There were numerous withdrawals from service in 2019, resulting in temporary reductions in infrastructure capacity. In the spring, only limited train services were available around Leiden and in the Den Bosch-Boxtel area. In the summer, train services were replaced by bus transport at Sittard, Naarden-Bussum and Gouda, with a negative impact on punctuality. In 2019, NS worked hard, with ProRail and the other transport operators, to ensure alternative transport for passengers. We also made sure to inform passengers about withdrawals well in advance and improved disruption-related information services both at the stations and on our trains.
ProRail carried out works on the Leiden shunting yard between 24 March and 15 April, which caused more inconvenience to passengers than had been expected. NS and ProRail underestimated the consequences of the choice to continue part of the train services, causing overcrowding on trains. NS apologised to passengers and offered them free coffee or tea to compensate for the inconvenience caused. Another notable event was the power failure in the province of Noord-Brabant on 24 March, which paralysed train services between Boxtel and Eindhoven for nine hours.
Since 2019, NS has used an integrated plan to manage its infrastructural requirements more effectively, and we are working with ProRail to ensure that the Randstad conurbation remains accessible during scheduled work in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. Collaboration on behalf of future-proof and efficient railway maintenance, in the context of ProRail's 'Work on the Tracks to Prepare for the Future' programme, is making good progress.
Nationwide demonstrations on pensions
In the past year, NS employees went on strike on two occasions within the context of national demonstrations on pensions. On 28 May, there were practically no trains anywhere in the country due to the strike. While NS understands employees' concerns about pensions, we are disappointed that they chose to express those concerns in a way that caused significant inconvenience to our passengers, which is all the more regrettable in that NS is not a party to the conflict.
What has the withdrawal from service in Leiden taught us?
If we are to keep our rail network in good shape, we need to maintain it carefully. This will inevitably lead to a certain amount of inconvenience to passengers. Work at and around the Leiden shunting yard continued for 21 days, from Sunday evening 24 March to Monday morning 15 April 2019. The work involved the renovation of tracks, points, signals and the safety system. The adjusted transport plan meant fewer trains and the use of buses to transport our passengers. The overall logistic plan was within the standards applied in the railway sector for minimum capacity. However, the plan failed to properly allow for delays and unscheduled disruptions. Due to the location of Leiden in the heart of the Randstad conurbation, there was an increased risk of knock-on effects, which hampered adjustment efforts.
When implemented, the plan produced unexpected effects, due in part to the much higher number of passengers than anticipated. We should have been more alert to this in our communications. In addition to causing dissatisfaction among our customers, this situation also had adverse effects on our operational performance. We will certainly use the lessons learned in Leiden in our future maintenance projects. We are improving the project structure, especially through the deployment of a central specialist / project leader in the integrated preparatory phase for each event or withdrawal from service. When drawing up logistics plans, we will increase our focus on feasibility – especially in the busy Randstad conurbation and given the risk of knock-on effects - and on the communication options available. Finally, we ensure that the project leader has an integral overview and the required mandate, to guarantee that the right measure are taken at the right moment, for instance with regard to staffing, communication and signage. With these changes, our customers will know better what to expect during withdrawal situations and have more control over their journeys. We will use the appropriate tools that will help our customers during their journeys. And even when things are not developing as planned, it is our ambition to ensure that customers still experience a predictable and reliable journey thanks to solid preparatory and organisational measures.