proposing a phased programme to dismantle much of NS was presented to the Dutch cabinet on March 6, but was widely leaked beforehand.

NS will be allowed to continue operating IC and other fast trains until 2010, but will have to pay an as yet undetermined fee to the Department of Transport, which says that the levy will be used to fund loss-making services on regional routes. The NS monopoly of IC and fast services will end in 2010, after which no operator will be permitted to run more than half of all passenger services. NS is expected to surrender many of its local services in order to retain the more lucrative express routes.

From 2000 NS and any other operators will have to pay ’realistic’ access charges, and from the same year regional and local governments will be invited to share in newly-formed public transport authorities responsible for running trains, buses and taxis on a contractual basis. Jorritsma has also ruled out the possibility of NS being involved in the Randstad Rail project now being developed to integrate local services around Den Haag, Rotterdam, Utrecht and Amsterdam. However NS may be permitted to share in some local services, for example in the IGO+ joint venture with the Oostnet bus group to serve the area east of Arnhem.

The minister is seeking private finance to build the South and East high speed lines from Amsterdam to the Belgian and German borders respectively, and to obtain this she is obliged to offer the private sector the chance to recoup its investment by running high speed services, so NS faces the loss of these as well.

The Department of Transport is to take over supervision of Railned, which is responsible for capacity management, traffic control and safety. Railinfrabeheer which handles maintenance would also come under the department’s umbrella, but both companies could be privately owned.

Not surprisingly, NS is opposing any attempt to break up what it sees as a coherent network of tiered services with stopping trains feeding the IC and express routes. NS Reizigers Director Hans Huisinga says NS is a ’strong supporter of a connected network of Intercity, fast and stopping trains on the core network. That is what our customers ask for.’ Passengers’ groups are worried about the possible loss of through ticketing and breaking of connections by different operators. Lovers Rail, on the other hand, is frustrated that it will have to wait until 2010 before it will be able to launch its own IC services.

The plans are even controversial within the government, with Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm of the view that they are too timid and too slow. Debate is certain to rage this month ahead of a general election on May 6, but the outcome is far from certain. Jorritsma may be obliged to water down the proposals because of determined opposition from other parties, or she may try and put them off for the next legislative session.

The freight network is facing dramatic change too. Discussions under way for some time envisage sale of a majority share in NS Cargo, possibly to German Railway or to American interests such as CSX or Wisconsin Central. Previously NS Cargo Director Ed Smulders had only been willing to consider sale of a minority share in his company. He is now saying that a complete takeover is unacceptable, leaving the door open for an ’outsider’ to take a controlling interest. o