Dutch train (Photo: Abellio).

NETHERLANDS: National passenger operator NS announced a programme of structural reforms for 2016-19 on March 1, saying its primary future focus would be on the designated core rail network.

NS will no longer bid to operate local services under contracts tendered by the provinces, and the Qbuzz rail and bus contract operating subsidiary is to be sold. The 49% stake in Den Haag city transport operator HTM which NS acquired in 2012 is also to be sold.

NS envisages that this change of focus will improve collaboration with local authorities and regional transport operators, as it will in future be able to act as a partner rather than a competitor. In February 2015 the province of Limburg had selected Qbuzz for an operating contract, but this was cancelled and awarded to second-ranked Arriva after it emerged that a former employee of the incumbent Veolia had provided Qbuzz with confidential information.

NS’s foreign activities under the Abellio brand will now target a limited number of liberalised European markets, with the focus being on Germany and the UK. More effort will be made to apply knowledge and experience from abroad to activities in the Dutch market.

NS plans to invest €3·5bn over the next five years improving services on the core network, including HSL-Zuid and international connections. Its focus will be on better reliability, higher frequencies, new rolling stock and cleaner trains. Punctuality scores will be increased from 91% in 2015 to 92·3%, and passenger satisfaction from 72·2% to 80·0%.

NS is to spend €2·5bn on new trains and modernisation of existing stock. Stations will be upgraded in conjunction with infrastructure manager ProRail and local communities, with the focus on comfort, safety, improved bus interchanges and better parking facilities.

Passengers’ journeys will be viewed in door-to-door terms, with better interchanges and travel information. NS has allocated €300m for station and onboard wi-fi and new or improved payment methods.

Station retail outlets are to be sold to companies with the experience, knowledge and size to fully exploit them, although the Kiosk-branded catering outlets and Stationshuiskamer lounges are seen as part of NS’s core product and will be retained.