NS achieved good results last year. Passengers were more satisfied, and performance on the main rail network in the Netherlands was good. New Sprinter trains came into service, we smartened up stations and we improved door-to-door journeys. Together with the stakeholders and our colleagues, we formulated a new mission: ‘Together, we make the Netherlands accessible. For everyone.’
We achieved good results on the main rail network in 2018. All the objectives that we have agreed with our franchise authority, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, are on target. That is something to be proud of: it means that travelling with NS was a pleasant experience for passengers. It means that they almost always arrive on time, can usually count on finding a seat (even at peak times), feel safe at the station and on the train, and travel in clean trains. That’s what matters. This is the feedback we get from passengers too: we achieved the best customer satisfaction figures ever. We have also been doing our utmost to provide the best possible services for passengers on the high-speed line. We still have some way to go on HSL South as it is a complex line, although we did achieve the performance targets agreed with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management for the second year in a row.
Passengers spend a lot of time at stations and on trains. That is why we listen to what they want: we offer new services, we run more trains, for example between Eindhoven and Amsterdam, we fixed up stations both large and small, and we offer supplementary services such as the public transport bicycle OV-fiets and the NS Zonetaxi. At the same time, we are aware that our scores are only averages and that we also have to be there to help if things don’t go so well. When there is work on the track, for example, we have to offer passengers an alternative, such as replacement transport. Occasionally we do not manage to do that, for example if there is an unexpected disruption. We then have to be able to explain the situation.
New services for passengers
To improve our results further, we are continuing to make travelling by train more attractive. Our passengers have for instance been able to use the NS Flex ‘travelling on account’ option since 2018. They pay afterwards, so they no longer need to have credit on their card. This convenient new service has met with an enthusiastic response among passengers and it now has nearly 80,000 users. We are also looking at new methods of payment, such as with a bank card or mobile phone.
Furthermore, we have made improvements to the NS app, including the ZitplaatsZoeker (Seat Searcher) for a number of routes that shows how full each carriage is. We want to extend this service further over the coming years. Other milestones were the start of the Eurostar service between Amsterdam and London and the introduction in December of the first of what will be a total of 206 new Sprinter trains on the Dutch network. And we opened a brand new station, Lansingerland-Zoetermeer. On an average weekday, 2,000 to 2,500 passengers use this station. To make the door-to-door journey even better, we extended the availability of the NS Zonetaxi to 244 extra stations.
A focus on safety is important and will remain so. We have a duty to our passengers and our staff for this. The stabbing incident at Amsterdam Centraal station showed how important proper cooperation with the police is for that.
The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) conducted an investigation into hexavalent chromium during the tROM rehabilitation project at NedTrain, part of NS, in Tilburg. Following this investigation, an independent committee concluded that the municipality of Tilburg, NS and the Dutch Railway Museum all cut corners. The parties are accepting their share of the responsibility with respect to the people affected. The committee draws some severe conclusions. Mistakes were made, including by NS. At NS, we are learning every lesson that can be learned from this project. We are fully aware that we owe this to the people affected.
We made proper arrangements for our passengers and staff to allow for the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). We paid considerable attention to training and raising awareness and we set up a new privacy and governance structure. Privacy means more to NS than just mandatory regulations. We handle the details of passengers and of current and former staff transparently, securely and carefully.
The door-to-door journey is getting greener. And it has to. Trains in the Netherlands run entirely on wind-generated energy, without emitting as much as a single gram of CO2. OV-fiets, the public transport bicycle, has become well established over the past 10 years and was used over 4 million times in 2018. Since last year, it has also been possible to hire an electric Greenwheels car at the energy-neutral car park at Driebergen-Zeist station. It is wonderful to see increasing numbers of zero-emission, sustainable shared cars. When our trains are upgraded, 97% of the materials are now being either reused or recycled. And from 2019 onwards, the buses used as replacement transport will be running entirely on fuel made from waste products. With measures like these, the public transport sector as a whole and NS in particular are helping achieve the climate goals for our society.
At and around the stations
NS is back on its feet and – if modesty permits us to say so – has regained its nerve. An example is our involvement in the development of stations and their surrounding areas. Stations are hubs for quality of life and mobility, with service levels and facilities appropriate for their size. We know what motivates our passengers and we are therefore able to work closely with city councils to improve stations or to make plans for nearby projects. In Utrecht, for instance, we started the development of the Cartesius triangle, where about 2,600 homes will be built from 2020 onwards in what is intended to be the healthiest, most public-transport-friendly and bicycle-friendly district in the Netherlands. We were also able to reopen attractively refurbished stations such as Eindhoven.
The financial challenge
Our ever-improving performance for passengers is thanks in part to the substantial investments that NS makes in aspects such as better services, improved IT and (through to 2022) €3.5 billion spent on upgrading and purchasing trains. At the same time, this creates a financial challenge. We have taken measures to improve profitability; we have for instance started up a programme for cutting the costs of overheads and the head office by €50 million over the coming years. This is how NS wants to be able to keep investing in the accessibility of the Netherlands in the future too.
Since the end of 2017, Abellio UK has been operating the West Midlands franchise, running nearly 1,300 trains a day. This area covers London-Birmingham-Liverpool and the surrounding area. The results for the West Midlands and Merseyrail franchises in particular were good, above the regional and national averages. The performance of ScotRail and Greater Anglia was disappointing. Abellio Germany started operating the Dieselnetz Sachsen-Anhalt and Rhein-Ruhr-Express franchises in December 2018.
Tragic accident in Oss
There are some things you will never forget. The tragic accident in Oss is one such incident. How awful it was for the victims, how unbearable for the relatives and family and friends, and how hard it was on our colleagues who were directly involved. Such young victims — the utter injustice of it is what makes us all so powerless and speechless. In amidst that unfathomable sadness, I still feel proud of the sense of responsibility towards society and towards each other that NS has shown.
Individual redress for the Second World War
NS operated trains during the Second World War for the occupying forces. This is a dark chapter in the history of the country and of our company, a past that we must not ignore. Various conversations with Mr Salo Muller, a Holocaust survivor, have shown that people still feel the need for individual compensation. NS does not believe that anyone benefits from lengthy legal proceedings. A committee started work in January 2019 under the chairmanship of Job Cohen. It has been tasked with handling individual compensation on moral grounds to an as yet undefined group of survivors and their direct descendants.
Last year, we defined a new mission and vision for NS. ‘Together, we make the Netherlands accessible. For everyone.’ Precisely because the country is going to be even more crowded in the future and people will want to travel more conveniently, and will want their journeys to be greener. We have a clear goal for that: by 2025, NS will be delivering world-class mobility and we aim to be the best mobility company in Europe. A company where everyone is welcome, both as staff and as passengers. The creation of the new vision was rather special: over 2,000 of our colleagues contributed ideas about the future of NS through a participatory process. This shows incredible involvement, including from the works councils and the trade unions. External stakeholders such as passenger organisations, public authorities and ProRail also gave input. We are currently drawing up a new strategy based on our new mission and vision that will come into effect from 2020.
2019 and beyond
2019 will be an important year for NS. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management will be reviewing the performance of NS on the main rail network in what is known as the ‘midterm review’. This is an interim evaluation for the award of the franchise for the main rail network from 2025 onwards, which we want to obtain. This is another reason why it is important to maintain the high quality of our performance and improve it where possible.
We will also keep investing in improvements for passengers, at and around stations for example, such as Amsterdam Zuid. NS also carried out a one-off test in 2019 of a faster Intercity service between Groningen, Zwolle and the Randstad conurbation. Whether or not a faster Intercity service will be included in the timetable in the future depends on a range of factors including the results of the test. We must also continue to look at who can help us learn about logistics or providing services. NS focuses on large groups of passengers, but we must not forget the individual passengers and their individual needs and wishes. If we don’t want to end up missing the boat in the longer term, we have to stay in touch with our customers. We are alert to others’ needs, such as employers. For example, we signed an agreement in 2018 with Vodafone/Ziggo for NS Business Cards for the 7,500 staff at their new head office next to Utrecht Centraal station. This could be an interesting way of encouraging sustainable mobility for other organisations too.
Our aim is to have fast train connections to all the major European cities within a radius of 700 kilometres. This will prevent unnecessary flights, which are a huge environmental burden, and strengthen the economic position of the Netherlands and Western Europe. We put a rapid connection between Amsterdam and Berlin on the agenda in 2018 and we would like to examine it further in 2019 with Deutsche Bahn and the public authorities. The connection between Amsterdam and London will be expanded this year in any event from two to three trains a day.
We will have to take some more major steps together – as a country – over the coming decades if the Netherlands is to remain accessible with a high quality of life. By investing in mobility, beginning with the infrastructure. This is not being given a high enough priority in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe. We have to be more ambitious. To that end, NS is involved in the Mobility Alliance, together with over 20 other parties from the Dutch transport sector, with the aim of creating a vision for mobility until to 2030.
Efforts by our staff
There is a concealed world behind the results of NS, in which thousands of staff are working purposefully day in, day out. Nobody can do it on their own. In the train, at the station, when providing journey information or customer services, in the workshop, in the IT department – we’re all there every day to make sure everyone has a good journey, dealing with all the inevitable challenges. Proper maintenance, a cleverly-constructed timetable plus our punctual drivers and guards are making sure that we increasingly run as scheduled. Sometimes we crank up the effort even more, for instance during the Four Days March when we carry thousands of extra passengers 24 hours a day to and from Nijmegen. NS is a company with about 30,000 employees, of whom over 20,000 work in the Netherlands. We’re a people company, not a machine. And we’re proud of that. In 2018, we focused once again on nurturing a strong culture of openness and accountability, making real progress in terms of integrity and compliance. That remains important: we attach great value to operating in accordance with the agreed norms and values. We want these joint efforts to enable us to maintain the current level of performance and improve it where possible. That is the best way to make sure that people will continue to choose the train.
On 21 February 2019, Susi Zijderveld announced that she would be leaving NS as of 1 May 2019. Susi joined us a few years ago with the task of making risk management at NS more professional. She has also initiated a change in the corporate culture, with demonstrable improvements in openness and accountability. The positive social impact of our stations has improved under her watch. She also helped create a good and cooperative atmosphere at the top of the company. I think it is a real pity that she is leaving and NS is incredibly grateful to her. On behalf of the Executive Board and all her NS colleagues, I would like to thank Susi for all she has done in the past few years.
Finally, I and my fellow Executive Board members would like to thank everyone at NS. They deliver top-level performances every day, making NS a unique company. We would also like to thank the Supervisory Board and our shareholder for their huge efforts and dedication in 2018 and for the trust that they have shown in us. My thanks to the works councils as well. We have worked together well, with everyone putting the company’s interests first. There were elections for the new works council in the second half of 2018. The Executive Board is looking forward to working with the new members to create an NS that is ready for the future.
Roger van Boxtel, Chairman and CEO of NS