THE NETHERLANDS cabinet proposed at the end of March that national rail operator NS should be privatised in 2003, through a stock market flotation expected to raise at least 4bn guilders. In order to boost the sale price, NS will retain its monopoly of inter-city services for the next 10 years, and will also gain exclusive rights to run domestic services on HSL Zuid when it opens in 2005. The flotation forms part of a rail policy strategy entitled ’The third century of rail’.

From 2000 NS will pay 300m guilders a year for track access charges, split 250m for NS Reizigers and 50m for NS Cargo. Other operators are expected to contribute 100m guilders.

The government is also to press ahead with tendering the 33 branch lines identified by NS as non-commercial. This month is due to see a preferred bidder named for three diesel-worked routes from Groningen to Roodeschool, Delfzijl and the German border; shortlisted firms are the Noordned consortium of NS Reizigers and Veonn, VSN Bus, and the CGEA subsidiary of Vivendi of France. Meanwhile ZuidWestNederland has registered its interest in operating six rail routes within the area served by its bus operations: Leiden - Utrecht, Gouda - Alphen, Geldermalsen - Dordrecht, Rotterdam - Hoek van Holland, Rotterdam (Hofplein) - Den Haag and Den Haag - Zoetermeer. The last two are already earmarked for conversion to light rail under the RandstadRail project.

Last month private train operator Syntus, which has secured rights to run lines from Winterswijk to Zutphen and Doetinchem east of Arnhem, revealed plans to buy 11 two-car low-floor DMUs from Alstom to replace its existing stock from 2001. The air-conditioned units would each seat 130 passengers.