Over the course of the next few decades, the Netherlands will be facing major economic, social, mobility and sustainability challenges. The world around us is changing fast.
Urbanisation will increase, not just in the Randstad conurbation but also in other urban areas such as Eindhoven, Arnhem-Nijmegen and Groningen. Healthy, pleasant living environments will come under increasing pressure. In the years ahead the housing shortage will persist, as a result of which more than 75,000 new houses will have to be built, on average, to alleviate the shortage. Over 2018-2030, the total population is projected to increase by around 849,000 to 18 million people. Combined with slow construction, this growing demand will cause the housing shortage to intensify, especially in regions already in the top 10 of traffic congestion where accessibility and liveability are under pressure. Amsterdam is predicted to grow to one million residents by 2030 and 1.1 million by 2040, and Utrecht’s population will increase from 339,000 today to more than 400,000 in 2030 and 455,000 by 2040.
The huge housing construction challenge in the Netherlands should be tackled with due regard for the need to ensure high-quality public transport connections. The most recent figures from mobility research, from 2018, show that the total number of passenger-kilometres in the Netherlands in that year across all forms of mobility amounted to over 189 billion. That figure will rise to 210 billion by 2030 and to 229 billion by 2040 - and perhaps even to 246 billion if we take the highest-growth scenario into account. Our aim is to facilitate that degree of mobility, as it will stimulate the economy, increase prosperity and strengthen connections between people. The effect is intensified by the growth of hubs such as Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, the Port of Rotterdam and the IT hubs concentrated in Amsterdam, Eindhoven and Groningen. The Randstad conurbation is in danger of becoming clogged up due to the growing, concentrated demand for mobility, and problems are developing at various points in the mobility system in the form of increased congestion and delays in the road network, problems with emissions and space being taken up in densely populated areas, and crowded trains. Quieter areas have their own challenges as they face pressure on the supply of public mobility solutions. Nevertheless, it is important for communities that proper access should be maintained also, and in particular, to these parts of the Netherlands. That requires innovative, smart and tailored solutions.
Modes of transport
We are seeing rapid developments in the technological domain. Electric travel is gaining ground, at the expense of fossil fuel-based travel. Technical innovations are improving the safety and efficiency of travelling, and we try to benefit from these changes as much as possible. Technological developments in the fields of digitisation, automation and robotisation – such as affordable Internet, big data and artificial intelligence - are also leaving their marks on the mobility landscape. In addition, passengers increasingly expect personalised door-to-door journeys, and new players entering the market offer new concepts such as shared cars and scooters. New forms of transport on the roads and railways (electric vehicles, self-driving cars, demand-driven transport) will need to become seamless parts of the mobility system as a whole. What is more, younger generations in particular have a different attitude to mobility, with a shift from ownership to usage. In future, all forms of mobility will be interconnected both physically and digitally to enable people to make optimum choices in their door-to-door journeys. This concept is known as Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS). NS remains keen to help meet the challenge of creating good connections that match the demands of passengers, companies and institutions.
Transition to sustainable mobility
Solutions to promote mobility improvements will become more and more sustainable going forward. This is primarily due to the increasing use of sustainable sources of energy rather than fossil fuels. We are also seeing growing awareness and a growing sense of urgency as regards the climate crisis. A transition to alternative, more sustainable forms of transport is essential if greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced and the living environment made pleasanter and healthier. Society’s requirements regarding cross-border travel are changing, with sustainable travel by train being preferred to air travel. NS provides sustainable mobility to 10.7 million passengers in the Netherlands every year, thereby assisting the economic development and accessibility of cities and regions, as well as helping the Netherlands achieve its climate objectives. Since January 2017, our trains have been running entirely on wind power; indeed, we are the first country in the world where all the electric trains run on new wind power.
Implementation of the Long-Term Rail Agenda
In response to increasing mobility, NS is working on the agreements in the Long-Term Rail Agenda heading towards 2028, together with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management as the commissioning authority and with partners including ProRail. One aspect of this is the 'High-Frequency Rail Transport Programme' (Programma Hoogfrequent Spoor). Running Intercity trains six times an hour on the key routes will lead to a substantial increase in transport capacity. We have taken a significant step in this direction by increasing the frequency of the Amsterdam-Eindhoven Intercity trains as of the 2018 timetable. The increased frequency has led to growth in the number of passengers along this corridor, with increased reliability, greater seat availability and higher customer satisfaction scores. NS will be focusing on further implementing the Long-Term Rail Agenda in the next few years. NS and ProRail have conducted a joint study to map the next corridors that would benefit from an increase in the number of Intercity trains per hour. This identified the Arnhem-Schiphol Airport-Rotterdam corridor as one of the corridors with a high level of urgency. Preparations have now started for an increase in the frequency of trains on this route as of the timetable for 2022.
Preparing for further growth with a vision on mobility
Even after the implementation of the Long-Term Rail Agenda, the Netherlands will still face sizeable economic, social and sustainability challenges. NS is collaborating with a number of other parties on a shared long-term vision for mobility in the Netherlands. We are doing this in part in the vision for the future for public transport, which is coordinated by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and involves all players in the public transport sector: national and local authorities, ProRail and carriers including NS. NS is one of the initiators of the Mobility Alliance, which combines organisations from the bicycle, automobile, freight, ferry, bus, tram, metro and rail transport sectors. The Mobility Alliance focuses on an ambitious plan with a vision for mobility for the period up to 2030, and has launched pilot projects on paying for usage.
The connecting theme in these visions for mobility is that the Netherlands needs an integrated approach to mobility with a strong public transport system. Key elements in this are a faster and more convenient door-to-door journey and better international connections from the Netherlands. NS is working hard on this with its partners (other carriers, market players and national, regional and urban authorities). We are doing this for example by optimising connections between various modes of transport and improving transport for 'the first and last mile', for instance with an enhanced travel planner, journey information, high-quality bicycle parking facilities and public transport bicycles. This is how NS is both helping to keep the Netherlands accessible and make it more sustainable.
Developments in the regulation of the Dutch railway market
Over the next few years, two developments will affect the set-up of the Dutch railway market and, consequently, the position and role of NS: choices made by the Dutch government about market regulation on the Dutch railways, and the government's decision to change the status of ProRail. NS is monitoring these developments closely. Regarding the conversion of ProRail into an autonomous administrative authority, the combined passenger and freight transport carriers (including NS, shipping companies, passenger association Rover and the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers) have all expressed major concerns about the potential consequences. Performance on the tracks has improved markedly in recent years, largely thanks to good collaboration between ProRail and the carriers. There is concern that ProRail will be preoccupied with its internal organisation going forward, which will put pressure on the results for both passengers and freight. Many aspects remain unclear. For example, we do not know what form the collaborative ties with carriers and entrepreneurs in the railway system will take. The position taken by NS is that all developments must be geared to meeting the mobility challenges mentioned above that the Netherlands will be facing in the next few decades. That means we will continue giving priority to 'passengers, passengers and passengers' in the years ahead.