Together with its international partners, NS connects the Netherlands to major cities and regions in Germany, Belgium, France and Britain. That fits with our ambition to make international trains an attractive alternative for flights for distances of up to 700 kilometres.
In 2019, the number of destinations available in the train reservation system rose to over 3,300. More and more people are finding their way to international trains. The number of international train journeys sold by NS rose by 13% compared with 2018, to over 3 million.
We also added a new partner in 2019: BB, the Austrian Railways. In 2019, we announced our intention to launch a daily night-train service between Amsterdam and Vienna starting in December 2020. This will reconnect the Netherlands to the European night-train network.
Intercity Brussels trains run 16 times a day: 12 daily services between Amsterdam CS and Brussels South/Midi, and 4 daily services between Den Haag HS and Brussels South/Midi. Punctuality scores for Intercity Brussels trains improved in 2019, and there were fewer cancellations. In 2018, punctuality was at 83.9% and 6.5% of services were cancelled; in 2019 punctuality rose to 85.4% and cancellations decreased to 5.5%. The issues were caused in part by a software error in the locomotives; that error was resolved in March 2019. Seat availability also increased. IC Brussels was introduced as the fifth hourly train on the high-speed line, thus also increasing the number of seats available on the route between Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
Since April 2019, two Thalys trains a day take passengers to Charles de Gaulle Airport and Marne-la-Vallée/Disneyland. Every weekday, 14 Thalys trains leave the Netherlands for France. In September 2019, it was announced that Thalys was to replace one KLM return flight between Amsterdam and Brussels a day, starting in April 2020. This signifies a major step in the plan to replace flights by train journeys. This move is part of the Train-Plane Action Agenda that we are developing in collaboration with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, ProRail, KLM and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. The action agenda comprises initiatives to further improve connections for international rail and air passengers, freeing up more space for sustainable growth.
ICE International and Intercity Berlin
During the summer months, NS International sold 17% more journeys compared with the same period in 2018. In collaboration with DB, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and ProRail, NS continued its efforts in 2019 to reduce the travel time of several daily trains to Berlin by ten minutes as of the 2021 timetable. This initiative will result in a travel time of 6 hours and 12 minutes. We also studied promising acceleration measures for the medium and longer term, including trains that can deal with multiple overhead voltage levels, other infrastructure-related measures and smart timetabling. In this context, NS seeks close alignment with the 'Vision for the Future of Public Transport 2040' and its further development.
In 2019, the number of Eurostar trains increased from two to three per day. Passengers travelling from the Netherlands to London have to change trains in Brussels; those in the opposite direction have a direct connection. The legal framework for passport control, which will make it possible for passengers to have their passports checked in the Netherlands for four frequencies a day, is expected to be finalised in the first quarter of 2020. Eurostar will then be able to operate a direct connection from Amsterdam to London and reduce the travel time to just four hours from central Amsterdam to central London. In addition, in 2019 Eurostar asked the Dutch Authority for Consumers & Markets (ACM) for permission to operate a fourth daily service.
Ajax takes Eurostar to Lille
At the end of November 2019, AFC Ajax took the train to France for the away match against Olympique Lille in the UEFA Champions League. Following the draw, Ajax took the initiative to examine opportunities, together with NS, of travelling to the away match in Lille by train as a sustainable alternative to flying. NS facilitated the journey in collaboration with Eurostar.