NETHERLANDS: Arriva Netherlands has applied for rights to operate open access night trains linking Maastricht and Groningen to the Randstad region and Schiphol airport, challenging the current NS monopoly of the core national network.
The DB subsidiary lodged an application with the competition authority Autoriteit Consument & Markt on May 31 seeking rights to run open three access services on the core network, explaining that it was looking to run its trains at times when NS does not currently provide services. Arriva is initially looking to launch one night train per week to Schiphol on each route from December, connecting with early morning flight departures, as well as running extra daytime services in the Amersfoort region.
Domestic open access became possible from the start of this year, following the implementation of the EU’s Fourth Railway Package. Arriva says that ‘if approved, this could become the first domestic Open Access service in the Netherlands and Arriva’s first market outside of the UK to apply for domestic open access operations. This operating model means the train operator carries all the associated costs and risks with the services, without any government concession.’
While EU railway policy is intended to encourage open access, regulators are able to block applications that might impact on the economics of services that are supported under a public service obligation contract. If its initial application is approved by ACM, Arriva would then apply to ProRail for the relevant paths.
Arriva Netherlands Managing Director Anne Hettinga said ‘this is a commercially smart way to bring benefits to passengers, connect the rural provinces with the urbanised western part of the country and allow our business to grow by making better use of our existing fleet of trains. Furthermore, these services have the potential to grow the market and the usage of public transport by encouraging people out of their cars.’
Arriva pointed out that it has ‘considerable experience’ operating domestic open access routes through its UK Trains business unit, which includes Grand Central. The group also operates an international open access service between the Czech Republic and Slovakia at weekends.
Market opening battle
As chair of independent operators’ association Federatie Mobiliteitsbedrijven Nederland, Anne Hettinga explained to local media NRC Handelsblad that Arriva’s move was ‘the next step’ in opening up the domestic rail market in the Netherlands, ‘forever gnawing away’ at the NS monopoly. Although the coalition government had committed to gradual liberalisation of the rail network, he felt there had been little evidence of progress in in recent years, arguing that ‘this cabinet has done everything in its power to further reduce rail liberalisation’.
In July 2020 the government directly awarded NS a second 15-year contract to operate the core network and high speed lines, effectively extending its monopoly to 2035. However, the independent operators subsequently lodged a complaint before the country’s Trade & Industry Appeals Tribunal. Under EU regulations tendered operating contracts can run for 15 years but directly awards are limited to 10 years.
Hettinga confirmed that the independent operators were also challenging the €7m subsidy which State Secretary for Infrastructure & Water Management Stientje van Veldhoven directly awarded NS to fund its participation in ÖBB’s Nightjet overnight trains between Amsterdam and Wien, which began running last month.
He noted that Arriva and DB had responded a parliamentary suggestion with a proposal to launch cross-border passenger services between Eindhoven and Aachen from 2025. Although this was a better offer than NS, the government has now decided not to progress the idea until after 2030.