Our aim is to make the train the logical preferred option for distances of up to approx. 700 km and the night train the obvious sustainable option for journeys in excess of 700 km. This benefits both the environment and the economy, as trains produce relatively low carbon emissions per passenger. Furthermore, high levels of accessibility by rail stimulate investments in the Netherlands, thereby creating an attractive climate for businesses. We are working to achieve those ambitions by making it easier for passengers to choose the train for international journeys, by providing fast connections for Dutch passengers to high-speed rail networks in neighbouring countries, by increasing frequencies and reducing travel times, and by adding new destinations.
In cross-border train services, NS International has partnered with NMBS, Deutsche Bahn, ÖBB, SBB, Thalys and Eurostar, connecting the Netherlands with major cities and regions in Belgium, Germany, France, Austria, the United Kingdom and Switzerland.
Increase in international journeys
More and more people attach great importance to sustainable travel. The popularity of the train for international journeys increased once again last summer. Ticket sales in 2022 were 6% higher relative to 2019. A range of developments, including renewed enthusiasm for travel in general after COVID-19, luggage issues at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and especially affordable rates on some routes resulted in high levels of crowding in our trains. This also exposed our vulnerability: despite the commitment of our staff, we did not always manage to offer our passengers the service they are entitled to expect from us. We must improve information services for passengers in the event of disruptions and our ability to process large numbers of passengers. We joined forces with partner carriers in the autumn of 2022 and have been working hard to solve these issues.
Making international travel easier
European railway organisation CER has listed required improvements for international passengers in the CER Ticketing Roadmap. The focus is on improving the customer experience in planning and booking international journeys by train, and the quality of information services during the journey. These aspects still leave much to be desired. As such, the carriers within CER, including NS, have assumed their responsibility to contribute to the targets set out in the European Green Deal. For example, NS passengers can change their Thalys reservation online and receive up-to-date, personalised travel information. In the event of a delay in excess of 60 minutes, passengers are offered alternative travel options.
The Ticketing Roadmap also provides for the possibility to extend the booking period to at least 6 months and up to 12 months where possible. NS ran a pilot project for this purpose in 2021 and 2022, involving Eurostar and IC Brussels. One result is that the booking period for both is now 9 months, following an extension in April. As regards other train services, this will only work if our partner carriers abroad extend their own booking periods at the same time.
Connection to high-speed networks
In 2022, Eurostar, the high-speed link between Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Brussels and London, increased its frequency from two to four trains a day. In addition, with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and ProRail we signed a declaration of intent, in 2022, which provides for the relocation, as of 2025, of the UK terminal at Amsterdam CS (where Eurostar passengers undergo passport and security checks) to the Amstelpassage. This will allow approximately 600 rail passengers to board each train to London, compared with only 200 in the present arrangement.
In late 2022, together with Eurostar, NS submitted a proposal to DG Move of the European Commission for a pilot project to create better and faster railway connection between the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. This is part of our efforts to persuade air passengers to and from London to opt for the train. The EU pilot involves improvements such as more trains, faster routing, short stops in Brussels, reducing the travel time to 3 hours and 45 minutes, and streamlining passport control procedures.
In 2022, Thalys trains on the high-speed line between Brussels and Paris returned to their pre-COVID-19 frequency of up to 15 per day to Brussels and 12 per day to Paris.
Increasing frequencies and travel speed
Since 2021, NS has performed various tests with the ICNG, which is suitable for Belgium. We will continue these tests in 2023 as we seek to increase the frequency and reduce travel times of services to Belgium, and replace our existing IC Brussels rolling stock.
By 2030, Germany and the Netherlands aim for a 30-minute reduction of the travel time between Amsterdam and Berlin with the IC Berlin. This will be possible if we use trains that do not require a locomotive change-over, and if we drive faster, adopt a modified timetable in both countries and make infrastructural adjustments. NS has leased Vectron locomotives, which can be operated both in the Netherlands and in Germany and can be deployed until DB's ICE-L train is available for use on the Amsterdam-Berlin route.
Throughout 2022, NS operated two daily night trains with its partners. During their first year of operation, the Nightjet Vienna/Innsbruck and the Nightjet Zürich each transported approximately 100,000 passengers. Punctuality was under pressure though, particularly as a result of works on the tracks in Germany.
NS International has added several new destinations to its booking module. For instance, since December 2022 we offer a connection from the Netherlands to Barcelona with a single stop (in Paris), and we have added destinations in the Czech Republic and Sweden.
Action Agenda for Train and Aviation
The Action Agenda for Train and Aviation was launched in 2020. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, ProRail, KLM and NS aim to promote international rail as the preferred option for medium-distance travel (up to 700 kilometres). The Agenda is also intended to further improve the position of international rail travel as an attractive alternative to air travel to six high-priority destinations: Brussels, Paris, London, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt and Berlin. This will create more space for sustainable mobility to grow. Since 2022 KLM, in collaboration with NS and Thalys, has offered an integrated train-plane ticket from Brussels via Schiphol to other destinations worldwide. As a result, KLM terminated its scheduled return flight between Amsterdam and Brussels in 2022. The parties’ ambition is to also replace the remaining KLM flights between Amsterdam and Brussels by train services.