ON SEPTEMBER 14 Lovers Rail Director Mr Kienhorst announced that the Amsterdam - Haarlem Optio service would be discontinued with immediate effect. Criticising the lack of regulation for access to the Dutch network, Kienhorst also blamed Netherlands Railways for failing to co-operate by refusing to accept Lovers Rail tickets. Local observers suggest that the real reason for withdrawal was the very low number of passengers using the trains.

Owned 70% by Vivendi's CGEA Transport, Lovers Rail has in the past also run the Keukenhof Tulip Express between Haarlem and Lisse. But this year it failed to do so, remarking that the service aimed at visitors to the famous bulb fields 'didn't bring us any money'. Lovers Rail has never taken up options it held to run services on the Den Haag - Leiden and Utrecht - Hilversum routes, and it has now made all 42 staff redundant.

Transport Minister Tineke Netelenbos said after the announcement that 'this was an experiment to put competition on the railways, and Vivendi was prepared to take the risk.' Earlier she had criticised the company for not using its licence on the other routes. She said that in the future concessions would be let on a geographical basis, and that 'two operators on one line is no longer our policy'.

Meanwhile, expressions of interest are being sought from the private sector for construction of the Betuwe freight line, and associated contracts for power supply, traction, telecommunications and other equipment. But in early September Netelenbos cast doubt on plans to build the 5bn guilders northeast branch from Arnhem to Oldenzaal. Already deferred until 2005-09, the branch is not seen as cost-effective, especially since demands from environmentalists and residents have pushed the cost of the Betuwe route up to 10bn guilders. Netelenbos says sufficient paths would be available on other routes, the more so if construction of the Hanze line from Lelystad to Zwolle is brought forward. Prime Minister Wim Kok said that the cabinet would reach a decision later this year.

HNS Reizigers has submitted a formal bid to operate domestic services over HSL-Zuid. The government is to rule on the bid's acceptability next month.