Main rail network franchise from 2025
NS's franchise for operating the main rail network expires at the end of 2024. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management intends to award the main rail network franchise to NS under a private contract effective 2025. The Ministry formulated the Schedule of Requirements for that contract in the first half of 2022, which contains a more detailed description of the objectives first formulated in the policy intention from 2021. Like several other parties in the consultation process, including other carriers, ProRail, ACM and consumer associations, NS received the provisional Schedule of Requirements for consultation purposes in June. NS responded and tested the consultation version with a focus on feasibility and financial impact. At the Ministry's request, in the subsequent phase NS shared additional information on several themes.
The franchise and the parliamentary process
The Lower House of the Dutch Parliament discussed the Schedule of Requirements in the autumn of 2022. In the subsequent phase, political parties submitted a total of 48 motions. For example, the Lower House has voted that the main rail network franchise should be awarded to NS. There is no political support for a study on more competition on the main rail network. The Lower House also wants international connections, and the management of bicycle parking facilities, to remain part of the franchise (with NS). In December 2022, the Minister for the Environment informed the Lower House about her plans to respond to the motions. Several aspects, including train fares and international rail connections, will be the subject of further studies or decision-making. Since the discussion of the Schedule of Requirements in the Lower House, NS and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management have engaged in further consultations with each other on key aspects such as agreements on KPIs, risk management and funding.
Market analysis yes or no?
On several occasions in 2022, the European Commission made critical comments about the direct award of the main rail network franchise to NS. According to the Commission, the Dutch government should conduct a market analysis prior to awarding the franchise. The Minister for the Environment has pointed out, however, in the Lower House and elsewhere, that such a market analysis is not necessary. NS’s own position on this matter remains unchanged: the existing legal framework permits a direct award.
The possible inclusion of international connections in the new franchise for the main rail network is the subject of important decisions yet to be made. For NS, the inclusion of international routes in the franchise is the best way to ensure a broad range of destinations for passengers. The Lower House appears to share this view, considering the motions advocating full inclusion in the franchise of all existing international connections.
Financial challenges ahead
The financial situation of NS is a key point for attention in connection with the new franchise. We are facing a number of major challenges and high-impact developments that have introduced uncertainties in the financial and economic contexts in which NS operates. For example, passenger numbers are still relatively low and commuters in particular travel by train less frequently. At the same time, due to high inflation rates and the rise in energy prices, our costs have increased sharply and have become much less predictable. In this difficult context, NS is expected to safeguard the continuity of transport and to continue investing in new rolling stock, for example. We expect that these uncertainties will continue during the new franchise period. NS is currently in consultation with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management on this issue.
Billions worth of investments in public transport
At the end of 2022, the government announced its plans for substantial investments in nationwide accessibility through the Multi-annual Programme for Infrastructure, Space and Transport (BO MIRT). NS welcomes these plans. The billions worth of investments in Oude Lijn and Zuidasdok, for example, and in the rail infrastructure in the Eindhoven area, will help us to keep the Netherlands accessible in a sustainable manner and connect new housing estates to the public transport system. Below we will focus on some plans of particular importance to NS and its passengers.
The Eindhoven hub
In the years to come, some 62,000 houses will be built and 72,000 additional jobs are expected to be generated in and around the city of Eindhoven. These figures present a context in which sustainable public transport is indispensable. This calls for investments in mobility and public transport, for instance in increasing railway capacity and developing mobility hubs at the stations.
Up to 170,000 new houses will be built along the railway section between Dordrecht and Leiden (Oude Lijn), making it an even more crucial artery for the province of South-Holland than it already is. Recent years have already seen a sharp increase in the number of trains there, and frequencies will increase further going forward. Ultimately, it is NS’s ambition to offer a CitySprinter service every five minutes. The €1.5 billion investment will make it possible to expand the number of railway tracks between Delft and Schiedam to four and upgrade several station areas along Oude Lijn. Four new stations will be built near new construction sites (Rijswijk Buiten, Schiedam Kethel, Rotterdam Van Nelle and Dordrecht Leerpark). The events station near the De Kuip football stadium will be transformed into a station for daily use, called Stadionpark.
Zuidasdok and extension of the North-South Line
Renovation of Amsterdam-Zuid station is essential if the Netherlands is to realise its national and international rail ambitions. Thanks to a government contribution of €4.1 billion and contributions from various parties totalling €1.3 billion, the Zuidasdok renovation project can go ahead. This is good news, also for many scheduled or completed infrastructure projects elsewhere in the Netherlands, including a faster train connection to the north of the country. The Zuidasdok project also includes the construction of a multi-modal station that serves trains, the underground, trams and buses. In the longer term, the North-South Line will be extended to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and to Hoofddorp, freeing up space in the Schiphol Tunnel for Intercity trains. The Ringlijn underground will be rerouted to ensure high-quality connections for new housing estates.
Sustainable accessibility for Groningen-Assen and Zwolle
The government has pledged €242 million for ensuring accessibility of new housing estates in the Groningen-Assen region. These plans include the construction of a new station on the former Suikerunie industrial premises. In Zwolle, the railway zone and the station are the beneficiaries of investments. Zwolle has strong connections with other major cities in the Netherlands, and the railway zone is a key development hub for the city of Zwolle and its environs.