UNDER the Railways Act 2003, concessions for operation of the trunk passenger network and for management of the national railway infrastructure are about to come into force with Netherlands Railways and ProRail. Both will be backdated to January 1, the date on which the formal ownership of NS was transferred from the Ministry of Transport & Public Works to the Ministry of Finance to complete the process of institutional separation.

A decade has passed since the initial reform that saw Netherlands Railways broken up, and the arrangements covering the concessions build on the sometimes painful lessons that have been learnt. Both concessions run until 2015, and in contrast to the earlier legislation there are clearer definitions of the obligations placed on NS and ProRail. Both organisations, for example, have to submit annual plans to the Ministry of Transport & Public Works for approval. Effective relationships between the ministry, the infrastructure manager and the operator lie at the heart of the new arrangements, and the interfaces are documented by a network statement, by access agreements and by framework agreements covering line capacity.

One requirement placed on NS and ProRail is for 87% of services to reach their destinations within 3min of the published time by 2007. Earlier plans had envisaged higher levels of punctuality, but these had to be revised downwards because separation of infrastructure and operations was one of several elements making the railway more complex and vulnerable to disruption. After a nadir of 79·9% in 2001, a recovery plan was agreed, and NS has since made steady progress. The figure for 2003 was 83·1%, rising to 86% in 2004. If the tolerance is increased to within 5min of booked time, the 2001 figure becomes 88·2% and that for 2004 is 92·4%.

Apart from punctuality, the NS concession covers service levels, seat availability, passenger information, personal security, cleanliness, fares increases, a requirement for through ticketing, and consultation with organisations representing passengers.

ProRail’s concession sets out quality requirements for providing the infrastructure, and ProRail has been given until 2008 to deal with a maintenance backlog (below). It also has an obligation to benchmark its performance against other infrastructure managers. The concession covers the entire network apart from the freight-only Betuwe Route and RandstadRail (p211).

A break clause provides for a review of the arrangements in 2008 which could lead to changes in the concessions, including the possibility of more widespread introduction of competitive tendering. Studies are to be carried out into other options, one of which covers the possible re-integration of infrastructure management and train operations.

CAPTION: NSReizigers suburban and inter-regional double-deck EMUs at Amsterdam Centraal Photo: Christophe Masse

BYLINE: For a detailed study on the Dutch railway reform, readers are invited to contact Didier van de Velde, Senior Project Manager at NEA Transport Research &Training (www.nea.nl), who also holds a post at the Technical University of Delft. Mr van de Velde has contributed a chapter on the Netherlands to a book on railway reform due to be published by the Community of European Railways in June.