Two years into his appointment as Managing Director of Railinfrabeheer, the company responsible for managing the Dutch rail network, Ir Roland Oliemans is preparing to tell Transport Minister Tineke Netelenbos next month that the railway should stop carrying freight.

Oliemans is a businessman, and he told AiC’s Network Control & Capacity Management conference in London on February 7 that there was something seriously wrong with the price/performance ratio of rail. Investment in rail almost equalled road in 1996, yet trains carried 14 billion passenger-km to road’s 117 billion. His blunt message to Netelenbos will be that if the government really wants the railways to make an impact on road congestion, NS can ’double or even triple’ the present volume of passengers, broadly by using the existing infrastructure more efficiently. What is more, ’tripling volume at present fares’ would eliminate the need for subsidy.

Noting that the load factor on passenger trains was currently 37%, and ’the bottleneck in Holland is not the track, it is at the stations’, Olieman’s said his strategy was to make rail easier to use by ’creating a metro in Holland’. A long-term plan to achieve this had just been completed. Asked to explain this, he observed that ’50% of capacity is wasted by the way we operate this railway’, implying perhaps that it is the current mix of inter-city and stopping trains that fills up the train graph. More enigmatically, he suggested that ’a passenger should be able to press a button at the station and get a train to his destination in 10minutes.’

But his view of freight was quite clear. The annual revenue it generates is only 350m guilders, and it gets in the way of expanding the volume and quality of passenger service. Asked if he would seriously tell Netelenbos that the partly-built Betuwe route should be scrapped, he replied ’why not? I don’t think it makes sense to put that much money into a freight line.’