In order to be and remain relevant for Dutch society, we are working hard to further optimise our performance. At the same time, we are focusing on the future. Innovations help us to make train travel more attractive and to make our employees’ work more effective and more fun. We are also facing several major challenges where innovations can help. For instance, travel behaviour has changed dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, we will continue to be facing staff shortages in the coming years, there is a huge sustainability challenge to tackle and our financial situation is under pressure.

Innovation involves NS as a whole

We will continue to innovate in all business areas. In this way, we aim to improve our passengers’ journeys and to make the work of our employees easier and more enjoyable. Here are some of the most significant innovations.

  • Since 2023, we have doubled the capacity of Amsterdam Bijlmer ArenA station to 25,000 train and metro passengers per hour during large-scale events. We achieved this using data-driven crowd management technology. This makes it even safer for event-goers to travel to and from the Bijlmer ArenA by public transport, and they can get home 30 to 60 minutes faster. We have also successfully implemented station crowd management for other major events, such as the Formula 1 Dutch Grand Prix in Zandvoort, the Nijmegen Four Days March, King’s Day and Liberation Day.

  • With the model we have developed, we can inform passengers about the number of available public transport bicycles at the time of their planned journey up to two days before they travel.

  • We are also continuously working on digitalising certain inspections. We take photos of passing trains at two fixed locations in the infrastructure. We use the images for inspections of pantographs and wheelsets. The high-resolution images and the possibility to zoom in on details allow for better-quality inspections than can be achieved by a mechanic at night. We also look for opportunities to move work from night-time to day-time hours. These types of innovations allow us to make our employees’ work easier and more enjoyable.

  • We are increasingly confronted with illegal copies of electronic day tickets, particularly Young Person’s Day Tickets. Thanks to a new way of working introduced in 2023, e-tickets offered on social media are blocked pre-emptively. By blocking e-tickets earlier, we prevent fraud, increase public safety for employees and passengers and increase our revenue.

  • Over the past year, the use of artificial intelligence helped NS to improve its passenger forecasts and personalise marketing activities. In the future, we will also use artificial intelligence to improve the scheduling of rolling stock.

  • The potential applications of 3D printing are becoming increasingly apparent. In collaboration with train manufacturer CAF, we are using 3D printing in the production of the new-generation double-decker trains. In 2023, we collaborated with various partners and invested in using a variety of materials, such as metal, for 3D printing. These steps contribute to a more sustainable world by reducing inventory and our dependence on external production chains.

  • NS focuses on extended reality, including virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality. We are exploring the use of augmented reality glasses for remote technical support for mechanics. Through an interactive 3D model, virtual reality is part of employee training. In addition, for the students at the TechniekFabriek, we have developed an app that shows important but invisible parts of the climate control system in our trains. We use virtual reality to assess station renovation projects and make them more efficient.

  • In the Automatic Train Operation (ATO) programme, we examine the potential significance of automated train driving for railway capacity, operational processes, safety and sustainability. We are studying this in collaboration with the railway sector and train drivers. For example, last year we set up a control centre in Zwolle from where train drivers can run automated train driving tests in shunting processes. The trains are controlled from Zwolle to perform shunting processes in the De Vork shunting yard near Groningen. This improves our insight into the interplay between people (train drivers) and machines (ATO).

  • NS is exploring opportunities for 5G with parties including ProRail and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. Together, we launched the Rail FieldLab 5G in Amersfoort, which will open in 2024. In this facility, we are creating a physical 5G environment where the rail sector can run experiments with 5G.

Innovating with others

NS wants to make the Netherlands accessible for all in a sustainable manner, but cannot do so on its own. This is why we are partnering with many other actors, including research universities and universities of applied sciences, as well as other players in the railway sector, such as ProRail and DB. To maximise our impact, combine our strengths and learn from each other, we are also participating in various multi-year programmes that aim to accelerate innovations:

  • Together with ProRail, NS is a core member of Europe’s Rail Joint Undertaking, a European research and innovation programme. This partnership, run by the European Commission and the European railway sector, provides grants to stimulate innovation in the railway network. Its purpose is to improve the interconnectivity of the various European rail systems, facilitate rail transport capacity growth after 2030 and make rail transport a more affordable and attractive proposition.

  • The Stichting Kickstart AI foundation was set up to accelerate the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) in the Netherlands. The partners in this initiative – AholdDelhaize, KLM, ING and NS – are convinced that AI is going to have a huge impact and that it can potentially make a positive contribution to society.

  • The investment fund SHIFT Invest is an important tool to help accelerate innovations within NS. Since its incorporation, we have invested in 14 startups and introduced 11 startups to various business units.

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